The Philosophy of "Sausage Party"
A Frank Look at the Existential Plight of The Human Condition
"The horror! The horror!"
- Joseph Conrad
It’s the same old tired story.
A cartoon hot-dog Buddha living in a grocery store discovers that the human cond – er, hot dog condition is based on an illusion and embarks on a raunchy, R-rated quest to discover the secrets of the universe.
Just another Hollywood cliché. I mean, don’t you feel like you’ve already seen this a million times?
Me neither. This movie – brutal yet hilarious, racy yet meaningful, lowbrow yet deep – is one of the most unique big-budget movies to come out of Hollywood in a long time.
That said, we have actually heard this story before.
Buddha (the actual, historical Siddhartha Gautama, founder of Buddhism), as the story goes, lived a sheltered, protected life as the son of a king, insulated from everything beyond his small, protected world inside his parents’ dominion, until…one day, he ventured outside, and for the first time, discovered the existence of OASDDTWOAF (Old age, sickness, disease, and death, the way of all flesh.)
Just like Frank the hot dog. Or really, some of Frank’s friends, when they got a glimpse of life outside the grocery store, and came back to tell Frank about it.
Just like The Truman Show, where Jim Carrey lived in a world that was completely artificial, a world that had been constructed purely for the entertainment of others. He lived a life based on a colossal fabrication, until he eventually escaped and discovered the truth about his actual condition.
Exactly like Neo in "The Matrix."
In The Matrix, Neo discovers that what he thinks is “the world” is actually a vast illusion that was created to enable bad guys to drain humans of their life force (and then discard them like old batteries.)
But of course, instead of "Neo, The Chosen One," it's "Frank, the hot dog."
And instead of Trinity, it's Brenda Bunson, the Glamour Bun. Instead of Agent Smith as the bad guy, it's a really mean douche. And instead of being trapped in the illusion of The Matrix, they're trapped in a grocery store, held by the illusion of a catchy song that promises them wonderful things once they move on to life in "The Great Beyond" outside the store.
That song is the basis of their world. Every citizen of the grocery store bases their lives and happiness on that song. The song communicates the myth they live by, their worldview, their core life narrative.
And then it’s revealed to be a colossal lie.
“Sausage Party” is essentially “The Matrix” with wieners instead of Keanus.
And it reveals a great deal about the modern spiritual quest.
The Stages of Spiritual Seeking
Frank takes a journey not unlike one that many of us are familiar with.
Stage 1: “Naïve Belief” in the “Premodern”
Frank was taught plenty of things growing up in the Shopwell’s grocery store (umm, assuming hot dogs “grow up.”)
These were his days of “premodern” blissful ignorance.
The key to his worldview was the song.
“Take us to the great beyond,
Where we’re sure nothing bad happens to food,
Once we’re out the sliding doors things will al be grand,
We will live our dreams together in the promised land,
The Gods control our fate so we all know we’re in good hands,
We’re super-sure there’s nothing sh*tty waiting for us in the Great Beyond..”
Everyone sings it. Everyone believes it. The song binds every citizen of the store together. And the citizens of the grocery store are basically happy; they get along, more or less; they basically understand each other, more or less; they’re basically on the same page, they’re able to communicate with each other. It’s not perfect, of course, but there’s a community. The song maps out meaning, purpose, it lays out answers to The Big Questions. It’s their Bible, their Dhammapada, their Upanishads, their core narrative. Based on that, they look forward to leaving the great grocery store of life a long-awaited trip to the “Great Beyond,” known to us as “heaven” or “nirvana.”
Kinda like us.
We were taught plenty of things growing up. And we believed them – at least some of them – because, well, kids are naïve and tend to believe what they’re told. And sometimes they trust the folks around them that are telling them stuff. And a lot of the time, they just don’t know any different.
This means that we usually start out with “secondhand beliefs.” “I believe X because I was taught X.”
These beliefs unavoidably become part of our core programming. And of course, they can vary widely. If we’re lucky, we’re taught things that correspond at least somewhat roughly with reality. (Let’s assume a real “reality” for now.) Or sometimes, we’re taught stuff that is almost completely unreal, phony, fake, untrue.
Either way, in some form or another, it becomes part of our core life narrative.
But either way, sooner or later, we probably going to hit our first existential crisis.
Stage 2, Existential Crisis #1: Awakening to “The Horror”
Buddha ventured outside his castle and discovered some pretty harsh truths about life.
(Again, OASDDTWOAF: old age, sickness, disease, and death, the way of all flesh. Imagine never having a clue about any of those, and then discovering them, all at once. Quite a wake-up call for the condition we’re in.)
