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March 2013

This film offers a rather good illustration of a quest, achieved through action in the world and inspired by a calling. It does it with a depth that cannot necessarily be expected from this kind of production. Here are three complementary ways to look at it, for those who have seen or will see the film. They do not mean that all quests and all callings share the characteristics and consequences that are shown here. However, one can see many echoes with real life.

 The tale

 A tale can be regarded as an allegory of a quest for oneself. We can see in the film the tales’ three-stage structure which was described by Joseph Campbell ( The Hero with aThousand Faces; Pantheon Press, 1949).

First phase, which Campbell names departure: the prince or princess leaves the parents' castle; here, the hero, Rémy the rat, leaves an initial state that is rather comfortable but not fully satisfactory, because of an incident due precisely to his passion for flavours. Therefore, he is separated from his family and sent away from home.

Then comes the stage of ordeals and learning. Rémy keeps on learning and, meanwhile, he accomplishes his feats. He faces outside enemies (the new chef, the critic) but the worst ones are inside: Alfredo, his doudle and friend, claiming for the merits, Rémy losing his humility and also being torn apart by his link with his family. The key test is when his friend Alfredo seems to lose everything, after having said the truth about Rémy’s being in the kitchen: the outside enemies become more lenient or cause only apparent damage (by unveiling Rémy’s role, by getting the restaurant to close).

Finally comes the third stage, which Campbell named the return: the hero returns to a better state. Rémy is happy both as a chef and as a member of his family. Alfredo and Colette form a happy couple.

The hero has two faces here. Alfredo is the second one; he is Rémy’s double. He does not know who he is and what to do with his life. When he becomes aware of it and owns the restaurant (thanks to Rémy), he too must go through an ordeal: losing everything after having said the truth. From this, he wins his wife. He succeeds only when he follows Rémy, his calling.


The dynamics of a calling

 In the initial phase, Rémy’s talents are used for a job he does not enjoy. His passion seems inadequate in the world where he lives. What he feels could be exciting for him seems impossible to people around him.

A calling is a personal feeling. No one else can decide for us.

 Rémy feels he is not like everybody else. He feels he cannot be what he would like to because of his origin; he feels like an impostor. What helps him move forward is what Gusteau says: “everybody can cook”; however, he cannot always believe it.

Nobody is “like everyone else”. Accepting being unique, accepting to believe in one’s potential are two major conditions to follow one’s calling, or one’s path in the world...and they are often difficult to meet.

Then, Rémy gives evidence of his talents while he keeps on learning. Twice in the film, he explains his passion to his brother: it is the exploration of the infinite variety of  blends of flavours

A calling is a research, a question, it is learning.

He stops being torn between his family and his profession when he accepts his calling: “ I am a cook” he says. He eventually wears a “toque”. His calling does not break his relationship with his family, as he could have feared.

Being in harmony with oneself is a good way to create harmony around even when one is sometimes tempted to expect the reverse. 


 The reconciliation with oneself

 If we now  look at all the characters as parts of a single individual, we initially see a splitting. There are the rats and the humans. Humans look down on Rémy the rat with disgust, they think he cannot be admitted in the kitchen.  The rat is the part of the individual that is seen as inferior, dirty. However, he has a smell humans do not have and the rats team (this inferior part) proves more friendly and helpful than the human team (the supposedly superior part).

In other words, this so-called inferior part may contain the “dirty” but also what is most precious, flair, intuition, and even a compass that guides us in life. One can think of a parallel with the unconscious but also with what we do not control through reason and intellect.  In a quest as in the film, reason and intellect can only follow, they are not the leaders.

We see in the film how the humans, Alfredo first, then those who remain with him, gradually accept Rémy and cooperate with him. Consequently, we shift from a harsh masculine world to a more harmonious one, where a woman (Colette) can be a woman. External success ( the five stars) is no longer the reference. Both communities, humans and rats, live in peace together.

One only succeeds in one’s quest when this part of oneself is no longer hidden (re. the moment in the film when truth comes to light) and when it is accepted and mobilized.

Following one’s calling is a path towards reconciliation with oneself.

 “Ratatouille”, a film by Brad Bird, was produced in 2007 by Pixar Animation Studios.


#1 luquin 2013-04-29 19:49
Commentaire magnifique. J'avais pris beaucoup de plaisir à voir ce film.


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