This leads to Sausage Party, a movie I recently saw and have mixed opinions on. Essentially, I’m amazed it functions at all. The concept was initially marketed like a direct-to-DVD movie, and not even a good one, and its trailers were horribly misrepresenting. It wasn’t until I looked at its R-rating that I began to take it seriously, and even then I was bewildered. Why would an animated movie in the West be R-rated? And who in their right mind would enjoy it?
To answer the second question, the reception speaks for itself. But outside of that, the movie definitely earns its R-rating. To give a general gist, Sausage Party takes place in a supermarket where food has sentience. They’re under the impression that the “gods”, aka humans, take them to “a better place”, when reality states otherwise. So when a lone hot dog discovers the truth, he makes it his mission to warn everyone that their utopia is a lie. This sounds like it could have potential commentary on how humans are the top predators and eat lower life-forms without thinking of the greater implications.
Before I go into my spoiler-filled analysis, I’d like to state right now that I did enjoy it. I got many laughs from its writing, even though 75% of its dialogue contains unneeded expletives, and it took advantage of its premise. The anti-PC stereotyping in the film didn’t bother me that much either, as, ignoring the fact that I usually think of computers, Canadian politics and a food brand when I hear “PC”, it makes fun of everyone equally. In other words, it’s hard to be offended when everyone's a target.
No, what really bothered me is the message. Remember how I said there’s potential as a commentary on humanity’s relationship with food? That’s not what it’s about. You’d think it’d be about that, what with the humans buying food, but nope! Instead, the movie uses this as an opportunity to comment on religion.
So we’re clear, I’m not against commenting on religion. It’s a layered subject with a lot of room for introspection and analysis. In the same breath, religion is frequently used a tool for oppressing and suppressing the masses by those in power, so criticizing that doesn’t bother me either. What I’m against is blanket critiques of religious institutions. It seems to be socially-acceptable to do that these days, and it annoys me because it fails to acknowledge nuance.
See, religion is complicated. Like any social structure, it exists to help maintain civility and order. It also gives the spiritual side of an individual, which does exist, an outlet to express itself in a controlled manner. It may seem like it comes with “needless” rules, and to an outsider I can see why that’d be, but those rules, like any other, are meant to maintain that order. I don’t even consider them rules, more like necessary guidelines.
I’m well-aware that religion can be and has been oppressive. It’s human, and like any human system, it’s prone to misuse and corruption. We’ve seen it through The Crusades, The Spanish Inquisition and the repression of LGBTQ groups in the US. Religion can be a weapon of harm, and it’s done a lot of damage throughout history. In that sense, I see why someone might be offset.
But it’s a tool that can be used for good in the right hands. I know that on the Jewish side, for instance, there are laws like those from harvesting, which are meant to help the poor and needy. When you harvest, you’re supposed to leave a corner of your field, and well as loose droppings and the odd grain you missed, for the poor, as it’s a reminder that the food you have isn’t really yours. It’s something people wouldn’t appreciate without a religious structure, and it, like many other “rules”, are actually somewhat brilliant. Religion is what you make of it, essentially.
Which is why Sausage Party’s message doesn’t sit well with me, as it attributes everything wrong with the world, even that which has no easy answers, to the shackles of religion: pedophilia? Religion’s fault. Bigotry? Religion’s fault. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict? You’d better believe it’s religion’s fault!
Here’s a secret: it’s not really. Pedophilia exists because people are aroused by children. Bigotry is based in ignorance. And the roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can’t be explained without a formal lecture. None of these are inherently religion’s fault, because, again, religion is a tool that can be used for good or bad. To shirk the blame on something that’s, inherently, neutral, is…dishonest. Besides, people like Josef Stalin weren’t religious, and they were monsters too.
I’m not sure why this movie argues that anyone who’s religious is some repressed, horny jerk who’d blindly believe something toxic even if it doesn’t make sense. Sure, there are people who are like that, no doubt. But in my community alone, there are many religious individuals who are worldly, successful and incredibly happy with their lives. They’re not “repressed”, they’re the exact opposite.
There’s also a really over-the-top orgy scene in the finale that rubbed me the wrong way for that exact reason. Ignoring that this is most-likely why the film got an R-rating, it makes it look like religion holds you back form pleasure, and freeing yourself from it is natural and healthy. It trivializes sexuality, which is a natural and healthy part of the human condition, and that sort of extreme is more hedonistic than natural. I understand it’s supposed to be funny, but I was more wincing than giggling.
There’s also missed potential for a balanced argument with the human “gods”. They’re not given humanity, they’re monsters. Considering that humans eat food to survive, that’s doing them a disservice. I’d have liked to get into their heads more, instead of that one druggie who gets his head chopped off in the third-act. It’d have been interesting, clever and, above all, nuanced.
Ultimately, Sausage Party is another film that, like Life of Pi, over-trivializes religious beliefs to make a statement. Except that, unlike Life of Pi, it acts like religion is something to reject instead of something to collect. That not only bothers me a religious person, it also bothers me as an intelligent human being. Why make such a petty argument about something so complicated? What, are we 5 years-old?
But I digress. For all my faults, I did enjoy the film. Which is possible, seeing how art isn’t a science. You can enjoy something without agreeing with it. I simply wish Sausage Party recognized how juvenile its message is, instead of treating it like something profound. That, and not fanning the flames of ignorance and bigotry.