Dinner at Eight (1933)


“The idea of waiting for something makes it more exciting.” –Andy Warhol, artist

Dinner at Eight is a movie about anticipation.

It’s the Great Depression, and families’ money and social statuses are wobbling like teeter-totters. Anticipation is the one aspect of life that remains steadfast during these turbulent times, and it means something different for each character in the story. Take the Jordan family, whose home is the setting of Dinner at Eight. Mrs. Millicent Jordan is anticipating and frantically organizing her next society dinner after high-class friends RSVP that they’re coming. Much to her dismay, Mr. Oliver Jordan is more preoccupied with anticipating how the timeline of his failing health and business is going to unfold. And their daughter Paula Jordan is dreadfully anticipating the return of her fiancé Earnest, because she’s secretly having an affair with Larry.

I’m glad America is past the Depression, but I don’t think anticipation is saying goodbye anytime soon. Admittedly, it follows me everywhere. Ask my mom: I’ve always been a boy of anticipation. When I knew guests were coming over for a New Year’s Eve party, we would have to set a countdown timer on the oven so I’d quit asking, “How long until they get here?” Then I would look out the window to catch the first glimpse of the cars pulling into the driveway. The parties were always great, even if they didn’t quite live up to my grandiose expectations. Sometimes that pulsating anticipation leading up to them was the best part.

What I want to say next is perfectly articulated in this Psychology Today article. We live in a culture that says, “Don’t get your hopes up.” Maybe we’ve been disappointed in the past, and we’re afraid of being let down again. Tina Gilbertson writes about her audition experiences, “Achieving the goal wasn’t the same as that indescribably pleasant anticipation of good things to come.” We should embrace positive anticipation. It’s the reason Christmas lasts for a whole season and not just one day. Our hearts need time to harbor those hopeful feelings every now and then, no matter what the future holds.

When the Jordan dinner actually begins, the movie ends. The last shot is the big double doors to their dining room closing. Who knows what will happen during the dinner…will business deals be made? Will new romance bloom or old relationships be rekindled? It’s fun to imagine, and it makes me want to host my own dinner at eight this weekend. You’re invited. I’ll be looking out the window.

A completely unrelated postscript. As I was watching Dinner at Eight, there was one scene where I felt like The Lonely Island song “Threw It On the Ground” would be a nice addition. I have mashed them up together for you in the video below.