In this critical documentary about the world’s largest fast food chain, Morgan Spurlock sets out on what he describes as “every eight year old’s dream”: a month long, three-meal-a-day binge at McDonald’s fast food restaurants. In this rollicking experiment Spurlock is the guinea pig, and the results are unsettling. In one month he eats the same amount of McDonald’s food that nutritionists recommend eating over the course of eight years and gains nearly twenty-five pounds in the process.
Among the many disturbing statistics cited in “Super Size Me,” the fact that sixty percent of Americans are overweight is a focus of attention. The film is peppered with images of obese citizens cruising fast food causeways. Well, maybe this is America. One of the first things that an Argentine friend of mine said upon visiting the US for the first time was, “Americans are fat!” While a good percentage of the world’s population wakes up each morning not knowing where their breakfast is going to come from, many Americans wake up each morning not knowing if they’ll be able to see their toes when they get out of bed. Spurlock points out that America’s fast food industries, especially McDonald’s, fuel this excess. McDonald’s feeds more people each day than the entire population of Spain, and in Manhattan alone there are roughly eighty McDonald’s franchises. In more ways than one, Spurlock was taking on a giant when he decided to make this film.
In the beginning of the movie, we learn that Spurlock’s girlfriend is a vegan chef, highlighting the potential risk not only to his health, but also to his love life. “I am a little worried about him,” says the girlfriend before Spurlock begins his ordeal. If the new diet disturbed his girlfriend, it did the same to his doctors. Before he begins his Golden Arches fast he receives a checkup by three doctors, all of whom give him a clean bill of health and advise Spurlock not to go through with the venture. Two days later, he is vomiting a super sized meal out of his car window. “It is the same when you’re quitting smoking,” Spurlock says to the camera, “the first three days are the worst. After you’re over that hump, it gets easier.” As his McBinge continues, Spurlock’s smiling face becomes pale and sickly. He admits to experiencing dizzy spells and depression. A week into it, we hear his girlfriend’s commentary on the decline of his sexual performance. “I feel horrible,” he tells the camera on day eight.
Interspersed throughout the movie is disturbing information about McDonald’s strategies to win customers. At one point Spurlock points out that one of the business’s strengths is its effective way of drawing children into their restaurants and getting them hooked at a young age. They use what kids love best: clowns, birthday parties, toys and, of course, playgrounds. In some areas, the only playground the community has is the one at McDonald’s. One of the most powerful moments in “Super Size Me” occurs when Spurlock shows first graders pictures of George Washington, Jesus Christ and Ronald McDonald. You guessed it, our friend Ronald is the only figure of the three that all the kids recognize.
Aside from a horror movie about cannibalism I saw in Mexico, I’ve never been to a movie that gave me quite the same gastric sensation. My stomach was gurgling throughout the film, and its queasiness worsened as Spurlock’s adventure continued. In one strangely sober scene on day twenty-one, Spurlock wakes up in the middle of the night, unable to breathe. Peering blearily into the camera, he complains of heart palpitations and dizziness. He weakly comments that he wants to keep going with the project, but not at the cost of his life. A family history of heart problems starts rearing its ugly head. His next visit to his indignant doctors tells him that it might be time to quit the McDiet. “Your liver is like pate,” one doctor explains. After a few phone conversations with his loved ones, and some serious self-reflection, it looks like he might give up on the endeavor. However, in the next scene he is hesitantly swallowing another Big Mac for dinner.
The remaining days slip by like hamburger grease, and though his health condition only worsens, he makes it to the one month mark without any more brushes with death. His vegan girlfriend and a team of three doctors have a detox diet and exercise routine planned out for him. It took him nine long months to get back to his original weight.
Though the informative criticism and Spurlock’s hilarious ordeal were well worth the six dollars it cost to see the movie, the film failed to address one of the biggest pulls of McDonald’s -- its affordability. This is a relevant issue, especially now, when the economy is weak and jobs are scarce. Yet Spurlock focuses his wit more on the ad campaigns and political lobbying of the industry than on its economic appeal. However, after “Super Size Me” came out, McDonald’s pulled the super size options from their menus, claiming that the decision had nothing to do with the film.
I would highly recommend watching this movie, but don’t stop by the Golden Arches on your way to the theatre. An hour after “Super Size Me” was over I still felt sick to my stomach. Morgan Spurlock took one for the team with this film; he suffered so that we may learn from his mistakes. In an interview on FilmThreat.com, when asked what he gained from the experience, Spurlock said “In a situation like this, we are the ones in control -– WE PAY THEM. If you don’t like what they’re giving you, then don’t pay them. If you vote with your fork long enough, they will try to appease you.”
Benjamin Dangl is a freelance writer and is the editor of www.UpsideDownWorld.org.
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