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The first installment in the series of films  for English 197A, Ethical Dilemmas on Film, encourages us to think about our personal and political involvements through the lens of our ethical commitments. While few of us are likely to find ourselves in the precise roles of the protagonists, Lawrence and Gina, their story raises a set of questions with which we all arguably ought to be concerned. Here are some of the many ethical questions that The Girl in the Caf�, raises:

Consider Gina’s last line. “Does it matter whose child?” 

      • What do we owe to other people’s children? 
      • Should we value children in our own country more than children in other countries?                                                  
      • Should we value children in our own town or state more than children in other towns or states? 
      • Do you believe that parents in Africa value their children as much as parents in Europe and the United States value theirs? 
      • Is there a way to measure the value of a human life? 

Can politics allow us to do the right thing by the world’s poor and starving? Do politics prevent us from doing the right thing? 

What do you think of Gina’s behavior? 

      • Is it inappropriate? Is it rude? 
      • Should she be allowed to stay at the G8 summit? 
      • How would you behave in such a situation? 
      • How would you treat Gina? 
      • How would you think of Gina? 

Do the two halves of the movie work well together? 

      • Does the discussion of global poverty work well in the context of a romantic comedy?    
      • What details of the romantic comedy are put to use in the discussion of global poverty? (Think about SPECIFICS. How are rooms decorated? What do the characters eat? Which lines of dialogue are significant?) 

The Girl in the Caf� was written, directed, and acted by Brits. How is the United States portrayed? 

How does Bill Nighy’s performance contribute to your feeling about this film?

After watching the film, feel free to provide short comments and relevant links below, or to submit longer responses for possible publication here to:, with the subject line ‘State Theatre Films’.  
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22 Responses to The Girl in the Café: Questions for Consideration

  1. Natalie Masters says:

    Like most people, the last line Gina says “Does is matter whose Child? Since I am writing this blog post a tad bit later than anticipated, I was instantly reminded of The Third Man. Gina and Holly agree on the fact that it does not matter who is being harmed, but justice should be met for someone who takes the lives of something so innocent as a child.

    This is very important because of the actions of Jerry Sandusky as well as the shootings in Newtown, CT. In two of our movies we watched characters go above and beyond to defend the live of the child.

    Something I wanted to really point out about the topic is the retroactive perspectives here. In both the movies, at Penn State, and the Newtown Shootings, all our actions are forced to be retroactive. I do not know how you would prepare for things, but there has to be a better way at preventing things like this. Innocent people, especially children should never be the victim of hatred.

    We need to learn how to be more proactive as a society.


    This was an excellent film that does bring in a lot of ethical questions. I particularly like Gina’s final line in the film, “does it matter whose child.” This is a question that we don’t often ask ourselves, and if we did I think a lot of us would fight as hard as Gina did to have the children around the world helped. When you think about this question you think of how you see parents give sacrifice everything in their lives for their own children, but how many are unwilling to go to any other lengths for children that they will never see the face of. The closer something happens to us the more attached we feel towards it. The other day 20 some children died in a school shooting in Connecticut, and the reaction to it was huge, it received enormous amounts of media coverage and was a national tragedy. This many child soldiers will die in African countries every single day, but from Americans it will not get near the funding that the people in Connecticut will to deal. This has nothing to do with race or any of that, it is simply that we feel much more closely attached to those that are closer than us, when it happens in the United States there will be much more concern than if it were to happen outside the United States. It’s human nature, even though we will never know either of the victims on a personal level, we feel closer to the American ones, even if they are fewer in number. Gina calls us to question this, should we show compassion to all? Her thoughts and actions seem to get through to Lawrence a bit, but there may have been other reasons that her voice was getting through to him. The thing we need to do it not think of the lives lost around the world as a number, but think of them all as if they were your own child.


    Gina’s behavior is very interesting to observe when considering everyone’s reactions to it. People considered it very rude, and perhaps it was, especially in the English culture. The thing is, her behavior was rude because it was a truth that the people at the G8 summit didn’t want to hear, not because she was trying to insult them or anything malicious like that. She was upset with their inaction and reacted accordingly, trying to shock them into that action she wanted and the people being deliberated over deserved. This was not received especially well, and it resulted in Gina getting kicked out of the summit and Lawrence losing his job. Still, it resulted in action actually occurring, or at least we assume so.
    The thing is, I don’t think I would treat Gina too much differently than the rest of the people in the movie. I would agree with her that something needed to be done, but I think that I’m too much of a cynic (or realist) to think that a single person could do anything. I would simply brush her off as an idealist and not give it a second thought. This, I think, is why the world is in such a bad state: the practiced apathy that everyone exhibits when confronted with facts like this. Everything is broken down into statistics, only statistics. If we can move past this, start actually caring about people like Gina does, then improvement can happen. There are people out there, too, who do this. But, unfortunately, they are labeled as crazies and put into the margins. If we were to listen to some of these people, to give their messages credence, then perhaps action could be taken.

