At last we come across one of these things with something to say, and it’s the shortest one of them all so far. Maybe these two things are connected. When the Yogurt took over is directed by Victor Maldonaldo & Alfredo Torres from a script by Janis Robertson.
God bless Maurice LaMarche. The man’s so talented and yet it seems like half the time all we want out of him is that same Orson Welles impression, but still he comes ready to deliver.
When the Yogurt Took Over is adapted from a short story by John Scalzi, it’s about the barest possible of adaptations. The text, spoken in narration, is almost unaltered — and when it is you can sense the directors’ hand in setting up some gag that would work better on screen.
It goes without saying that employing LaMarche as Welles is deliberately intended to evoke his 1938 broadcast of Wells’ War of the Worlds, however there is another association that seems even more apt to the film’s themes. His 1937 staging of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar was a defiantly antifascist work at a time when America was doing its best to ignore the global rise in such ideology.
This film, and the story upon which it was based, follow defiantly in that legacy; take this line — sadly cut from the film version — in which the yoghurt offers solutions to America’s problems including, ‘Caring adequately for the nation’s poor while still promoting the capitalist system.’ Scalzi knows the absurdity of his creation and leans into it.
The film does so too, visually, creating enormous factories in the shape of yoghurt pots, and a society of identical, voiceless homunculi. It is only natural, we are told, that we should give our autonomy over to an authoritarian higher power that promises us easy answers to life’s tricky questions. One which seeks to solve things not through radical change, but the stricter enforcement of the current dominant hierarchy.
It is interesting how dystopias are so commonly characterised by the presence of a cultural monopoly. Suggesting that the thing that we most fear to lose is our individuality as much as our freedom. We fear becoming the ‘other’ that we demonise so readily in our day to day lives. It’s why bigots of all types hasten to accuse their targets of groupthink, a direct reference to Orwell’s love letter to the concept of identity.
Yoghurt in this case is a good foil. Second only to mayo on the list of bland foodstuffs (I rather like both) we can project onto it our fear of conformity. It exists in a liminal space, not quite alive, not quite solid, not quite a filling snack, and kinda sweet but kinda not too. Yet it is not villainous, the villain is our human desire for comfort and security at the cost of freedom, and as the film closes it invites us to question what we lose by giving that over.
At six minutes it’s the shortest one of these yet, it is also the best so far. Maybe the others should have taken notes.
Love, Death + Robots is currently available to stream on Netflix.
Image courtesy of Netflix