Don’t Quit Your Diet for The Dinner

How far are parents willing to go to protect their children? The feature film The Dinner directed by Oren Moverman, based on a novel by Herman Koch and on the Italian drama directed by Ivan De Matteo, explores this query.

The thriller, that has nuances of comedy and drama, stars Richard Gere, Rebecca Hall, Steve Coogan and Laura Linney as two couples having dinner at a restaurant, while discussing their ongoing family issues. Oren Moverman with his distinguishing style uses a mesmerizing cinematography (by Bobby Bukowski), that creates an allure of mystery and dream. During the various supper courses, in one of the town’s most fashionable restaurants, we are revealed the psychologies of these four individuals. The stream of consciousness of all characters intertwines, as we see their backstories depicting their troubled personalities.

Stan Lohman (Richard Gere) is a popular congressman running for governor, and is idealistically willing to give it all up to do the right thing. His wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall) doesn’t share his opinion as she places her entire social liberation on his successful career. She has dedicated herself entirely to Stan, helping him with his work and raising the children he had from his previous wife Barbara (Chloë Sevigny). Stan’s brother, Paul (Steve Coogan) hates the excess, the expense (even though he’s not paying), and has always pursued justice away from the public sphere. As a former history teacher he tried to instill knowledge in his students until his struggle with mental illness took over, whilst his wife Claire (Laura Linney) always supported him, although she had to deal with her own health problems. Despite the hiccups that pertain to every long-term relationship, the two couples are very cohesive.

During The Dinner Paul’s expertise on the Civil War, in particular the Battle of Gettysburg, emblematically weaves in flashbacks and digressions, to portray the inner battle of each character sitting at the table. From the aperitif to the digestif we follow the entire meal and will leave without having learnt anything about cuisine. In fact, the film is not about food. This plot device uses the communality of the ritual to show how two siblings, and their respective wives, gather to discuss matters of ethics that involve the future of their teenage children.

The stupendous contrasts of life get captured by the silver screen: as the existence of these four parents is shattered, they try to find a solution while experiencing the jubilation of hedonism. The deliciousness of each course is disrupted by the sour taste of the conversation, that involves a terrible crime enacted by their boys. The misdemeanor has gone viral, but the identities of the perpetrators is still unknown. The Lohmans must decide whether they should conceal this story at all costs, and allow their sons to get on with their futures, or require the boys to take responsibility for their behavior.

The touching flashes from the past make these characters more real to us, flawed but human and always willing to improve themselves for their children. That is the beacon that has pushed their imperfect lives to progress, to set an example and not contaminate the purity of their kids. But when those youthful souls are the sullied ones, chaos rules. The adults in the room are disoriented.

However they are bourgeois parents and attempt to take part in the discussion about morality and family grievances. But no one has a clear answer on what the correct choice could be. Idealism and instinct for survival fuse into uncertainty. Just as in reality, matters get muddled. No clear path is chosen and the decisive course of action remains to be defined. Thus, the talented cast majestically stages the contradictory nature of humanity, that reshapes its set of values according to calculated emotionalism.