Daisy Edgar Jones and Sebastian Stan star as the alluring Noa and Steve in Mimi Cave’s debut film, Fresh, that explores the ferociousness of modern dating. The taste of infatuation and love has never tasted sweeter than portrayed by screenwriter Lauryn Kahn.
The opening scene has dark undertones that present us with the hero’s presence even before he enters the screen. The mysterious music by Blood Orange compliments what is to unfold by setting the stage up for the director’s intelligent experimentation. Noa is seen navigating her way to meet her audacious date who isn’t necessarily chivalric but expects his women to be hyper-feminine for which he ridicules her individuality. The comment on traditional needs and expectations that the man imposes stems from his masculine anxiety. Poor at handling rejections, where his fragile self-esteem becomes alert, he calls Noa “a stuck-up bitch” by projecting his feelings onto her when she chooses to call off the date. After multiple defeats, we realise the need for failure so that the hero can look polished and good enough to enter the main picture smoothly.
Noa’s frustration with online dating makes her curious to meet Steve whom she met at a grocery store. We can make out she’s alarmed and lured in a fascinating way because, living in a consumerist-driven world, meeting people organically has become a rare phenomenon. Disillusioned with online dating, when Noa finally meets her hero, she gives in to every hopeless romantic’s dream.
Steve’s character from the beginning comes with unique symbolism which we need to pay close attention to. The character’s motives throughout the film remain suspicious and can be analysed through his attire and taste in art. Steve is always found wearing warm, dark tones that represent his mysterious aura. His choice of clothing is always sophisticated, and rich; he seems to have devilish qualities which attract heterosexual females. The colours hold eroticism and power: psychoanalyst John Carl Flugel said, “Men gave up their right to all the brighter, gayer, more elaborate, and more varied forms of ornamentation.”
With heightened emotions, women feel there is anticipation and discovery, the feminine intuition to learn more about a man gets elevated. As much as predictability has peace, women are drawn to solve the myriad mysteries that always keep them on their toes. By this, women unintentionally submit themselves to men by giving them the power of an aggressor. Although the narrative has been formed through Noa’s character, does she have the equal right and representation as an individual to express her distinctiveness, or is she a lost female trying to fit into a role? As much as Steve’s nuanced character, does her role give her the power of privilege to dictate the plot?
When the pair finally hit off, they decide to spend the weekend together and take an impromptu trip where the drama unfolds. Steve’s house has modern architecture with clean and defined lines, lack of embellishments, but a good deal of abstract paintings to compliment his independence. The paintings do not focus on the Singular Truth but advance us to think of Subjective Realities. Like Steve himself, who is open for the audience to judge, abstract art is like a spectrum to understand him. Its non-objective and nuanced compositions perfectly sit to improvise Steve’s character.
Steve, like a gentleman, takes care of the plot by pouring wine and being his charming self. His malevolent trait is finally revealed to the audience when he drugs Noa to encapsulate her. Without any manipulative tricks, he unfolds his motive to cut her body parts and sell them off.
Cannibalism and absurdity together are two important themes that are tackled in the film. Schopenhauer writes, “The concept of Wrong [for which we can substitute “Supreme Error”] . . . in its most universal abstraction, is most completely, peculiarly, and palpably expressed in cannibalism. This is its most distinct and obvious type, the terrible picture of the greatest conflict of the will with itself at the highest grade of its objectification, which is man. After this we have murder.” Cannibalism is an act of the primitive and barbaric according to Western ideologies, such that we frown and scorn Steve’s actions.
The representation of meat throughout the movie has graphic detailing where we are no longer able to look at food through the lens of cultural supremacy. The act of eating, cooking, and selling human flesh has been depicted in a way to showcase the privileged elite class. Food, in a way here, is a symbol to showcase one’s power, domination, control, and superior taste for those who can afford the rare commodity. The human is no longer attached to itself but has been reduced to a body. The existentialist quality has also been noted when Steve reveals his indulgence in cannibalism is due to his desperate need to make sense of life. Why is there an overwhelming urge to find meaning and purpose rather than believe in the absurdity of life?
The film uses meat as a way to silence women who are only commodities for men. Not only is Noa victimised, but so are other women who are not even given a face. The facelessness and mere voices showcase how women historically have been voicing themselves and their rights, but the lack of representation is devastating. The film metaphorically speaks the language of women’s trauma. When in the movie, we are made aware of Noa’s special treatment, it makes us ponder how women have been placed against each other.
Dance is another form of symbolism that makes its recurring presence. The scenes give us a representation of an illusion both characters want to live in. The systematic and coordinated movements are performed to encourage us to think about Noa and Steve’s submission towards each other, even though Steve is clearly a monster. The imagination flows freely and both characters have no responsibility to do something for the plot, but rather just enjoy each other’s company.
The ending of the film is when Noa takes Steve’s life and saves the women from being marginalised — she gives them the representation they always deserved. Steve’s narcissistic traits not only make him identify with Patrick Bateman from American Psycho but it is his gentleness towards women that makes us empathise with him. Fresh helps us gain newer perspectives, and its heavy symbolism and commentary on individualism is a trademark of modernist literature. The film challenges and pushes its own limits by testing the audience at the same time.
Pooja is an English Literature graduate from Sophia College, Autonomous, Mumbai University, India. She is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in English Studies and her area of interest lies in anthropology, disability studies, and women’s writing. She has participated in many conferences and has her poems published in a recent anthology titled Wine and Words.