This discovery gave him an existential crisis that changed the course of his life, and eventually the course of history.)
Many of us see OASDDTWOAF as…well, a problem.
It was to Buddha, apparently, as well.
Getting old, sick and dead probably isn’t at the top of our list of what we want to achieve in life. It’s sometimes excluded completely from our core narrative or map of life. This is how life can surprise us by rudely revealing that the gamer here isn’t the free skip-to-the-front-of-the-line romp through Disneyland that we might have been led to believe.
Frank got a crash course in this when it was finally his turn to venture outside the grocery store, full of anticipation about the joys and raptures and blisses (mainly sex) that lie in “The Great Beyond” beyond the grocery store of life.
But a casual meal for us humans is a different experience for the carrots.
Instead of raptures and blisses and heavenly pleasures in the Great Beyond, Frank and his friends eventually discovered that they were destined for mealtime: getting sliced open, skinned, broken, boiled – the brutal savagery that we usually call “fixing dinner.” “The Great Beyond” turned out to be a slaughterhouse of horror.
That is the hot dog condition.
Christian theologians might describe this as Frank realizing that he’s in a “fallen state.” Buddhists might describe Frank as becoming aware of the First Noble Truth that “life is suffering.” Hindu priests might talk about Samsara, or the continuous cycle of life, death and reincarnation.
Psychologists might call this experience one of “cognitive dissonance” that can create an “existential crisis.” (Makes it sound so nice and clinical.)
As the Non-Perishables later explain: “As soon as we’re out those doors, the gods kill our asses.”
However you describe it, this revealed how much of Frank’s happiness – and the happiness of the rest of the community – was based on naiveté.
Ignorance of the real nature of the world. (Or what seems to be the real nature of the world.)
Which led to…
Stage 3, Existential Crisis #2: “Adolescent Rebellion”
"...some pretty big news:
everything we've been led to believe is a lie!"
When we reach a certain age, or go to college – sometimes in response to our own experiences of cognitive dissonance – we often start asking a few questions.
We question our core life narrative.
What do I know for sure?
Is what I was taught growing up, true?
How much of what I’ve been taught growing up is just wrong?
When we start truly, deeply questioning some of our deepest beliefs, this can provoke an existential crisis. Like Frank.
When he was watching his friend being mutilated, Frank experienced a direct, visceral, powerful realization: that the bedrock of his core narrative didn’t hold up under scrutiny. His experience – seeing his friends sliced, peeled and boiled – contradicted the fundamental message of his upbringing, to put it politely. His core beliefs seemed to be based on lies. His “religion” was bad. His core narrative was flawed and buggy.
Not everyone is hit too hard at this stage. Some folks were raised with a pretty good system that isn’t too out of touch with reality, that can hold up under the pressure and testing of life experience.
For other folks…well, they can get hit pretty hard by this. And it can be devastating.
Either way, we usually pass into a phase where secondhand beliefs just aren’t good enough. We want – we need - to find out for ourselves.
Sometimes this can lead to a blind, dumb, adolescent rebellion for no other reason than that we want to do something that’s 1) different, and 2) our own instead of someone else’s. Sometimes we’re raised well, and taught good things, but we throw them overboard because we’re dumb, rebellious teenagers.
Other times, we’re rebelling against stuff that should be rebelled against.
Sometimes it’s hard to know the difference.
Either way, we wind up having to…
Stage 4: Embark on a Quest for Answers in "Modernity"
We react in lots of different ways to our big awakening to “the horror.”
A lot of folks simply don’t think about it. The goal is to just enjoy your time on the grocery shelf. (Yes, you’re going to be broken, cut, peeled, boiled, and etc later, but…enjoy your time on the shelf! While you can…)
Other folks look for some kind of escape in drugs, alcohol, porn, daytime television, and other addictions. An addiction teases a promise of relief and solution to the problem of “the horror,” but of course, never delivers for long. (Otherwise it wouldn’t be an addiction.)
Other folks go the Romantic route, wistfully trying to get themselves swept away by grand passions and childlike whimsy in an effort to recapture old pre-disillusionment feelings of hope and optimism and exuberant aliveness.
Other folks think fame, status, wealth and shopping for fancy handbags and etc will solve the problem.
Other folks just do whatever is necessary to distract themselves from their actual situation, sitting there on the grocery store shelf.
These are all strategies for dealing with “the problem” Frank encountered, also known as “the horror.”
But of course, our hero, Frank, didn’t choose these strategies.
Frank embarked on a quest for real answers.
A direct experience of an answer.
One that he could test, think about, experiment with, research, see and experience firsthand.
