Over-Indulgence as a Sign of a Life Lived to the Fullest
by Hannah Williams
Food is often seen as an aspect of life that must be restricted and controlled in popular Western culture. In wealthier cultures, the enjoyment of food is often put on the back-burner, while minimal calorie count is prioritized in order to keep “fit.” Calorie counting and dieting are seen as the norm and carefree indulgence in food is seen as rebellious. In Last Holiday (2006), food’s role in the life of Georgia Byrd goes from being a highly restricted and even a fantasy, to becoming a concrete and vivid expression of her freedom in life and Georgia’s devotion to finding herself.
In the start of the film, Georgia makes beautiful dinners and feeds them to her young neighbor, taking pictures of every meal and forgoing actually eating the meals. Instead, Georgia decides to eat a low calorie, Lean Cuisine meal. Food becomes Georgia’s outlet, but she also doesn’t let herself fully indulge in it. It is clear that food is not something Georgia feels she can experience in fullness, and restriction and moderation become key to her lifestyle. Her indulgence in food is merely visual and olfactory. Until Georgia receives the diagnosis of a terminal illness she treats food as something she must restrict and cannot fully indulge in.
In a very pivotal scene after her diagnosis, Georgia finally gets the chance to order a meal from Chef Didier, a culinary artist she has long looked up to. Georgia’s request not only to have every meal on the menu, but also to have every meal prepared exactly as the chef intended, with no exceptions, equally shocks and pleases Chef Didier.This scene centers around the expectations that the affluent people at Didier’s restaurant normally order their food to fit their own, highly selective pallets (almost as a sign of their power), and when Georgia allows the chef to present his actual creation, he bonds with Georgia. Georgia indulges in the beautiful creations of Chef Didier, allowing his dreams and creativity to become a part of herself. Individuals at the table across the room from Georgia are captivated by the large amounts of gourmet food she is having delivered to her table. There is something captivating about having Georgia, a supposedly wealthy independent woman, order such large amounts of food. The Senator notes, “I wish I could command attention like that,” referring to Georgia’s table full of food. He assumes that Georgia’s main focus in ordering food is the attention of others. Similar to how women often restrict their food intake for (supposed) attention to their physical form, the same can be said for over-indulging. If women aren’t getting attention from eating too little, they’re expected to be trying to get attention for eating too much. There is an expectation placed on women to somehow be asking for attention, rather than fulfilling an internal need.
Through Georgia and Didier’s bond through food, Didier jokingly reveals a secret to Georgia. Chef Didier shares with Georgia that the “secret to life is butter,” which reveals to the audience that the secret to life is releasing restriction. Butter, a commonly restricted food, is a representation of allowing pleasure in life while one still has the ability to do so.
Georgia Byrd’s relationship with food in Last Holiday, is an outward expression of her relationship with herself. Food changes roles from being regulated and restricted and becomes a sign of indulgence and joy. As Georgia’s relationship with food changes, so does her relationship and acceptance of herself, making food an outward expression of her internal dialogue.
Wang, Wayne, director. Last Holiday. Paramount Pictures, 2006.