Where a dash of Buddhism makes for a perfect movie recipe,
...as well as for a perfect meal!
by Frederick Brenion
Sometimes you just need to listen to your family! I had not planned on watching “Ratatouille,” the animated summer surprise hit about a rat named Remy and his desire to become a cook, but when my wife and kids came home from the movie they just raved about it and insisted that I had to go see it. And as any good dad would do I dragged my foot. Last Friday my son called to tell me that I was to go to the theatre immediately after work, he would be there waiting, and would buy the tickets. Well... when your kid will pay your way how could I refuse? That is one of the "end benefits" of parenting!
I soon spent two hours of the most pleasurable movie-viewing, which I have not done for a very long time! “Ratatouille” is winsome, charming, and delightfully funny, without being cloying as one often gets from a Disney production. Thank Pixar for that! It was also challenging and insightful, so much so that I felt that this was one of those rare animated movies that speaks to the adult heart and mind as well.
I won’t give away all the plot here, because I hope that you will go out and enjoy this movie, like the way you would go out enjoy a new restaurant. Suffice to say that Remy, a rat, has a gift. He has a palate and can appreciate the sense of taste. Unlike his rat family who lives on every kind of garbage, Remy wants to explore and experiment with food. In the house where they hide, in France, Remy discovers a gourmet television program, as well as a cookbook, and has begun to learn the art of cooking. Remy’s heart is now beating to the beat of a different drummer, which leads to conflicts with his rat family. In time Remy finds his way to Paris, joins up with a young man, recently hired as the garbage boy in a once posh restaurant, and the culinary hilarity is underway.
It is halfway through the film that a singular moment, so full of insight, occurs; a dash of Dharma, a Buddhist accent, that will flavor the film to its satisfying, and dare I say, tasteful conclusion. Remy’s dilemma with the human world and the rat world is that he doesn’t fit in either. He doesn’t know who he is. His father, head rat of the colony, tells him that humans are humans, and rats are rats, and that will always lead to sorrow for the rat. Why? Because as Remy’s dad says, “You can’t change nature.” It is here that Remy enlightens us (and his dad) with his challenge that no, "Change is nature, Dad, the part that we can influence. And it starts when we decide." Remy, in learning to cook, has discovered that change is of the essence. It is the new combination of ingredients that brings out flavors unknown and exciting. Change can make a dead soup into a rave review.
And change will bring human and rat together to take on the fiercest of culinary critics, whose word could close them down for good. In three simple words, “Change is nature,” Remy captures the heart of Buddhist teachings about life. Thankfully there are no fixed natures. If we will be what we always were then life is truly the most hopeless of all endeavors. Thankfully impermanencechangeis the rule. Most of us fear that word “Impermanence.” Most of us run from “change.” But the Buddhist secret, whether expressed through cooking, or our other acts of life, is that it is only through change that the new can come. To embrace change is to embrace the new. To embrace the new is to embrace life itself. And that is how a true chef cooks, and how a Buddhist lives. Change, from whence comes variety, is the spice of our life! Remy’s guiding cookbook,“Anyone can cook!” in the hands of a Buddha becomes “Anyone can live!”
I can’t drag you all off to a movie, like my son did to me, but I hope you will add this summer treat to your list of must things to see. And like a fine meal I think you’ll want to go back again and again to sample this slice of what it means to truly live. Bon appetit!
Namu Amida Butsu,
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