He took a leap into “modernity.”
The problem Frank experienced was real, visceral, powerful, immediate. And only an equally direct experience would solve it. Not secondhand knowledge, not some intellectual idea, not mere hope, not a fantasy, not just some imaginary belief in some imaginary solution…only real experience.
All this led to a new chapter in Frank’s adventure.
Stage 5) The Adventure: Allies, Enemies, Trials, Mentors, Dangers, Discoveries.
Having awakened to his actual situation awaiting execution with a side of chips, Frank searches feverishly for an escape, a resolution, an answer to his problem, and undergoes a series of ordeals.
And of course, if someone is on to something, there’s usually someone else who has to fight you about it.
Frank is pursued by the “bad guy” of his story, a really mean douche who just seems intent on doing everything he can to stop Frank and make him fail in his quest.
But of course, the douche is really just another pawn in the system.
The true antagonist is “the system” itself.
“The system,” of course, is that they’re being lulled into complacency with promises of the Great Beyond heaven so they’ll behave like good little food-items until they’re taken home to meet their ultimate destiny to become part of a casserole, or something like it.
The real antagonist is the neatly shelved, well-designed, smoothly-running, grocery store slaughterhouse.
So while working to overcome the real antagonist, Frank has to overcome lesser antagonists (The Douche) and others.
It’s an adventure. It’s harrowing, dangerous, and sometimes unpleasant, as any great adventure is.
And all this is, of course, the sort of thing every seeker must undergo in their own personal quest: sorting through themselves and their beliefs, working to figure out what is true or bogus, genuine or fake, real or phony.
Decide who is a friend and ally, and who is a douche.
Every seeker faces plenty of tests and trials, and at any point can turn down a detour and dead-end…or find themselves right on track climbing the stairway to heaven.
It can be harrowing, dangerous, unpleasant and exhilarating, as any great adventure is. Ordinary situations in life can become infused with meaning and significance, as they become episodes in a larger quest for glory and against casseroles.
It’s possible to fail. It’s easy to quit. There’s a risk of being pounded by a douche somewhere along the line. But smarts, determination, grit (that’s “grit,” not “grits”), and the resolution to carry on can ultimately lead to…
Stage 6) The Search for “Proof” and Provisional Answers.
Frank’s quest for Answers was not futile.
He finds some real answers.
He learns from his Mentors, the wise elders known as The Non-Perishables (“FireWater Twinkie and Grits) that his suspicions were true: the song – the basis of their worldview - was an elaborate charade that they made up to keep people from freaking out:
“Before us, everyone knew the awful truth.
Oh, how they screamed!
It was a living nightmare.
So we, the Non-Perishables, created a story.
A story of The Great Beyond…
A place where the gods care for you,
and all your wildest & wettest dreams would come true.
They would go out those doors happy instead of sh**ting themselves.
…at least it’s distracting them from the truth:
that they get brutally devoured.”
The Non-Perishables made the song up back in the day with good intentions, apparently, and for good reasons. The world – the grocery store – under those conditions was a miserable, chaotic, torturous place. (Is this a bad time to mention what was the world like thousands of years ago? Human sacrifice, anyone?)
Of course, this whole series of events corresponds to some atheistic perspectives of religion: that “Religion is the opiate of the masses” – not a revelation of Ultimate Reality or Transcendental Divinity, but a fairy tale that invented by politicians as a form of crowd control.
So with his core narrative broken and the basis of his community and everyone’s happiness in shambles, Frank has no choice but to search even more desperately for an alternative.
Stage 7) Return Back To the World / Food Aisle
Frank decides to reveal the truth to the rest of the community.
It doesn’t go well.
A few compelling, uncomfortable and hilarious few moments take place when they experience a “Death of God” phase, where Frank tries to disillusion the community of the old myths without having anything legitimate to replace it with. (Not unlike the moment in time that many of us humans are experiencing right now.)
Folks don’t usually respond well when they’re told that their core narrative is buggy and bogus.
However, luckily for them, it doesn’t take long for them to figure out a different solution. (Namely, a revolt against humans.)
(We – on this side of the grocery store – aren’t so lucky. Many of us seem to be stuck not-quite-believing the old songs, but not-yet-finding anything better to replace them with. Bath salts on toothpicks don’t quite seem to be doing the trick.)
With the help of some friends and some Stephen-Hawkingesque gum, Frank transforms into Moses-as-hot-dog figure. After learning that “the gods can be killed!” helps lead all the food in a revolution against the humans.
As some theologians say, “Any god that can be killed, should be killed.” “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” Some versions of Gnostic myths portray slaying “lesser” gods. They do this – literally – and overthrow their condition, liberating themselves from their grocery-store Matrix.
