Cinema, at its best, helps us see the world anew. The commonplace becomes compelling, the ordinary becomes extraordinary. Few films accomplish this feat, but the ones that do stick with you like …. well, like a Big Mac.
“Super Size Me,” a 96-minute documentary by Morgan Spurlock, has found its way from the Sundance Film Festival (where Spurlock won the Director’s Award) to mainstream theaters.
By now, most folks have heard that the project chronicles Spurlock’s 30-day McDiet—eating nothing but McDonald’s—to see how the fast food affects his body. But the film is quite more than its hook; it’s also a journey across America, as Spurlock talks to experts, educators and eaters about Americans’ cravings for fast food.
Spurlock’s diet had several rules: He could eat only what appeared on the McDonald’s menu, he could “super size it” only when asked by the cashier, and he had to sample the entire McDonald’s menu during his 30-day experiment.
Spurlock also enlisted three physicians, a nutritionist and an exercise physiologist to measure the changes in his health. Simply put, the changes were not favorable. Five days into the experiment, the 6’2″, 185 pound West Virginia native had gained 10 pounds. This was despite a sickening moment on day two when Spurlock hurled his entire McLunch—on camera.
Spurlock’s willingness to put himself on display grounds the documentary in a personal and engaging way, but the facts and opinions he uncovers en route to an understanding of fast food are no less fascinating.
He talks to: Jared Fogle, Subway spokesman; U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher; Professor John Banzhaf, public interest lawyer; Don Gorske, who eats two Big Macs each day; and dozens of others.
They talk about various topics: an obesity epidemic; personal responsibility; food toxicity; child-targeted advertising; food processing; portion size; gastric bypass surgery; and the addictive qualities of some foods.
The documentary moves relatively fast, cutting back and forth between Spurlock’s interviews and his own health, about which the doctors grow concerned. As he continues to gain weight and increase his body fat, one of the doctors tells him he’s “pickling” his liver with the McDiet and he should cease the experiment.
Spurlock weighs his options as he continues to explore the question of where personal responsibility stops and corporate responsibility begins. He seems to arrive at an answer near documentary’s end, when—speaking of death—he asks, “Who do you want to go first, you or them?” By them, he means corporations.
Some critics are likening Spurlock to Michael “Bowling for Columbine” Moore. Both filmmakers agitate for social change, and they do so on camera. Both also take heat for what some call irresponsible and misleading projects.
“Super Size Me” isn’t perfect. Spurlock offers lots of facts, some of them too quickly to process, and the point of the extreme McDiet is questionable. But the documentary is an important work because it heightens awareness of our fast-food culture. As it says in the closing credits, six weeks after “Super Size Me” premiered at Sundance, McDonald’s eliminated super-sizing and introduced a new line of salads.
Now if Spurlock will just produce a film about theater concessions …
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
MPAA Rating: Not rated. Reviewer’s Note: Contains some mild language and a scene in which Morgan’s girlfriend frankly discusses how the McDiet has negatively affected their sex life.
Director: Morgan Spurlock
Writer: Morgan Spurlock
Cast: Morgan Spurlock; Dr. Daryl Isaacs; Dr. Lisa Ganjhu; Dr. Stephen Siegel; Bridget Bennett.
The movie’s official Web site is here.