The marketing for Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon’s Sausage Party has been slightly misleading. The film has been using the hook of “What if food were sentient and then realized that its purpose was to ‘die’ in horrific fashion?” That appears to be the movie’s only joke, but what the marketing won’t tell you is that the heart of Sausage Party is far more controversial because Sausage Party is taking on religion, specifically, the part of religion concerned with the afterlife. It turns a film that’s undeniably raunchy and juvenile into one that’s worth a thoughtful discussion even if it doesn’t have the breadth to tackle the complexities of its argument.
The food at Shopwell’s supermarket wakes up every day and sings a song about how they hope the gods (humans) will choose them and take them to the “Great Beyond” (the place outside the supermarket) where they’re sure “nothing bad will ever happen.” Frank (Seth Rogen), is a hot dog, who believes he’ll finally get to be inside his girlfriend Brenda (Kristen Wiig), a hot dog bun, when they’re together in the Great Beyond. However, a shopping cart accident gets Frank and Brenda knocked out of the cart and they must find a way back to their aisle. But while Brenda believes they must hurry back to appease the gods and that being lost is punishment for breaking the packaging and touching tips, Frank learns from the non-perishables that the Great Beyond is a terrible lie. Meanwhile, Frank’s friend Barry (Michael Cera), a hot dog that stayed in the cart and found his way to a human’s home, learns the horrible truth firsthand and must find his way back to the supermarket so he can warn everyone about their violent fate.
Tiernan and Vernon, working from a script by Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Rogen, & Evan Goldberg, really lean into that violence, and it’s both disturbing and funny to watch animated food die in horrible ways. It almost works like a horror movie, except it’s played for laughs instead of scares, and while you would think that the concept of food “dying” would get old after we first see it happen, it stays remarkably fresh because it’s all in service of a more complicated subtext that runs throughout the film.
Sausage Party isn’t an atheist film, per say. In the context of the world it sets up, gods are real and an afterlife is real. The twist is that the gods torture and kill their followers and that the afterlife is hell instead of heaven. The point Sausage Party is making is that religion is a convenient lie. If food (people) knew the truth about its final destination, it would be without hope. Through the prism of the film’s subtext, religion’s purpose is, as Marx said, the opiate of the masses.
Of course, this argument only works if your religious beliefs are based only on your hope of getting into heaven. If Sausage Party paints religious people as simple minded, it’s because it has a simplistic view of religion. If all religious people were religious simply because they believed it would get them into heaven, then the movie would be on to something, but that’s painting a few billion people with a very broad brush, and it sets up a straw man argument. Yes, there are certainly people who only see religion as a ticket to paradise, but that’s not the only purpose or even the prime purpose of religion for many.
I admire Sausage Party for its willingness to go for something deeper than “Wouldn’t it be funny if food got destroyed for 90 minutes?” but its argument is too facile in the face of its weighty subject matter. While you could retreat to, “It’s a movie where a hot dog wants to have sex with a bun; don’t take it to seriously,” that’s a cop out because the filmmakers make religion the central subtext of their movie. It’s where the major conflict originates. At one point, Frank and Brenda stop to have an argument about making decisions based on facts versus faith. The comedy surrounding it is the sugarcoating, and that comedy sells a whole lot better than, “Religion is a comforting lie.”
That’s not to say Sausage Party is a bad movie. It’s an ambitious one that goes far beyond its initial premise of just parodying Pixar and Disney pictures. I like that it’s willing to engage in a controversial statement even if it doesn’t have all the ammunition it needs to back up its stance. Also, the movie succeeds as a comedy in that it’s painfully funny assuming you love irreverent, weird humor. If you need to know if Sausage Party is your speed, ask yourself this question, “Would I laugh at a movie with a rampaging douche that acts like a douche?” If the answer is yes, then Sausage Party will definitely be worth your time. Just expect a little more on your plate than just a potato screaming as its skin gets peeled off.