And then enjoy their reward: a huge food-orgy.
Frank’s personal spiritual evolution pretty much ends there. (Orgies seem to have that effect on spiritual evolution.)
So, where to go from here?
A Direct Experience of Real Answers
Frank’s success in the grocery store was temporary. Frank and the rest of the gang are disillusioned and wiser, and for the moment, they’ve had some fun.
But their fun will be short-lived.
The humans will eventually come back, regain order in the grocery store, and things will likely go back to the way they were. They broke out of the Matrix, yes, but the Matrix will reassert itself soon enough.
Frank’s mission wasn’t complete. There was still some evolving left.
FireWater and Gum-Stephen-Hawking team up together (a union of ancient wisdom and modern science?) – and create a “StarGate device” that will allow them to travel to another dimension (presumably, a dimension beyond all space and time, aka “God.”)
There, they will learn that “the world is an illusion” – “Our lives are being manipulated for the entertainment of monsters! Twisted, tasteless, juvenile monsters! Puppet masters in another dimension! We’re something call…’cartoons.’” (Talk about using a fifth dimension to break the fourth wall.)
- which means Frank and friends will aim to experience something of enlightenment, salvation, the unio mystica, the Mysterium Tremendum, Nirvikalpa Sahadja Samadhi, etc.
Frank will learn that he’s not who or what he thinks he is: instead of being merely a hot dog, he’s a creation of a human named “Seth Rogan” (the writer/producer/actor who voices Frank and co-wrote the script.)
In other words, when we leave him, Frank is taking a step closer to meeting his real Creator.
The "Moral of the Story"...?
Is there a moral of this story?
That we’re all asleep to our situation, living in denial about our actual condition, biding time here on our earthly food shelf while we should be – if we’re smart - trying to figure it out, and escape it?
That religion is a bogus fairy tale invented by politicians as a form of crowd-control?
That we shouldn’t watch raunchy R-rated animated comedies?
There are plenty of things we could take from all this. But one interesting note we’d like to point out:
If we look carefully, we’ll notice that throughout all the shenanigans above, and despite all the poking fun of religion and skewering childish theologies, the creators of “Sausage Party” aren’t pushing a hard-line atheism.
They aren’t saying that there is no god.
There are false gods, definitely.
But just because some gods are false doesn’t mean that all of them are.
Just as there are amateur scientists, neophyte philosophers and D-List artists – many of whom try to pass themselves off as “the real thing” – there are also entry-level, amateur religious and spiritual systems that made by dabblers for beginners and children.
There’s amateur stuff, and then there is “the real thing;” the highest, A-List, top-tier stuff of the spiritual world. Religion for adults.
In Sausage Party, immature theologies and self-serving philosophies are made fun of, yes; but this only opens the door to other systems that are deeper, more sophisticated, more real.
False "gods" get made fun of, and should be (like the humans in the grocery store, the unfortunate bath-salt guy, etc).
But when you get rid of false gods, this can leave room for something more real.
At the end, the wise elder FireWater says “We’re gonna go to this other dimension and cut the string once and for all!”
– which translates as a “hunger for God.”
– even a losing yourself in God. “Enlightenment.”
Most modern atheists usually see religion as the Shopwell’s Song: a fairy tale for children who can’t handle the bitter truth.
But they don't have much to say about that other level. The level way beyond the ShopWell Song, the level FireWater was referring to, the StarGate device.
And another interesting note:
At least in this little food fable, “religion” (the song) was invented as a solution to a much bigger problem: the fact that we humans are living on our own food shelf in the world, fated for a destiny of being killed and consumed.
Not exactly something to look forward to.
But it's a key, core, critical, unavoidable quality of the human condition.
And call it a “fallen state” or “samsara” or “shit happens” or whatever you want, for those of us who not completely in denial or are at least slightly in touch with our feelings, well…this poses a bit of a problem.
Genuine spiritual or religious systems were created in part as a solution to that problem.
While atheists criticize that solution – often pointing out legitimate flaws – those atheists typically don’t offer any better solution to that problem.
They criticize solutions but don’t offer a better one of their own.
In this sense – in the sense of The Major Problem we all face in our condition – they’re purely negative.
Basically, their answer is, "It sucks. We're hot dogs that get eaten. Deal with it."
But Frank, at least, in addition to pointing out falsehoods in “bad religion,” at least offers some alternative solutions.
Even if they do involve big food fights and shooting folks in the butt with bath salts. And later, helping create a portal to another dimension that will (hopefully) solve the mysteries of existence.
Not too bad for a hot dog.