The 2024 Netflix film The Kitchen seems to have taken inspiration from movies like A Bronx Tale but added a completely new flavor to it by setting itself in a dystopian world. Fatherhood is explored in a very intimate way, but there are some unsettling themes of abandonment that the film doesn’t shy away from. It is because of its fearless approach that the film becomes an important one. The viewers might be disappointed because there aren’t a lot of action scenes, something one would associate with dystopian dramas, but there are films like The Road that help movies like The Kitchen as they set a precedent for an emotionally grueling drama. The Kitchen is quite tender because of the way the characters are placed in the story and the way the conflict emerges between the father and son after the mother passes away. Kano (credited as Kane Robinson) plays Isaac, aka Izi, with the utmost care, and the result is that we are immersed in the story, fully tethered to Izi’s conflicts and inner turmoil.
Kano As Izi
Izi lived his mundane life in ‘The Kitchen’, which was the only place one could live without having to give away a huge chunk of their wages away in rent, but it came at a cost. There were few to no amenities available. Izi had plans to move to a better neighborhood, and he had been working a job to save up for the deposit for a new apartment. This was a time when the world order had collapsed in other parts of the world, but London and probably a few other places were still functioning.
Working in a depressing environment in ‘Life After Life,’ which had replaced the funeral industry and turned into a green-economy venture, Izi was trying to get out of the rut. The greenery didn’t make sense, as it symbolized the dead. There were no graves now, only plants labeled after the recently deceased. Those too would not be traceable after a month. Izi saw Toni Clarke’s plant and remembered she was his girlfriend once. Her son was the one bidding her goodbye. This must have been a punch-in-the gut moment for Izi, but he tried to play it cool. He’d had a relationship with Toni, and the boy’s age implied that he could be his son, but Izi could barely take care of himself, let alone a young boy. The thought of being a father terrified him, as it filled him with an urgency to get his life together, but there was no opportunity available for that. The Kitchen was a place for those who had nowhere to go. There is no family, no relatives, and no real avenue to make it big and get out. The government wanted such a place to be eradicated as it was a breeding ground for criminals, as per the police who raided the place constantly. There were notorious people around like Staples and his gang, but there were many other good hearted people.
The boy, named Benji, came up to Izi, as he had already been told by Toni before she died that he was his father. Toni wouldn’t have wanted Benji to live in a government orphanage, and maybe that is why she told Benji about Izi. Izi was in a bit of a conundrum. He was essentially a good man who wanted to see to it that Benji was looked after, but he wasn’t in an emotional place where he could provide that himself. Even then, he wanted Benji to stay close, which is why he got him to stay in the Kitchen. He was concerned when he saw Benji join the gangs, and his fatherly side was gradually coming out in the open. Izi wanted to confess the turht. He wanted to tell the young boy that he was his father, but there was a fear of commitment in him. He did, however, think about saving money for a bigger apartment where Benji could stay with him, but at the very last moment, he made the selfish choice of abandoning Benji in the Kitchen.
There was a moment where Benji and Izi were bonding. Izi had tried to use Benji to advertise the ‘Life After Life’ premium package to the customers. That way, he could have enough to take care of Benji as well. But Benji seemed to be uneducated, and he couldn’t even pronounce simple words. After that, it was just a matter of time before Izi had to decide whether to help Benji or leave him be. Izi was also sucked in by the fact that he was comparing him to Benji’s life. Benji, who may or may not be his son, at least had a mother to give him gifts, like a bicycle. Izi had nothing, and he was a self-made man, even though he had not managed much. Izi was probably trying to rationalize the unethical decision to abandon Benji, as if he were doing him a favor by giving him an opportunity to learn about the real world, which is harsh and cold. It was how he had learned to survive. But somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew that it was wrong to leave Benji, even if there was doubt in his mind about him being his son. The doubt seemed more like a trick of his mind to save him from making a commitment to being Benji’s father.
He was eventually pulled in by his conscience to do the right thing. The Kitchen’s leader, a man named Lord Kitchener died at the hands of the police. and that was the incident that provoked Staples and his gang to create a riot in the streets of London. Benji, without Izi’s guidance, was sucked into the violence. The police were coming in with reinforcement to teach the gangs and residents of the Kitchen a lesson. Izi returned to take Benji to safety but it was much more difficult than he had imagined. The weight of accepting fatherhood was too much, as even when the duo was surrounded by vengeful cops, he couldn’t fully accept that he was Benji’s father. But the responsibility of fatherhood had made him put his life on the line. The police were on their door and things didn’t look good for Izi. Perhaps he will survive after getting thrashed by the police, but the more threatening situation was that he would probably do something drastic to protect Benji and end up getting killed. If these were the last moments that the father and son shared, it was with Toni’s plant that Izi had managed to get for Benji. The family was united in a very tragic way. Izi had always thought that he would get away from the Kitchen, but perhaps that was too selfish an endeavor. His real duty was to take care of Benji, and that thing brought some joy into his life, even if it was for a very short time.