Food as a symbol of desire in ‘Challengers’

How gastronomy stimulates the libido of the characters in Luca Guadagnino’s new film project.

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In Luca Guadagnino‘s work, visual aesthetics become an essential element of his meticulously detailed narrative, which is intensified through sensory images full of symbolism.

In all this representation, food takes on an essential role. It is presented as a powerful means of expression with which the contemporary cult director has just elevated the plot, inserting it in this ‘challenge’ and/or constant dialogue between love, fashion, cinema and eroticism.

Through the film ‘Challengers‘, starring Zendaya, Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor, we can see how the director once again explores the eternal connection between love and gastronomy. A constant feedback with which he represents the fantasy of his characters, suspended between revenge and sexual awakening. The act of eating thus acquires an undercurrent or a new meaning in this modern story that deals with a new version of the love triangle within the competitive world of professional tennis.

The Italian filmmaker fuels the culinary sequences of eroticism, desire and internal struggles between characters such as Art and Patrick that are incorporated into the audiovisual buffet of ‘DESAFIANTES’ in which a series of foods associated with key scenes of the film dazzle.


In the game directed by Luca Guadagnino, there is a mythical sequence in which the protagonists snack on churros in a Stanford cafeteria. A moment in which, despite the fact that nothing explicit happens, the characters’ unbridled desire to kiss is projected in the foreground, as they play with fire to put sugar on their cheeks and then sensitively remove it. This scene – which has captivated audiences and the internet – concludes when they finally share a bite of the same churro.

Sports diet

The strict standard of living dictated by the playing field also carries over into the diet of the protagonists, who must follow a healthy diet; like Tashi Duncan (Zendaya), who feeds on powdered protein dishes or drinks, vegetables and not very ‘tasty’ supplements.

After a year-plus relationship with Patrick Zweig, Tashi meets Art for lunch in the Stanford dining hall. Although neither meal, low in fat, seems particularly appetizing or stimulating, Art uses it as a backdrop against which to sow distrust between Tashi and Patrick, working his way into their monogamous relationship.


Beyond other gastronomic moments such as one in which Art and Patrick share hot dogs after experiencing the euphoria of winning a doubles match, the film’s audiovisual menu serves a series of desserts or sweets such as apple pie.

When the protagonists go their separate ways, they meet again at a tournament where Tashi coaches one of the players. The two escape to an Applebee’s to talk tennis, between them something the restaurant refers to as a ‘Triple Chocolate Melt’. Their conversation is filled with gentle flirting and fear on Art’s part when it comes to admitting his true feelings. Tashi then asks Art directly if he is still in love with her, to which he replies, ‘Who wouldn’t be?’ Dessert suggests a moment of comfort and affection between them.

Bananas and chewing gum

While Art quenches his thirst with electrolytes, Patrick opts to eat a banana in an insinuating manner, chewing and smiling at his opponent, who sweats and gets nervous, just as he ends up losing the match.

In this love match, chewing gum is chewed non-stop. A ‘tidbit’ that also dilutes a series of connotations, as we can see when Art spits it into the hands of other characters, even into Tashi’s hand. Later in the film, he will also make the same gesture to Patrick, with a mischievous smile. A tense moment when the two are on the verge of breaking up, and they look at each other, giving the audience plenty to chew on.