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Arts & Life

Couples Struggle With A Moral Dilemma In 'The Dinner'


If someone you loved more than anything committed a horrible crime, would you cover it up? That's the central question in the new film, "The Dinner" starring Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Steve Coogan and Rebecca Hall. The backdrop for the drama is an exclusive restaurant, the kind where each course is an event presented by a fleet of servers and the cuisine is so elevated it barely looks like food. Over the course of the meal, two couples discuss the murder their sons have committed and what to do about it.


RICHARD GERE: (As Stan Lohman) We really need to talk. And there's - there's - there's no reason why we can't talk about anything, here, discreetly, pointedly.

STEVE COOGAN: (As Paul Lohman) I think that window has closed.

LAURA LINNEY: (As Claire Lohman) No, Paul, Paul let him.

COOGAN: (As Paul Lohman) I don't want to talk.

LINNEY: (As Claire Lohman) Please, Dear.

GERE: (As Stan Lohman) We're going to put the truths right here in front of us. And we're going to do something about it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oren Moverman directed "The Dinner" after adapting it from Herman Koch's book of the same name. He joins us now from NPR West.


OREN MOVERMAN: Thank you, great to be here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Set the film up for me. In this movie, Richard Gere and Steve Coogan play brothers, Stan and Paul Lohman. One of them is a congressman. He's invited Paul and his wife, Claire, to dinner to discuss their children. What happens?

MOVERMAN: What unfolds is a night of a very elaborate dinner divided into courses. The movie is, that is, divided into courses. And three strands of storytelling, the night of the dinner, the night of the event, the crime that the kids committed, and four or five flashbacks that are really kind of family history portraits.


MOVERMAN: And all these strands are interwoven into quite a chaotic night.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, the brothers have a strained relationship. Tell us what's behind that.

MOVERMAN: It's actually not that unfamiliar for some people. It's two brothers who grew up together, were very competitive with each other. One of them turned out to be Richard Gere so he was quite handsome and successful and charismatic. The other brother, Steve Coogan, who has his own charms, also has his anger about his brother's success. And it's something that goes all the way to their childhood but has obviously amplified over the years as Steve Coogan's character, Paul, is dealing with mental health issues.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, he's dealing with mental health issues. I mean, he's quite a compelling character. Is this - is this his film in many ways? It seems like he's the narrator. He propels a lot of the action.

MOVERMAN: Yeah, he is the unreliable narrator of the story. We actually get to experience most of the story from his point of view. And if we don't, he'll have a comment on it. So the whole movie is kind of surrounding him in a way, watching his behavior because it's so unpredictable. But what's interesting to me and what was interesting in the adaptation is that as much as he is an unreliable narrator, everyone has an unreliable narration going on in their own heads. And the dinner is really bringing all these opinions and agendas and stories and points of views into a clash between all them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You linger a lot on the, sort of, ceremony of this very elevated restaurant. And it feels like social commentary. It feels like it's very pointed (laughter).

MOVERMAN: Yeah, it is, again, something that the book did very well, I think. This is supposedly a very civilized place.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Very rarefied.

MOVERMAN: (Laughter) Completely. A place where people of great taste and manners get together and behave according to the codes of their class and their privilege. And yet, they're there to discuss something very savage.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Did you sit around and discuss this, you know, what would you do? Given the circumstances, would you protect your children? Was that a discussion on the set?

MOVERMAN: It was a discussion. Yeah, it was always a discussion. That's the nice thing that this story. As soon as you hear it, it immediately gets a reaction, especially with parents but not just that. Everyone has an opinion about what is moral, what is ethical. But we all know that it's not black and white, that there's a lot of gray.

And since you're dealing with young people who will be affected by the decision but will not make that decision, at least not officially, where the parents take their responsibility for it, then it becomes this age-old question of, sort of, what do I choose for my child that will secure some sort of possibility of a future that is somewhat normal and healthy. And, of course, in this particular situation it's impossible. So I find that a lot of people I talk to have kind of a shifting opinion where they would like to see them self as perhaps the politician's character and his moral point of view, but they know deep inside they're much more like Laura Linney's character who will do anything to make this not happen to never give up the kids.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: To protect her son.

MOVERMAN: Yeah, exactly.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Did you come to a place where you knew maybe which side you would fall on?

MOVERMAN: I keep changing my mind. I think that I would like to think that I would do the right thing. But I don't know what the right thing is.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The end of the film is very chaotic. And it kind of leaves you with this portrait of everyone kind of almost frozen in time. And it's ambiguous. What are we supposed to take away from that ending?

MOVERMAN: Oh, I think I should ask you that.


MOVERMAN: It is an open end but not completely. I mean, there are sort of things, and it's very chaotic so it's hard to know exactly what's going to happen to these characters. Obviously, the future is not bright for them. And it all comes back to the crime that was committed. So the idea that the crime no matter how you deal with it is not going away and will affect this family forever is pretty much secured at the end of the movie.

What's not secured is really what is the right thing to do and also whether, for example, the congressman, Richard Gere's character, would actually do what he said he would. There's a bit of a shift in what's happening at the end of the movie that kind of makes me feel that he may not follow through and he was maybe just putting his best version into the conversation, thinking that that's the person that he is and he is moral and ethical despite being a politician. But at the end of the movie, he may not follow through on that. And I thought that it would be quite appropriate for the movie to leave the audience at a place where the movie is over and let the arguing begin.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Indeed. As a mother, I can tell you it certainly provoked some thoughts. Oren Moverman, director of "The Dinner" - it's out now. Thanks so much.

MOVERMAN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SAVAGES' SONG, "F*CKERS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.