Monday, September 08, 2008

The Lunch Date



The Lunch Date
Adam Davidson (1989)

This Oscar-winning short film tells the story of a woman whose goal is to catch a train. The story is simple and is done with little dialogue. It starts off with a wealthy white woman, hurrying through a train station. The audience sees that she has tickets, and therefore understands that the character’s goal will be to board a train. In the first minute of the film, much about her character is revealed. The opening sequence shows many homeless people in the station. The director makes a point of highlighting the homeless. One man is looking for change in the ticket machines, and one walks in front of the woman, almost eerily close to the lens. The viewer is now forced to recognize these people, while the woman herself noticeably ignores them. Next, a hurried man bumps into the woman, causing her purse to fall to the ground. He attempts to help her gather the strewn items, but she snaps at him, shoves her items into her purse, and runs to her train. Of course, she misses it.

This beginning is extremely telling of the woman’s character. Because it is a short film, there is no time for extensive character building. However, it is unnecessary. We as the audience learn everything we need to know in the first minute and 30 seconds of the film. We understand that she is a wealthy woman, obviously nervous to be in the station alone. She also is very suspicious of people around her. Finally, there are underlying racial issues. The man who bumps into her in the station and causes her bag to drop is black. He is dressed in a business suit and clearly wants to help her. She reacts as if her were trying to steal from her.

Knowing that her goal is to catch a train, we must now wait with the character for the next one to arrive. Standing on the platform, the woman realizes that her wallet is missing. This is important for what is to follow. Everything in this story happens for a reason. If she were to have a wallet, she could catch a cab, or figure out some other way to get where she wants to go. But now she must stay in the station. Her next decision is to go get some lunch to bide her time. She picks up a salad and pays for it with some spare change she is carrying. She finds a table, puts her shopping bags down, and goes back for a fork. When she returns, a homeless man is sitting at what she believes is her booth. He is eating her salad. Again, this is where the story builds itself well. She had to have lost her wallet in order for this to make sense. She cannot go buy another salad now so she begins to eat off the homeless man’s plate. He shows her hospitality by buying her a cup of coffee. Of course, the end twist is that her booth was the next one down and that she in fact was eating the homeless man’s food.

When she realizes her mistake, she laughs for the first time in the film. However, the key to the story is after she leaves the restaurant. The director puts a homeless man again in the frame and she walks right past like she did in the beginning. There is no change in the way she treats them. This is what makes this story so interesting. Usually in a situation like this, we would see her acknowledge the homeless man in the end, like she had some big change of heart over the way people should be treated. However, even after a man much less fortunate than she, shared his meal with her and bought her a cup of coffee, she is unable to return any gesture of kindness or learn anything in the end.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Christine,

This is an interesting analysis to "The Lunch Date." I was especially intrigued by the racial issues that you brought up. In short films, since the time is limited, so the director attempts to use small actions to portray bigger picture. Nice blog entry.

Keiko

Anonymous said...

I thought it was very interesting about how you pointed out that they were able to tell the story with minimal dialogue. The story progresses without speaking.

Anonymous said...

In watching the film myself, I completely agree that there are underlying racial issues. As a single white woman she succumbed to stereotypes and kept her belongings close to her in that scene in attempts to protect herself from a harmless situation. The other interesting point that you made is that in this short film, the woman does not give in to any moral lesson after he lunch with the homeless man- whereas in most films they emphasis these lessons by allowing the character to learn and change their ways.

Anonymous said...

I thought your points of the racial issues are well developed. You made a bunch of good points concerning social classes that people have established themselves. I was disappointed that the woman does not learn her lesson, however, I am impressed that the short film is done without speech.

Ben said...

I thought this was one of the more interesting short films I've seen, especially in terms of content (looking at both racism and classism in the US, and creating a very funny scene of the unspoken "lunch date"), and in the decision for the main character to seemingly have no epiphany at the end. If there had been an epiphany, I think it wouldn't have worked as well.

Anonymous said...

There are many themes in this short-film than other feature-length film could discuss. Interesting.

Anonymous said...

I liked the fact that you picked up on the tension the woman felt and why. She was given a chance to change through her experience and yet she chose to stay in her world.

Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis of the short film. You did a great job at noticing all of the little details that tell a larger story. It is too bad that she did not learn her lesson, but, unfortunately, probably also more realistic.

Anonymous said...

I agree. This is an excellent study of class and race perceptions. A sad comment on our society.

Anonymous said...

the lunch date is too real to todays society ..how many times have we all walked away from the homeless or less fortune people on the street. remember on mans floor is another mans ceiling..there are more floors today agree??

Anonymous said...

Great and eloquent analysis. The racial elements of this short film are striking and poignant.

Anonymous said...

Well written blog and especially insightful about how quicky the film moves to make us understand its viewpoint.

My perspective on this film is different however. I know this film is of an older vintage but personally I found the race issue presented in a pretty trite manner.

Many folks act quite paranoid if anyone touches personal things so the scene with the well dressed black man lost its punch for me.

It would have been much more interesting if she wanted to make a race comment to have the well dressed black man in the lunch booth scene.

And, I think it would have been more interesting to have a mix of homeless gender and race since they do come in all varities.

