Film Analysis of The Lunch Date

Essay by npatraHigh School, 10th gradeA-, April 2009

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Despite their obvious length restrictions, short films have a distinctive lack of commercial expectation and pressure which allows the director the artistic freedom to explore all other aspects of film to produce unique texts which engage the audience. An example of a film which ais short in length however conveys a strong message through effective use of various aspects of the film medium is The Lunch Date.

The Lunch Date, released in 1990, was directed by Adam Davidson, and has received many prestigious awards. It is a simple story of a woman who misses her train and goes to a diner to have lunch. She buys a salad and gets up to find some cutlery, however when she returns to her salad, is shocked to find a black man eating her salad. After he refuses to give her back the salad, she decides to be defiant and eats of the plate.

After the man is finished, he leaves and returns with two cups of coffee which they share. After only a few sips the woman gets up and leaves the diner which she discovers she has left her bags. When she returns, at first it appears they are gone but she finds that she was in the wrong cubicle and her meal is untouched.

The Lunch Date utilises many different aspects of the film medium, including sound, cinematography and characterisation to convey a strong message in only ten minutes. The initial establishment shot, followed by the introductory scenes are accompanied by classical American jazz and swing music, which suggest an older time period when racial segregation was more evident. The music also gives a timeless feel, suggestive of the incessant issue of racism. Ambient sounds of trains and cars are used to emphasise the realism and contribute to the atmosphere, and announcements help cue the woman when she has to leave the diner. Another instance of effective use of sound is during the characters’ shared cup of coffee. The music consists of two instruments, the piano and violin, and symbolises the two characters’ brief moment of connection. The sweet yet sombre music accompanies their cup of coffee, however when the woman gets up to leave, the music takes on a more melancholic note when their intimate moment is broken. The sad note accompanies the look of dejection on the man’s face and realisation of social inequality.

Cinematography also plays an important role in conveying the message of the film, and is another example of the director utilising various aspects of the film medium. The film is filmed in black & white due to budget constraints, however it also has obvious symbolism relating to the racial theme and message being conveyed. Being filmed in black and white, in association with the jazz and swing music gives the film a timeless feel as well as connotations of earlier decades. The opening scenes begin with an establishment shot of Grand Central Station, an iconic American landmark, and provide a setting which is an interface between different classes and ethnicities. Following the establishment shot, a series of long shots and overhead shots are used to track the movement of the woman throughout the station. Natural lighting is used which again adds to the atmosphere and the realism. Panning is also used, as the woman walks past ticket machines from left to right, however the direction of the pan changes as she walks past a homeless man checking the machines for coins. The camera pans from right to left with the homeless man and foreshadows their future encounter. The fact that they are heading in opposite directions also symbolises their obvious difference in class.

The inclusion of the unintended walk-on by a drunk was left in to emphasise the sense of realism, and display the woman’s obvious discomfort and unease in the environment. In the diner, various different types of camera shots are used effectively to highlight the reactions of the two characters. When the woman finds the man apparently eating her lunch, close ups are used to show her shock and then hunger as he appears to be eating her salad. Extreme close ups are used to show the salad, followed by a close up of her face to show her yearning to eat the salad. When she decides to eat from the plate, the camera alternates between close ups of both characters to show their reaction after each bite. Following this a two shot is used to encompass them both in the same shot, to symbolise her reluctant acceptance and their moment of connection, sharing a salad. When the woman gets up to leave, a close up of the man’s face displays his sadness and accompanies the sombre music.

The characterisation is another important aspect of the film which is used to convey the theme of social bias. The two characters are both characterised as being from very different social classes. The woman is white and wears a fur coat and broach, carrying Bloomingdale bags. Her appearance firmly suggests her being middle class and conservative and is emphasised by her behaviour. Her obvious discomfort, being near the homeless man in the introduction and desire for cleanliness also emphasise her being a typical conservative white American. In the opening scenes when the woman collides with a black man, she appears very uncomfortable when he attempts to help her, despite the fact that he appears to be well dressed and groomed. Her prejudice is carried over to the diner scene, where the audience is also led to believe her assumptions about the homeless black man.

The black man is characterised as being homeless and unkempt from the beginning of the film, where he is shown looking for change in ticket machines. He appears to be the total opposite to the woman, his clothes are appropriate for a homeless man and his beanie still has a price tag, leaving the audience to contemplate how it was acquired. His dialogue is restricted to grunts or other noises, and signifies his lack of communication, being a homeless man. Despite being portrayed as an unkempt homeless man, he uses a napkin properly and offers coffee to the woman, displaying his decency. The man is marginalised and lonely however for a brief moment, when he shares the coffee, his loneliness is replaced with a moment of social interaction and acceptance. However, this is soon gone and when the woman leaves, the disappointment and resolve is visible in his expression.

Throughout the film, through effective characterisation the audience is lead to believe that the man stole her salad, and also her bags; however it breaks these preconceived notions of bias and prejudice based on race and class.