The Deadly Sin of High Class
by Jack Wang
Set almost entirely around a lavish dinner table, the short film Next Floor (2008) is a nearly dialogue-free piece of cinematography that makes a powerful statement about the way we live in first-world countries. Over the course of nine minutes, no pun intended, the well-dressed dinner guests literally eat themselves into oblivion. Save for a few pauses to gulp down wine, our diners shovel bite after carnivorous bite into their cavernous maw. The feast is only briefly put on hold when the weight of their consumption causes them and their table to crash through the ground to the floor below. Once settled, their gorging start anew, despite the impending doom of falling lower and lower.
With visceral colors, clever framing, and well-purposed camera angles and shots, Denis Villeneuve’s Next Floor presents gourmet cuisines in an unappetizing way. The nauseating feeling starts from the very first shot of the dining table. A whole goat coated in a blood-like sauce lay lifeless in a silver platter. As the shot opens, a shark can be spotted in the corner. Such gruesome imageries assault the palette for the entire film. With extreme close ups on raw organs, empty ribcages, and animal heads, Villeneuve makes the unmistakable connection between food and death. The visceral visuals are accompanied by carefully chosen sound effects. The sophisticated air created by live classical music clashes with the savage crunch and wet sounds of flesh being consumed.
The food in this film drives a deeper meaning than just the gluttony of our diners. In the direct sense, the rhino head, cheetah carcass, and whole shark represent our role in causing the extinction of life through environmental destruction. Indirectly, the food represents the resources of our world, where its scarcity are highlighted by the exotic nature of the food. The mise-en-scène adds significant connections to this theme. In the bright glow of the chandelier, our guests’ does not seem concerned with their bottomless appetite. After all, there is always another plate of food and bottle of wine waiting around the corner. In their ignorance, the surroundings progresses towards a worsening state of dilapidation and darkness. The contrast between the dining table and the rest of the room draws parallel with the privileged life of the few versus the poverty of the many in the current world.
Villeneuve cleverly communicates political meanings through not only a hand-picked menu but also a selective guest list. Our gluttons range from skin heads and aristocrats to military, each staring each other down as they compete to stuff themselves. Only two guests does not partake in the feast. A man in vegetative state and a woman who refuses to eat. If we were to imagine the dinner guests as countries, the fact that the comatose man is also the only colored person speaks volumes about his potential significance as a representation of the third world, where the majority of non-whites live. He is both under-represented in terms of world population to the number of seats at the dinner table, as well as his share of the world’s resources due to his inability to eat. The woman may be a representation of the minority in wealthy countries who opposes the way resources has been distributed. However, she does not have the power to overcome the majority and befalls the same fate of falling into oblivion.
Next Floor not only makes a powerful statement of the human crisis of consumption, but also elaborates on the nuances of the problem—the fact that a minority of humanity is dooming all of man. The film ends with a slow zoom into an extremely close shot of the accusing stare of the head waiter, almost as if to say: If you are watching, you are most likely the few who are guilty of this overconsumption. Now that you are aware of your sin, what are you going to do to repent?
Villeneuve, Denis. “Next Floor.” nextfloor-film.com. 15 May. 2008. Web. 1 Feb. 2017