Basically, for this woman as well as most of us in the US, I was not convinced. I think the class issue almost alwasy trumps the race issue and this film did not dispel that notion for me.

Ryan said...

I'm intrigued by this analysis. I often use this short firms with groups of students to encourage them to examine their own assumptions. The analysis states many things as if they are facts, though, and I disagree with the idea that "We as the audience learn everything we need to know in the first minute and 30 seconds of the film."

What information are you using to support your perception that the woman is more fortunate (economically)? How have you determined that the man is homeless?

I have heard students suggest that the woman is homeless (and those shopping bags are how she carries her posessions), and that the man (who is wearing a hat with a tag still attached, and who clearly has the means to pay for food, when the woman seemed unsure) is not.

Daniel said...

While those are interesting takes on the film, Ryan, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Everything in a film is done for a purpose; the director has dressed this woman in nicer clothes and adorned her with shopping bags because he wants her to carry the image of wealth. It's also clear that the man, whether homeless or not, wears clothing that would be more typical of someone with far less money to spend on clothes.

We could argue all day about "what we take from a film," but this is what the director intended. Nine times out of ten, I think most people will see the film's characters as they were intended: a wealthy, white woman who sits down to lunch with a black man she thinks to be homeless.

Anonymous said...

The synopsis refers to the woman's lunch partner as "a homeless man". There is no evidence whatsoever that this man is a "homeless man". In fact, as we discover later, he was eating his own lunch...as anyone else might do in that restaurant. It is obvious that watching the film did not allay any of your prejudices.

Anonymous said...

If you watch carefully at the beginning, you'll see that the woman's "lunch date" is also the same man shown looking for change in the phones.

Anonymous said...

Looking for change in the ticket machines, and in the restaurant scene, you can see how his beanie still has the tag on it, which makes it look like it was stolen.

amount of work for that $200, and said...

On the other hand, if you’ve been providing your client with an appropriate amount of work for that $200, and they know you’ve been holding back on certain deliverables, they’ll be much more likely to consider you for higher paying work.

Anonymous said...

There is, in fact, limited evidence to suggest that the man is actually homeless, but I think that given the amount of time and few minutes to establish these characters, the filmmaker wants us to at least believe that he doesn't have much money.

However, the hat with the label tag on it does not necessarily signify that it was stolen. In the 90's people wore hats with the labels still attached as a style. I took that to be an effort to keep the time period ambiguous- to oppose the black and white film production. I see it as a move to keep us as viewers from applying too much historical context and focus on the characters actions in the moment.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, the hat with the tag was a late 80's and 90's style.

Anonymous said...

The question that arises is, why is there no change in the lady?

Lyndra Ski said...

Because she's like many of us; we ignore homeless people and we go through our day, especially in big cities. I think the point of the film is to encourage discussion as to why the woman didn't help the last homeless man in the film. The answer is, there is no answer, most of us do what she does, at one time or another. BTW, her lunch date was looking for change in the ticket machines at the beginning of the film. So I think he was homeless. But also, he didn't exactly look like he was starving, his clothes were clean and he politely wiped his mouth after his meal. He wasn't shoveling his food in. So, I think the point is we'll never know. All good art leaves you with questions that can't be satisfactorily answered, but the point is, it got you thinking.

Lyndra Ski said...

Oh, and another thing. Yes, it was the style in the late '80's to wear something, particularly hats, with the price tag still on. It made you look "street;" like you shoplifted it. A form of amusement at the time. Again, I think the director used it to make us think.

Anonymous said...

She can't share the money with the homeless man from the end - she lost her wallet after all ;).

Anonymous said...

I like your analysis! However, you didn't notice that in the end of the film, when the lady is already in the train, she had a face expression that she learnt something, or "what a day!" expression. The reason for her not to give money to the homeless person is because she lost a wallet in the beginning of the movie!!! My reasoning comes from watching the film first and then reading your analysis. I have a feeling that the lady did discover something new about herself and life around her. Also, this film is a great portrayal of reality and that homeless people, despite the ethnic/racial issues,have feelings, thoughts, and they are individuals.

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I've shown this film several times in my Diversity class. Most of the participitants believed that the man was homeless. The question that one should ponder is....How many "homeless" people choose to eat salads?

Marjorie Gancas said...

I watched The Lunch Date when it was aired on PBS with two other short films. The second film was about a black woman who lived in a very rural and secluded area. A white man found her cottage and she engaged in sex with him while her husband was at work. Would you have any idea as to the title of this film and if it is available?

Marjorie

M. Z. said...

I would agree about the racial tensions in the film, however, the tensions are not misplaced as the old woman was in fact robbed by the black pickpocket that bumped into her. So the racial tensions are in fact a legitimate and justifiable self-protection mechanism. I would bet that a good portion of the people who commented here in a manner to implicate the old woman as being unjust in her apprehensions, probably acted in the same manner, or would if placed in a similar circumstances. The fact of the matter is that black people in America are the ones performing a significantly disproportionate amount of crime as compared to their population. So it is really unreasonable to criticize people for being cautious in these types of situations or for criticizing the police for keeping an eye on the black community. Even though the film overall didn't really make much sense in context.