On the Importance of Refrigerators in Film

Refrigerators occupy a special, if strange, and surprisingly versatile, place in film. They have been killing machines, nuclear bunkers, and portals to alternate, ghost-filled dimensions. Despite these extreme refrigerator incorporations, the typical integration of this appliance is much more grounded and dull. Movie characters eat too, after all, and, in the search for verisimilitude, the refrigerator inevitably becomes a part of world-building—a necessary household detail that must be depicted to maintain the illusion of these settings as real, livable spaces. Sometimes, we are even treated to a brief exchange between the characters and this essential component of the modern environment.

“In the Fridge” collates these interactions, and, in doing so, opens up a network of significance around these seemingly innocuous moments. This video is a well-crafted short collection emblematic of the modern trend of fan-edit compilations/supercuts which I have previously discussed at length on a macro scale. “In the Fridge” is an example of a low-stakes, seemingly uninspired montage holding untold meaning and importance precisely because of its ardent decontextualization and straight-forward presentation. The video is comprised simply of shots from films past and present where the ubiquitous experience of searching through the refrigerator is represented, often identically. Characters open the door, silently glare at the contents and, typically, make a selection. That’s it. There is no narrative arc, no larger point made, just an everyday task played out in familiar fashion across multiple texts. It may seem silly to devote so much ink to such a small, inconsequential moment (it is, to be fair), but the absurdity inherent is all part of the point.

When placed side-by-side, the details change but many of the broad strokes remain the same. The characters scan, exhale, pause, make a choice, and get out. The choices are different, the contents vary, and sometimes the tone can vary slightly as well. But the expectations, the experience, and the time spent are quite similar and routine. It’s a near-absent-minded endeavor, and this element is key to its importance. The shots replicate the similarity and the mundanity of this task, but in an odd way, by inversion, by mirroring, by reflecting this dull experience and giving it a twist of absurdity and unreality indicative of the possibilities of film. We are allowed to look at this everyday occurrence from a new vantage and with amplified intrigue. Stringing these moments together creates a paradox of sorts—it amplifies the importance of these interstitial moments while also redoubling their mundanity, capitalizing on many contradictions of modern existence in an efficient, strikingly simple commonality.

Every day we interact with inanimate objects. Every day we eat. Fully 99.5% of American households contain a refrigerator. The ubiquity of this appliance is virtually unparalleled. Routinely, passively scanning the contents of the refrigerator is an act we are all intimately familiar with. Most days, we stare blankly into this void, forced to make a choice. Whether you choose consumer product A or B is immaterial; it’s the process that matters. It is an appliance that still crops up in census results and one that remains near universal across demographics. It is a large appliance that is deemed an essential and integral part of the household. It is not only a household consumer product, it’s a product that contains products (much like film and television to boot), but it is also a unit of measure that signals changes in spending and consumption and shifts in lifestyle and cost of living, while also representing disparities between developed and developing countries. It is also increasingly a point of contention, as we aim for greater energy consciousness.

In our modern lives, we are constantly making decisions, but, frequently, these decisions are instantaneous and less tactile, involving a swift keystroke to accomplish. Comparatively, finding something to eat is gargantuan—one must get up, walk to the refrigerator, inspect the contents, make an informed decision, and prepare whatever is selected for consumption. In this action, primal urges of survival are sublimated into boring annoyances. These are visions of modernity and routine luxury; conflict and instinct are intertwined with marketing, branding, and advertising. This montage is also implicitly a comment on modern technology. Here, a defining comfort of the modern world has been fully integrated and we are totally complacent to its existence. Considering all this, these images of grazing are definitive portraits of modernity.

What does it mean to stare blankly into this maw? What does its representation and presentation signify? These are the in-between moments in life, these are the boring moments. These are moments of realism, moments of reflection, moments of unselfconsciousness. These are pauses. These are moments when characters make small, inconsequential choices—easily reversible decisions with no ramifications outside their own being and desire. These are a representation of our commonalities, and our collective environmental interactions with the world we’ve constructed. Because these moments can feel out of place, they signal moments when filmmakers are pointing us toward something of consequence. Life happens in these in-between, universal mundane flashes when we are not paying attention. They are potentially stoking our cognition, beckoning us to remain attuned rather than giving in to the honed perception patterns of the everyday.

Often, these moments are simply explained away as exercises in continuity, clarifying why a character has a food item in hand now when just a second ago they did not. But, what is so strange about the shots Roman Holiday strings is that they are so carefully constructed and outlined, and the undertaking getting the shots seems more involved than to simply maintain prop continuity. These moments are amplified, the emotion is heightened. Framing is highlighted here, eliciting an emphasis typically granted to moments of narrative and thematic import that are accentuated for a tailor-made screen-grab. We need to see the people but we also need to see the choices (and the labels). These can be lessons in staging, building up foreground, middle ground, and background, and exercising deep focus to construct choreography of knowledge. In these moments the characters direction is focused towards us, closed off from the world around them; people approaching from behind with whatever intent are known by us but not by the character scoping the foodstuffs. Film language and visual choreography is exposed while being reduced to a tunnel of forced perspective.

The perspective of these shots is vital to understanding the emphasis. It is reversed; the inanimate object is viewing us, as if a discreet camera is placed behind the food and beverage. These are not set-ups that fit well with modern film. They are not exciting moments, rather they are tedious and with little plot and character relevance. It is simply a common task and it is often tackled and toned as the drudgery it is, while being beautifully and evocatively framed and lighted. This strange, incongruous visual contrast—using peculiar perspectives, while remaining rooted it in unobtrusive, mundane activity—provides a way to jab the fourth wall. The characters are allowed to look straight at us, but they are not addressing us, nor do they betray the hermetic of the film universe. Only the voyeuristic, untethered position of the camera signals the incongruence. These shots represent subtle ruptures in the fabric rather than tears, cracks rather than gaping windows. “In the Fridge” captures the way movies tackle a difficult balance between reality and fiction by emphasizing a particular crest in this ebb and flow.

Take the absurd narrowness of this focus as instructive in itself—going forward, consider these moments, listen to these pauses, relish these absurdly mundane tasks that are constructed and awkwardly placed in-between lively, action-filled set pieces. Actively contort your perception; view the inconsequential as essential; immerse yourself in the entirety. This is the beauty of film and life; they are constructed from a series of fragments stitched together in a jaunty, fragile narrative. In film, we can elevate the fleeting moments, exaggerate them, amplify them, give them vitality and importance in a way that alters our typical perception of them. Even while watching film, our minds tend to gloss over these times, we view a common occurrence and are predisposed to take it in as we would in our daily lives—with little consideration and reflection. Contemplate the endeavor—the necessary set-up, the care taken in constructing little moments. Blow-up the mundane into hyperbole; find exaggerated, large-scale meaning in the moments when your brain is telling you to switch-off. Fight this urge and savor it all.

This article was written by Oliver O’Sullivan, a writer for dusk magazine. 

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