Monday, November 14, 2011

You Can Never Go Home Anymore: Musings on "Song of Lunch"

Last night I watched Song of Lunch, the 2010 forty-seven minute BBC adaptation of Christopher Reid's poem of the same name starring Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson. I liked it very much. Needless to say, given the acting chops of both Rickman and Thompson, the acting and Rickman's poetic narration, were of a very high quality indeed.

Song of Lunch begins with He (Alan Rickman) leaving the publishing office at which he works in mythic Bloomsbury to make the twenty minute walk to Zanzotti's, an, in his memory, untrendy restaurant he and his lover used to frequent in once upon a time untrendy Soho. Rickman's character is returning to Zanzontti's to meet his ex-lover, for the first time in years. His ex-lover, She (Emma Thompson), is now living in another mythic literary and art centre, Paris, with her famous writer husband and her two children. As He walks through the streets of famous Bloomsbury toward Soho and Zanzotti's we hear the wickedly witty comments in his minds eye, snarky comments about the ever changing literary landscape of Bloomsbury and about the ever changing landscape of now trendy Soho, changing landscapes he does not think highly of.

At the heart of Song of Lunch is the attempt of He to recover times past, times past, as he remembers them, with his former love, She. That He sets up his meeting with his old flame in a restaurant they once frequented is, of course, part of the man's plan to go backward in time to try to recover his relationship with Her. In the final scene of the play He prepares to leave Zanzotti's alone, in a still alcoholic haze, and in a still snarky mood. Just before He walks through the door of the restaurant, however, He glances back to see, slumped in an out of the way corner of the now nouveau chic Zanzotti's, Masssimo, the owner of the restaurant, dressed in what is presumably the uniform of the new Soho, a formal suit. This tired old Massimo, this Massimo who was not in the He's minds eye as he made his way to Zanzotti's, this Massimo who no longer presses the flesh with everyone in Zanzotti's as he once did in those untrendy and boisterous old days at Zanzotti's, a pressing of the flesh the He remembers with disdain as he walks to the restaurant but recalls with a degree of nostalgic fondness as He leaves Zanzotti's, forces a revelation on He, a revelation that the play has been leading us towards since its beginning, you can never, despite nostalgia for the past, go "home" to the past anymore. On that sad note "Song of Lunch" ends.

Though Song of Lunch is, according to author Reid, a retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice tale, a tale in which Orpheus descends into the underworld in order to bring his beloved Eurydice back to life, a tale in which ends with Orpheus's failure, a tale mentioned in Song of Lunch itself, Rickman's He also reminded me of another famous character from another one of those other great epic myths of the Ancient Greek past, the Odysseus of Homer's Odyssey. The difference between Homer's Odysseus and Reid's new Odysseus is that Reid's He returns to his old haunts only to find that you really can't return to that hoped for nostalgic and romantic home of the past anymore particularly when the suffering that is life has made you into a snarky and eyes and mind often wandering and wondering alcoholic.

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