‘Fast Food Nation’ author says it’s a ‘Jungle’ out there

In a day and age when the film industry is more apt to offer creativity on the side rather than having it be the juiciest of part of the celluloid meal, along comes “Fast Food Nation.”

Based on Eric Schlosser’s best-selling read, the provocative new film by Richard Linklater (“Before Sunrise,” “Waking Life”) is a curious anomaly in that the movie, technically a work of fiction, was adapted from Schlosser’s haunting work of nonfiction, which uncovered the hidden truths behind the nation’s fast food industry.

Schlosser’s book sat on the New York Times bestseller list for more than two years after its 2001 release.

<p>But the author, who co-wrote the screenplay with Linklater and served as executive producer, said the film was never designed to be a "political program."

“It doesn’t end with a message or a six-point plan,” Schlosser noted. “It’s trying to be true to life. And the first step is to make yourself aware. That’s what the book and the film try to do.”

The big-screen package does that by grilling its message slowly — and quite deliciously — favoring multi-layered storylines with a centerpiece that chronicles the plight of a group of Mexican immigrants sent to work in a meat-processing factory in fictional Cody, Colo.

An all-star cast — from Bruce Willis and Patricia Arquette to Greg Kinnear and Kris Kristofferson — are more like condiments here to the main meal. Linklater and Schlosser seem to want audiences to bite into a bigger metaphor: The problems facing the country today.

In a word: Corruption.

“The level of corruption overall [now], and in Congress, reminds me of the 1890s, which was probably the most corrupt period in our history,” he said. “In making the film, Richard and I were mostly influenced by ‘The Jungle’ by Upton Sinclair, and paid homage [to it] — it’s the 100th anniversary this year.”

Sinclair, the filmmaker added, had the idea of using the meatpacking industry and the slaughterhouse as a metaphor for corrupt late-19th century capitalism.

“I think that sort of thing is going on today, unfortunately. It’s not eastern European immigrants being ground into the ‘machinery,’ it’s Mexican and Guatemalan and Honduran immigrants. It’s all the same things. All the same tactics are being used today.”

Wanting the film to look as realistic as possible, the filmmakers actually shot several scenes in a fully operational slaughterhouse in Mexico.

“That slaughterhouse is actually much more modern and much cleaner than the ones I had seen in the United States — and smaller,” Schlosser admitted, adding that American slaughterhouses typically handle thousands of cattle each day. In comparison, the Mexican plant processed approximately 200.

While the film boasts numerous factoids, the one that stands out is the 13 billion hamburgers Americans consume each year.

A more inventive way to look at that: Put those burgers in a straight line and they would circle the planet more than nearly 33 times.

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