Netflix’s The Kitchen, from co-directors Daniel Kaluuya and Kibwe Tavares, is a bleak and beautiful parable about humanity that’s set in a near-future version of London — when extreme gentrification and technological advancement have pushed ordinary and disadvantaged people farther out to the margins of society. Thankfully, we don’t get any of the normal futuristic tripe about killer robots and flying cars here; the movie, which hit the streaming giant on Friday, grapples instead with real, tangible byproducts of things like housing inequality and the splintering of society brought on by Big Tech that’s already happening right now.
That’s one of the many things that I loved about The Kitchen, the title of which is also the name of an overcrowded Kowloon sort of enclave where most of the story unfolds. The Kitchen itself is a dilapidated collection of structures, with apartments stacked haphazardly on top of each other. From the sky, it looks unfinished and in disrepair. It’s one of the last refuges for the poor who can’t afford the high-tech, luxury apartment units and driverless cars that make the rest of London feel like it’s another world away.
Because water is constantly going out in The Kitchen, residents queue early for showers. They can get email on their mirrors, as if that somehow makes life better. Buzzing drones are a constant nuisance, surveilling everyone from above. There are frequent and brutal police raids, and the residents of The Kitchen stay tuned in to a pirate radio station hosted by the “Lord Kitchener,” who delivers a steady musical diet of funk and soul sprinkled with his aphorisms and defiant proclamations: “Good morning! You’re with the Lord. It’s 7 a.m. — you know what time it is.”
Community updates, birthday shoutouts, and exhortations follow. “Okay, listen, the food is coming in on the north side of the market. If you’ve got extra tins, stay back. Only go if you need. Only go if you need. We gotta look out for each other.”
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One of the things that makes The Kitchen such a powerful and searing watch is the way it relies on both sight and sound to convey its message. In addition to the heartbreaking visuals of an oppressed community teetering on the edge, the sounds also ground you in this place and time. In fact, I found myself at times, throughout the movie, silently wishing that everything would slow down momentarily so I could just vibe to the music. The soundtrack is absolutely one of the best I’ve heard from a Netflix original in a long, long time (maybe ever).
The collection of songs even includes a hymn, How Great Thou Art, which is heard during an emotional climax in the movie. As an aside, its inclusion is all the more powerful given that the world of The Kitchen is not unlike the one that OpenAI and ChatGPT are trying to usher into existence, whether we’re ready or not. And the closer that it gets to reality, it’s hard not to feel like Big Tech is increasingly having a bipolar effect on the world; for some people, in other words, it all promises a wondrous and better life. For others, like the kind of people who live in The Kitchen, it means labor-replacement and living with the consequences of someone else’s choices.
The irony, of course, is that the people most often trampled underfoot by technology’s Darwinian march of progress generally understand that there are more important things in life than owning a faster calculator. How different Silicon Valley would be if if the CEOs of its increasingly winner-take-all giants stopped for a moment to consider what they’re doing not only for their users but also to everyone else left behind.
Image source: Netflix
Needless to say, for these and so many other reasons, The Kitchen is a must-watch. And if you find yourself, like me, blown away by the music as you’re watching, here’s the soundtrack’s complete track listing below:
Holding On, by Tirzah
Party Popper, by Backroad Gee
En blue jeans et blouson d’cuir, by Salvatore Amato
Kyenkyen Bi Adi M’awu, by Alhaji K Frimpong
How ‘Bout Us, by Champaign
Odo Nwom, by Kofi Nti feat Ofori Amponsah and Barosky
AK47, by Sayfar, Cyfred, 2woBunnies
Living Like I Do, by SBTRKT & Sampha
Lock Doh, by Giggs
Stay So, by Busy Signal
Zombie, by Fela Kuti
Candy, by Cameo
Xtra (Instrumental), by Ruff Sqwad
Walk Away (Dub Mix), by Charles Kipps
How Great Thou Art, by cast
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