When the lights came on and the credits began to roll, my confused fellow filmgoers remained in their seats, blinking at the screen as if to ask “Wait, that’s ALL?” One by one, they shuffled from the theatre like dazed sleepwalkers, rudely jostled from their dreams of a perfect, Hollywood ending.
Warning: spoilers for The Lunchbox (2013)
The Lunchbox flirts with its audience shamelessly, providing all the ingredients of a standard, cookie-cutter love story: two lonely protagonists, the twist of fate that brings them together, an inspirational mantra (“Sometimes the wrong train will get you to the right station”). It even throws in an eleventh hour chase sequence in which one pursues the other before it is “too late”. Only this time, it really is too late, and the would-be lovers fail to embrace as the music swells and the camera spins around them. If the film had ended here, it would have been jarring. But the tease goes on, hopes are raised, and then…THE END.
In some ways, the film steals its justification from The Sopranos. You can write your own ending! If you want to imagine them finding each other and falling in love, you can. If you’d prefer to anchor the film in reality, you can easily picture them leading completely separate lives. In the latter version, they are like two strangers brushing shoulders on a journey in opposite directions. The contact is thrilling and life altering, despite its brevity. It almost reminds me of the speech in Citizen Kane (1941), when Mr. Bernstein talks about a girl he saw only once, from a distance, who haunted his thoughts for the rest of his life.
There is something sad and sweet and appealing about this latter interpretation. We often think of our lives as “movie moments”. We wait for the day we will meet “The One”, fall in love, and live happily ever after. We tend to forget that for some people, such things never happen. Yet, even in the loneliest life, there are moments that shine… moments in which we are happy. These are the kind of things that keep us hopeful and moving forward, into the great unknown that is our future.