Eric Schlosser’s non-fiction book, “Fast Food Nation” on which the feature film is based pulled no punches when it came to detailing exactly how a cow becomes a hamburger. The film is the same way. Why the actual workings of a slaughter house are included was just one of the many questions I had for this soft-spoken but passionate author when I spoke to him on October 19, 2006. We also covered updates on several issues he’d brought up in his book, the whispering campaign launched against him, and whether or not he himself will take a bite out of a burger.
Very bad things happen to cattle in Richard Linklater’s FAST FOOD NATION, a feature narrative based on the non-fiction book by Eric Schlosser. In that book, there is a graphic description of how a cow is turned into the burger at the local fast food franchise. The film, co-written by Linklater and Schlosser, is just as graphic. Those aren’t special effects on the screen. It’s a real slaughter house at the climax of the film, just before the caustic joke that ends it. And very, very bad things happen to the people whose lives revolve around the fast-fooding of America, too. By blending fictional characters with hard, cold facts, the realities of corrupt meat packers, minimum-wage drones, and exploited migrant workers take on an emotional edge that isn’t found in the book, as intellectually infurating as that book was. The film takes a documentary-like tone, with the melodrama coming from the system that keeps everyone down, and downing crap-filled meat. It’s all the melodrama that’s necessary.
Politics abound in FAST FOOD NATION, not stridently, but with an impact that is all the more deadly for the low-key tone as it explains how the exploitation of the average American in this culture is as pervasive as that of the migrants, if less obvious. And while it doesn’t offer answers as such to what it depicts on screen, it does demand that its audience consider how what they see affects them, even if they never patronize fast food franchises. It also demands that its audience make a choice about what it continues to put on its collective plate and in its collective stomach. This is strong stuff, and absolutely essential in keeping the populace at large well-informed. It may even save a few lives.