Two lonely people are connected and begin an epistolary relationship after the uncannily errorless dabbawala lunch transport system in Mumbai begins mixing up two lunch boxes. What follows is a charmingly told story of how beauty can find us in our isolation and despair, leading to kindness, connection, desire and hope.
I have much more to write, but it’s spoiler heavy so I’ll put it below the trailer for you read if you’ve seen the movie or don’t care about knowing what happens in the end.
I have a feeling lots of folks will have mixed feelings about the ending, or even mixed feelings about the movie because of the ending. We don’t get to see the resolution we hope for, with Ila waiting for her daughter to get home from school so she can leave her husband and strike off on her own, and Saajan on a train with dabbawalas on his way to try and find her. Does he make it in time? Do they find each other? Does the wrong train again get them to the right station?
The characters were so richly realized, so full, and I cared what happened to them. I wanted to see them meet, embrace, connect in a more concrete way. It was jarring, being left hanging like that. Which is why I think the ending is perfect.
One reason I feel it’s perfect: whether they end up together or not, their relationship has already lifted them out of their despair and isolation. Each has helped the other find themselves again, and each feels renewed hope that things can still change for them. Ila now believes she can survive without her husband, with or without Sajaan. Sajaan has allowed himself to care again after the tremendous grief of losing his wife. They have given each other a way out, but in a big enough way that a romantic relationship isn’t the sole reason for their hope.
Second, and even more importantly for me, I think the ending is perfect because it leaves us wanting more. Art always has the power to impact us in two ways (in many, many ways obviously, but two ways I’m pointing out here). It can move us in a way that makes us want more from our lives and ourselves, or it can move us in a way that becomes substitutionary and pacifies us. In no way do I mean to imply that it’s always bad when a story is tied up with a nice bow at the end, we need that kind of story in a world like this one. Yet one potential outcome of that is we are too satisfied, it dulls and lulls us instead of awakening desire.
When The Lunchbox ends and we are left longing for these two lonely people to be together it has the potential to stir us, to wake us up. It’s right there, on the cusp, and we want to just push the film another few minutes longer to see what happens, give the two characters one more nudge in the right direction.
We can’t do that for Ila and Saajan. But we can do it for ourselves. We can try to allow a bit more beauty and kindness into our own lives, in the midst of our own loneliness and desperation. We can try to offer a bit more beauty and kindness and connection to the lonely and desperate people surrounding us, not all of them obviously, but a few.
In my mind, that is what makes The Lunchbox, especially in its ending, the very best kind of story. The sort of story that, if we let it, can actually awaken desire within us, and desire is often the scariest and most important thing.