Watching a cheesy movie is a whole lot like eating a cheesy meal. If you’re Canadian you may be all too familiar with the “why-did-I-eat-all-this-poutine” regret. Those hot delicious fries covered in melting cheese drenched in hearty gravy are so smooth going in. However, that bliss is easily forgotten once you find yourself wobbling home bloated with potatoes and cheese. That is until you get the munchies and gruzzle again. Hey. We’re in this together. I’m not judging you; I’m not judging us.
I’ll admit it. I love poutine, I love cheese, and I love cheesy movies like 300. It may be culturally insensitive, straight up war propaganda, and overall a terrible movie, but I still kind of love it. I love the beefcake ballet—the oiled-up, glistening Titans smashing the enemy in glorious, sweaty slow motion. The ‘few against many’ is a classic motif that has been in our culture for hundreds of years—if not forever—and at its heart 300 is supposed to be an underdog tale. Of course discussion of this film cannot possibly avoid noting another familiar Hollywood trope: the villains are vaguely brown and the heroes are, predictably, white. Honestly, it wouldn’t take much reframing to cast Xerxes as the hero. The need for mainstream cinema to make progress is glaringly obvious—because I still want that cheese.
On another note, maybe hearty cheese isn’t your thang. Perhaps you love dark chocolate, which is apparently good for you in small amounts. Maybe the seductive lure of an Iranian vampire could be your thing. Ever since Dracula was written in 1897, the vampire has been a cultural icon, a dark reflection of humanity, and Ana Lily Amirpour’s Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is as dark as that cocoa we crave. It’s easily one of my favourite movies. It’s eclectic soundtrack—a glorious score ranging from spaghetti western to Iranian underground rock—perfectly paired with hauntingly beautiful cinematography paints a world so rich that for two hours you’ll feel like you live somewhere between black and white both visually and morally.
Both of these films express their unique point of view. As we watch these movies we consume them, and for that duration of entertaining escape we are also asked to swallow the filmmaker’s point of view. It’s important to ask ourselves what we’re eating. Both films are about power, gender, and foreign influence. When we examine how each character’s choices affect the plot, we get a reflection of the filmmaker’s point of view and the ideas they are expressing about the world. We all know what’s in poutine and chocolate, but it’s a little harder to tell the ingredients that make up our cultural narratives.
Whether it's the underdog's tale, the stranger who is more than they appear, or the innate qualities of skin colour, ideas like these can get inside us and become part of the way we see things. They become part of who we are. I still love cheese, but the next time I reach for that third helping of poutine—or even a more sophisticated snack like dark chocolate—I’m going to try and remember that not all of it will pass through.