Vibrator: Isolated in a Sea of Food

In the opening scene of Vibrator, food is featured in the primary form of pop cultural commodity. In the sequence, food represents pop cultural cliche, or corresponds directly to the protagonist’s social anxiety in relation to such cliches. Such immediate attention to food, and its associated consumer culture helps to quickly frame the protagonist as an outsider. It is this isolation, resulting from her inability to assimilate to the pop culture of her society, that enables her sharp criticisms. This isolation is nuanced by the almost threatening, and overwhelming presence of the collective food around her. This moment provides ample characterization; though it only encompasses the first couple minutes of the film, it helps the viewer to understand the protagonist, especially when she jumps into more spontaneous moments in the film.

The first few shots are quick, almost overwhelming skims across the supermarket, revealing shoppers and their prospective purchases. First a sea of magazines, panning over to curious customers, and refrigerated beverages in the background. A customer leaving, as another enters. A man on his cell phone walking past a section so quickly the camera cannot even identify its contents. And then a sign “WHITE DAY” and panning from one set of sweets to another, specifically shortbread cookies.

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The camera work, just like the narrator, exudes social anxiety. The quick movements and handicam could either be intended to establish the tone of the film or to express the literal visual perspective of the female protagonist. It isn’t clear, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Perhaps what’s essential is the distant relationship enabled by the camera between the subject and the food. All these items are merely evidence of a commercial culture she doesn’t identify with, and that feels alien, and intrusive to her. Furthermore, there are no closeups of any of the food. Each item is not presented as an individual, really, but only in relationship to other food or people. They’re only presented in groupings, in walls  of food items, in crammed shelves. This builds the feel of the protagonist being so overwhelmed, in this scene. Given the implications of the camerawork, how can she not be? There is a constant sense of motion around her, nearly disorienting; yet she cannot escape the presence of the food. The groupings also emphasize the social importance of food; it only has power, in this scene, due to the collective nature.

The scene continues to explore food as a primarily social aspect. The narrator contemplates the vapidity of consumer oriented holidays, like valentines day, prefacing with “Will your valentine buy you chocolates?” Here, the camera is zoomed very closely on her eye, reflecting the introverted nature of her contemplations. She isn’t connected to her surroundings when she says these things. She isn’t part of the valentines day phenomenon. She is clearly differentiating herself, speaking as an outsider. This “outsider” feeling continues into the next couple statements, with “Don’t buy into the chocolate makers’ marketing ploy, you morons.”. As she says this, other shoppers are briefly shown, interacting normally, with the camera framed conventionally around them. When the camera returns to her, she seems distant, with her back turned, almost silhouetted against the artificially lit rows of food. And indeed, the protagonist is distant; she, at this moment, will never understand the happiness most people find in the artifice enforced by popular food culture.

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2 responses to “Vibrator: Isolated in a Sea of Food

  1. Nice writeup! I hadn’t really noticed the oppressive nature of the food in the supermarket, nor the feeling of entrapment represented by the stuffed shelves.

    I think it’s also interesting that she’s presented with a seemingly endless supply of food options, but she doesn’t see any value in any of them except the wine. She can tell these pre-packaged items aren’t going to satisfy her hunger, so the “best” she can do is numb herself to it.. When she sees the young trucker come in, her appetite is finally awakened. Interesting, isn’t it, that he comes in right after her belittlement of “White Day” chocolates?…

    This opening scene is a brilliant depiction of the relationship between society, depression, alcohol, and food as well as the representation of food (and other things) versus real substance.

    • chrisannejack

      Thanks. I especially agree with your comment about the trucker. The film definitely explicates her wakened apetite on two planes: literal, and figurative, as far as her sexual satiety.

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