Zoom and Pan: The Goonies
Welcome to Zoom and Pan, Eat Me Daily's food n' film column. Each week, Soleil Ho of Heavy Table will tear apart a food-centric movie scene and, with luck, decipher the meaning behind all the food porn. This week: The Goonies
No movie has inspired more spontaneous exercises in Gen-X nostalgia than Steven Spielberg's The Goonies (buy it). While there are many, many parts that our nostalgic minds tend to gloss over, the film still reigns supreme over most twenty-somethings' childhood memories. No one would necessarily call this a "food film," but I would argue that pretty much any film that includes a fat comic relief character — as The Goonies does — will have its moments.
The Goonies are a posse of adolescent, suburban boys who hang out and tease each other a lot. They include two pretty normal, WASPy kids, a fat Jewish boy called "Chunk," and a "Chinese" immigrant called "Data." Even though Data is really just an Asian American genius/"No speakee Engrish" stereotype, I still love the character — such is the power of nostalgia.
Upon finding a treasure map in an attic, the Goonies embark on a dangerous and friendship-affirming quest to find pirate treasure in the subterranean depths of their neighborhood. Along the way, they're pursued by the incompetent, maternally-fixated Fratelli family. Director Steven Spielberg, true to form, outfits his villains with silly accents and guns so you know they're up to serious business.
One of the most memorable scenes occurs when Chunk, who is imprisoned by the Fratellis near the beginning of the story, befriends Sloth, the Fratellis' youngest son. Sloth, a deformed, super-strong giant, has spent his entire life chained up in his family's basement, watching television and having food thrown at him by his brother.
Not so incidentally, Sloth and Chunk's friendship hinges on a Baby Ruth chocolate bar. Scared out of his wits, Chunk offers the candy to Sloth as a peace offering, which makes the giant flip his shit entirely. He hollers, "Ruth! Ruth! Ruth! Baby? Ruth!" After ripping his chains out of the wall and freeing himself, he tenderly shares the bar with Chunk, embracing and kissing him.
Sloth is fixated on chocolate, as evidenced by a close-up shot of the television screen at the beginning of the scene. The show is some PBS cooking series, much like America's Test Kitchen. As the host spreads chocolate frosting onto a cake (a close-up within a close-up!), Sloth's reflection appears on the television screen. He mutters deliriously while the character's image superficially unites with the cake, expressing his self-denying need to consume anything chocolate. The image sustains him until he finally sees the real thing in Chunk's hand.
The taste of chocolate brings Sloth into the real world, enabling him to tear himself away from the television and sending him on an adventure with Chunk and the rest of the Goonies. His infantile appearance and demeanor also signify that he represents the movie viewer's pure id. Freed from the shackles of responsibility and social control, Sloth is, in essence, everything the viewer wants to, but cannot do with his/her own life.
This is consistent with the theme of Spielberg's entire oeuvre: the grand adventure. (OK, I wouldn't cal Schindler's Lista grand adventure so much, but you get the point.) The Baby Ruth bar serves as Sloth's red pill, waking him up from a dream life of television viewing so he can live a genuine life in a movie.