After viewing Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (2011) I was compelled to give Spurlock’s Super Size Me (2004) another shot. When the documentary about America’s ever expanding waistlines first premiered, I was so repulsed by the spectacle that I didn’t think I’d be able to stomach watching it. But I was intrigued by Spurlock’s personality and zeal and decided to watch at my own risk.
We all know the premise-Spurlock decides to go on an all McDonald’s diet for 30 days. He can only have items on the Mickey D’s menu, including drinks, and whenever a McDonald’s employee asks him if he would like to Supersize his order, he must comply. The rules are clear and finite. He hires a team of doctors and nutritionists to monitor his health throughout the course of his experiment, and even has the reluctant support of his vegan chef girlfriend. The tone of the documentary at the beginning is not unlike that of a lovable goon setting off on a quest that only he understands the importance of, while those around him just chuckle and shake their heads.
About midway through, the tone shifts completely. Spurlock is clearly struggling with the diet, and his doctors and family begin to worry about the permenant physical damage this whole crazy scheme is going to cause. At this point, Spurlock is fighting what can only be called an addiction-to his quest, but also to the food. He feels bad without it, is happy when he begins to chow down, and then soon after, feels horrible again. It all sounds very familiar to the audience, and it’s supposed to. It’s also supposed to frighten you, but by god, I would be lying if I said I couldn’t eat a McDonald’s hamburger while watching this all unfold. What the heck is wrong with me?
Despite countless appeals from his doctors, Spurlock continues full throttle, refusing to quit, even though his point has clearly been made. At the end, Spurlock gains 25 pounds, increases his cholesterol by 60 points, suffers from headaches, loss of energy and feelings of depression among other ailments. So what was it all for?
We know that Spurlock was able to get his body back to its pre-schmorgesbord diet condition. But why do all this just to prove what the American public supposedly already knows? Super Size Me was widely praised by critics, but some dissenters commented on Spurlock’s tendencies toward self-indulgence. I couldn’t help but also feel dumbfounded why someone would go against medical advice, especially after seeing cold hard evidence of his decaying liver, and ignore the anxieties of his family just to make a movie. But then I realized that’s what makes some people documentarists, and other people whiny movie critics (myself included, no worries). Both groups are equally passionate, just on different ends of the crazy spectrum.
I don’t agree with other critics evaluations of Spurlock’s vanity. If I wanted to create a film showcasing “me” and my tireless moral crusades, I could think of a few more attractive ways to do so. I think one of the most glaring successes the documentary manages is to teach health professionals and the general public, not that fast food is bad for you (we knew that), but that in a matter of weeks, you could be doing damage to your body. Weeks! On more than one occasion, Spurlock’s doctors confessed to being slightly surprised at the speed with which Spurlock’s overall health deteriorated. Now, very few people eat fast food everyday, but even eating it on a consistent basis, over let’s say months or even years, is reason enough to worry about what people are doing to themselves. Super Size Me is a film that pretty much compresses the fast-food-consuming lifecycle of a human and serves up a grim look into the future if American’s can’t soon grasp the concept of self-control and accountability. It’s a message that can never be too old, or too overdone, because tomorrow may just be the day it all sinks in.