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Fast Food Nation (2006)
Fast Food Nation challenges us to question our lives
Early in the movie, we learn that there is fecal matter in the burgers. The poop in the burgers symbolizes the ethical compromises that the current economic system requires of anyone hoping to succeed. As Harry (Bruce Willis) observes, "Everyone must eat a little sh*t in life." In other words, find ways to adjust your values, and you will get along OK.
The three rebel characters Rudy (Kris Kristofferson), the radical student Paco (Lou Taylor Pucci), and Amber's uncle each challenge Harry's assertion by choosing to live their lives outside the system. None of them drives a shiny new car (like the Chevy truck -- Raul's symbol of success), nor are they likely ever to have prestigious high paying jobs. Yet, they hold onto their integrity by resisting, by refusing to "eat sh*t".
The movie follows the development of three main characters Mickie's VP for marketing Don Anderson (Greg Kinnear), Amber (Ashley Johnson), and Sylvia (Catalina Sandino Moreno). We meet each of these characters as they struggle to make it within the system. They find themselves each situated on different rungs of the systemic ladder of "success" and the movie tracks their efforts to move up to the next rung. Don is already a "success". He has a wife, two sons, and a comfortable, well paid white collar position of a major US corporation. Yet he discovers that staying on the ladder of success is not as easy or straightforward as one might imagine. He has only slightly more job security than the Mexicans. If he wants to continue on the ladder, he will need to "eat sh*t" just like everyone else. The alternative ratting out the corruption in the system spells almost certain economic disaster for him and his family.
The Mexican main character is, in fact a family. The Mexicans Sylvia, her younger sister Coco (Ana Claudia Talancón), and Sylvia's partner Raul (Wilmer Valderrama) arrive in Texas full of hope. Unfortunately for them, their dreams of a better life were made more of marketing than of reality. They imagined that they were among the lucky ones who succeeded in sneaking across the border to a better life. They gradually realize that they have been lured into a deadly trap, kidnapped really. The trap is destined to extract from them their life force. These three characters are tempted by the promise of quick and easy money ($80 in one day!). Over time however, they are seduced, drugged, screwed, and broken physically as well as spiritually. The corporation "cares deeply for the family" as long as it serves the corporate mission to maximize profits. As soon as any one of them becomes a liability, that person is spit out to fend for themselves or to die. Sylvia is the first to realize that something is wrong. She chooses to defend herself by seeking a lower paying but less humiliating form of employment. Cleaning hotel rooms, she is able to remain in relationship with another human being, maintain her sense of humor, and with it her humanity. Little sister Coco gets seduced by false promises and is used up, addicted to car payments as much as to crack. Raul risks his life to save his friend and gets his reward -- broken ribs, a false drug charge, and a pink slip (unemployment).
At the end of the movie Sylvia and Don are in identical situations. They realize to their horror, that their souls have been kidnapped, that they are slaves to a mindless system of profit making which doesn't care about them in the least. They are devastated by the thought that they may have to "eat sh*t" for the rest of their lives and there seems nothing they can do about it.
Amber, the high school student, dreams of becoming an astronaut. She is the only main characters who defies conventional wisdom, turning her back on the system. She looks at her mother's pathetic conformist life, listens to her rebel uncle, and decides to embrace an uncertain economic future by quitting her job over the prospect of a lifetime of unreality. Amber is an "everyman" character, an average student at an average high school, working at one of the nation's millions of minimum wage "entry level" positions. She is a cog in the corporate machinery, starting her life at the bottom, but with "great potential" according to her boss (Esai Morales). Gradually, it dawns on Amber that something is not right. She doesn't yet know what is wrong, but she decides to join a group of like minded young people who begin by just saying "No!" They choose the path of integrity, listening to their inner voice. While their initial attempt at direct action freeing the slave cattle appears ludicrous, they are, at least, doing something. They learn from their efforts, and refuse to give up. Meanwhile, Amber is reminded of the ludicrous behavior of Nelson Mandela, founder of the African National Congress, who spent more than 20 years of his life in prison rather than to bend to apartheid. In the end, the power of his example broke the back of apartheid and made Mandela president of South Africa. Rather than "hope for change" Mandela refused to eat the "sh*t" that South Africa required of every black person. Amber, like Mandela, doesn't know where her protests will lead, but she opts for idealism over compromise, preferring rebellion over obedience.
In the end it is the single-minded pursuit of corporate profits which requires that the line move ever faster. The speed of the line inevitably leads to mistakes (unwanted substances in the ground beef, injuries, inhumane relationships). Perpetual growth in the corporate bottom line requires that every day, some new compromise be made, some value sacrificed, some life lost. This important film challenges viewers to ask themselves if they are swallowing humiliation for the sake of false security.