The hit movie Super Size Me shows us more than the evils of gorging on fast food. It stands as a testament to the power of the individual; the one committed enthusiast who is willing to lay his or her well-being on the line for a cause.
After a month-long marathon of burgers, shakes and French fries, the film’s intrepid producer Morgan Spurlock, said: “I hope you enjoy [my movie]. A lot of pain and suffering (mostly by me) was endured to create it.”
If you’re asking, “who is Morgan Spurlock?” you’ve missed one of the cinematic highlights of the season. Super Size Me is raking in the awards and the box office takings, and has recently come out in DVD form. The movie has already taken in more than $10 million in America alone—quite a feat for an independent documentary, even in the age of Michael Moore. It’s a hit in Australia and France, and huge promo pictures of Spurlock, his mouth stuffed with French fries, line the streets of London.
Spurlock acts as creator, producer, presenter and all-round medical guinea pig in a filmmaking quest to demonstrate how much damage a steady diet of fast food can do to the human body—in just one month. For his troubles, Spurlock has received the Best Director Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and the New Director Award at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.
The film has stirred such controversy that McDonald’s, the prime corporate target of the movie, have invested millions of dollars in a series of fight-back cinema commercials.
“[We] spent less than $75,000,” says Spurlock, “and managed to make a movie in less than one year. And it helped push McDonald’s to end Super Sizing before it even hit the theatres!” He smiles and added, “I’m pretty proud of that.”
Inspired by TV reports of a case in which two girls sued McDonald’s for making them obese, he began with only a couple of simple rules. One, he would eat McDonald’s breakfast, lunch and dinner for a month. Two, if the Mickie D’s sales people offered him the Super Size meal—a big hit in the States until the film was released—Spurlock would always accept. The movie tracks Spurlock’s progress and provides a sometimes funny, oftentimes discomforting and always entertaining diary of his journey from being a healthy, motivated and energetic 33-year-old male, to a man who is overweight and listless, with a liver that has turned almost to paste and recurring “addiction headaches.”
At one point in the movie, his nutritionist girlfriend, a committed vegan, says: “It’s hard for me to watch him go through this.” His G.P. warns him: “If you keep this up, you’re going to die. You’ll die!”
At the end of his marathon of burgers, shakes and fries, Spurlock’s downhill spiral surprises even the experienced medicos who are monitoring his progress. “My goal was to make an entertaining film that would make people think about how they lived,” he said.
A noble goal, yes, but for me the most potent thing about this movie is not the point that it makes but the passion of the man who produced it. In a world of claim and counter-claim, of polls proving this and polls proving that, in a world of “lies and statistics,” it is refreshing and inspiring to see someone putting his future on the line to prove a point that’s worth making.
It’s one thing to ask others to give up their time, efforts or health for something you and they believe. But real moral authority, it seems, comes to those who put themselves in the firing line. When you think about it, this is the core of the Christian message—great strength is born out of immense weakness; real influence comes from personal vulnerability and risk.
The great first-century hymn, quoted by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippian church, tells how Christ “made himself of no reputation” and “emptied himself” taking on the “form of a servant.” As a result, says Paul, “God has given him a name which is above every name” and a position of ultimate authority over creation and history. It is a constant theme of the Bible: God favors those who humble themselves.
Nobody in modern times exemplified this more than a diminutive Albanian nun who, though she often spoke in a way that ruffled establishment feathers and upset liberal minds, was applauded by kings and presidents and embraced by the poor and downtrodden. Mother Teresa was not always appreciated for the stand she took on some issues. But she was always given a respectful hearing, because she had earned the right to express her views. The world needs to hear from people of strong convictions. Yet there’s one thing it needs more: to hear from people who have earned the right to express strong convictions.
Of course, you can’t put a filmmaker like Morgan Spurlock in the same league as Mother Teresa. (I don’t imagine there’ll be a St. Morgan anytime soon!) Spurlock wasn’t building an orphanage or hospice or trying to feed the world’s poor. He was making a commercial entertainment product that he hoped would earn him a profit.
Most of us, though, will never aspire to Mother Teresa’s heights (or depths) of sainthood. For us, perhaps Spurlock and his film serve as a reminder that we can inspire positive change in the world—using the gifts and resources we have right now, starting right where we are. We just have to be willing to make ourselves vulnerable, to put something on the line in demonstration of what we believe. Even if that means eating a month’s worth of McDonald’s.