Movie Night: The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989)

The_Cook_the_Thief_His_Wife_and_Her_LoverSunday January 25th 2015, Movie Night: The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover by Peter Greenaway, 1989, 124 minutes. In English. Door opens at 8pm, film begins at 9pm.

The Plot: The wife (Helen Mirren) of a brutish oaf (Michael Gambon) begins an affair with a bookshop owner (Alan Howard) after her husband acquires a high-class restaurant formerly run by a French chef (Richard Bohringer).

What It’s REALLY About: An attack on Margaret Thatcher and her conservative government

Wait, What? One can easily be forgiven for failing to notice the pervasive symbolism in this one. To understand it, one must have a familiarity with both the target of the criticism (in this case, Thatcherism), and the intentions of the director, who explicitly stated that his film “started as a kind of diatribe against Thatcherite Britain.” Okay, so what exactly is going on here? In a nutshell, the “thief” of the title represents the greed and vulgar arrogance with which the director charges Thatcher, and the abused wife stands for the common Briton. Her secret lover is the intellectual but powerless opposition, and the cook is the obedient but resentful common civil servant.

How is one supposed to glean all this? Well, political symbolism isn’t the only metaphor hidden here – the different rooms of the restaurant, including the bathroom, are meant to symbolize the journey food takes as it enters and eventually leaves the body. The rather disgusting opening scene, in which the thief smears excrement all over the cook, establishes the extreme and unsubtle nature of the film, while also communicating to us that much of what literally happens will be but a visual symbol for something else.

Featuring a memorable score by Michael Nyman and effective performances all around, this is arthouse cinema at its most baroque and simultaneously blunt. Its audacity earned it the dreaded NC-17 rating, a move that likely only galvanized those who understood the anti-Thatcher message and feared for the film’s distribution and potential for being censored.

Film night at Joe’s Garage, cozy cinema! Doors open at 8pm, film begins at 9pm, free entrance. You want to play a movie, let us know: joe [at] squat [dot] net