Thanksgiving: a time for humility, gratitude, and decency. It’s a special day when families come together to remember why we only set one day of the year aside for coming together with family, where generational differences are made abundantly clear, and displays of unbridled consumption commemorate America’s genocidal origins. Sure, Thanksgiving might not be the Norman Rockwellian heart-warmer of the popular imagination, but the holiday does still facilitate one gesture of absolute good, where differences of identity and creed give way to unity and contentedness.
Food is the reason for the season, the great pacifier and Thanksgiving’s chief redeeming feature. Your Libertarian uncle can’t argue the relative merits of Ayn Rand with a mouthful of potatoes, and your cousin’s anti-vaccination girlfriend will be too tuckered out after a hearty turkey dinner to explain where autism comes from. In its unparalleled capability to join solitary souls under the soothing effects of a full stomach, a good meal is almost like magic.
Food never looks better than it does in movies, mostly because technicians doctor up all onscreen morsels for maximum telegenic appeal. (Dirty little secret: The mouthwatering glaze on TV turkeys comes from hairspray applied liberally to the bird.) But beyond that, food in movies has a unique allure because it exists only in our imaginations, made perfect by virtue of its own unattainability. Everyone knows the only cookie worth eating is on the shelf too high to reach. Below, we’ve assembled a smorgasbord of smorgasbords from the world of cinema for your belly-rumbling pleasure. Any of the following filmic feasts would make for a fine aperitif before Thanksgiving dinner this Thursday, preparing your stomach for the chow-down of the year.
The Pale Man’s banquet, Pan’s Labyrinth
The spread: The three quests that the title faun in Guillermo del Toro’s 2006 magical-realist fable sends young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) to complete are specifically designed to test her values. Retrieving a magical key from inside a toad’s belly requires bravery from the young girl, and the final task challenges her to pit her sense of right and wrong against blind obedience, but her second task sends her to the lair of the Pale Man for an exercise in self-restraint. The eyeless monstrosity sits at the head of a irresistibly rustic Spanish feast, complete with roast ham, jars full of candies, gleaming apples, and beckoning pies. The faun warns Ofelia that she’s not to allow herself a single bite of the food or else she’ll face certain doom. But children’s hands have wandered since the dawn of time, and Ofelia’s only human.
The pièce de résistance: The grapes catch Ofelia’s eye. These are the greatest grapes she, or likely anyone, has ever seen — perfectly spherical, turgid with sweet juice, both indulgent and refreshing. She can’t help but sneak one of them, and launches the most memorable set piece of the film by awakening the horrific Pale Man for a storybook nightmare.