  4. GWEN K FRIES says:

    I’ll admit, up Gina’s last line, I really wasn’t crazy about her at all. She overshared about past relationships, couldn’t keep her trap closed when her words could have put the entire G8 summit into jeopardy, and apparently was a jailbird?! But when she said in a soft, broken tone, “Does it matter whose child?” I had a turn of heart. She knew all along what this movie made me realize: We owe to other people’s children what we owe to our own. It’s just a twist of fate that the child was born in Rwanda instead of Rhode Island. It could very easily have been me starving in Africa instead of living in a comfy home in Smalltown, USA. To quote Sir Paul McCartney, “We all know that people are the same wherever you go.” For example: Sasha and Malia Obama or Liza, Sam & Charlie Ryan are no more important than Africa’s children who die every 3 seconds. While I think it is important that we take care of our own children first, as if we don’t, no one else will, children all over the world in need should be an extremely close second. Parents in Africa absolutely value their children as much as parents in Europe and the United States value theirs. Possibly even more. In Europe and the US, I think for many children are almost an accessory. People have kids because all their friends from college are having kids. There’s so much cute stuff you can buy if you have a kid. Maybe you’ll have a son to carry on that small town quarterback legacy. Of course, I don’t mean everyone is like that! But I’ve definitely met more than a few. In Africa, you don’t have too much. You rely on your family 100%. Your kids will be your source of love, of laughter and of hope. They shouldn’t be a source of crippling grief. You should never see them die. As a Christian, I have seen through Jesus the value of a human life. He humbled himself to go through that immense torture and pain and humiliating death on the cross, and he would have done it for just me or for just you. That’s his idea of the value of a human life.
    I’m of the opinion that politics have no place in helping the world’s children. The one and only role of a government is to protect its citizens. I think it’s our job to help the children of the world through charitable organizations and volunteer/missionary trips. As Margaret Mead has said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
    As I had mentioned before, I’m not a big Gina fan. She and Lawrence both seemed immature, ignorant and careless throughout this film. Gina was highly inappropriate and rude at the G8 summit. There’s a reason people go through years and years of international relations training before even dreaming of going to a summit like that. It’s annoying and ridiculous, but you have to be very delicate in those situations. If the leaders in the summit acted like Gina, there would be no G8, and there would never be a hope of something getting done. I think she should be allowed to stay at the G8 summit, but I don’t think she should. She should have the decency to leave when she saw how she was disrupting everything and causing Lawrence (whom she loved enough to sleep with!!!) problems. In that situation, I would have realized that (most of) the leaders were doing their best to help and left them alone. I would probably have treated Gina with contempt. I would have thought of her, like they said, as a protestor let inside.
    Of course, of course, of course, the USA is the bad guy. Again. Always. I know we’re supposed to watch this movie and feel like “Oh! How horrible we are! Oh goodness! I’m so ashamed to be American!” but the day I feel ashamed to be an American is the day you can shoot me right in between my blue eyes. The Brits have never really gotten over 1776. 😉


    The Girls In The Café
    Lawrence was such and interesting character that I found myself often watching only him in most scenes. Bill Nighy did an outstanding job of embracing the awkward and painful essence of Lawrence. To start the film we see him completely involved in his work. He is walking from place to place with his papers in front of his face so he can barely see where he is going. We don’t actually get to see him interact with anybody until he engages in conversation with Gina. This is where the audience gets to fully understand just how inept and self-conscious Lawrence is. What I took away from this is that Lawrence’s life is completely work centered. Because of this he is poor at interacting with strangers, especially those of the opposite sex. He further shows us how work centered he is by not being able to go back out on a date until weeks later. We learn later that he has a noble job that might hold the power to save thousands of lives but I felt this job has robbed Lawrence of one of life’s most precious elements and that’s emotion. This is why Lawrence was attracted to Gina.
    Gina is driven by her emotions and won’t let anything get in the way of showing her emotion. We see this when they are at the G8 convention. Most people would feel uncomfortable speaking up in such I high-powered organization. She barely knows these people yet she is courageous enough to speak out against what these people do as their careers. I believe how she went about it was inappropriate and rude but I believe that’s how she had to do it. She had to be bold to get a response from such statistical minded people. Everyone on the counsel, except the brits, seem to only care about their countries personal well-being. Especially the Americans who are portrayed by a young smug male and an emotionless redheaded female. The director made sure the audience disliked the Americans. Gina was emotionally attached, however which made her speech that much more powerful. If I were at the G8 meeting I would have easily backed Gina up. While I don’t think I could have mustered up the courage to be the first one to rebel, I definitely could have followed her after she made it aware.
    I feel the biggest flaw in the movie was the movie’s oversimplification of everything. It’s easy to say lots of people are dying and we’re not doing anything about it. We are all wealthy countries we should help them. Here comes Gina saying let’s help them we should listen to her. In hindsight Gina really knows nothing about how world logistics works. These are these people’s careers. They all know the numbers and what makes most sense. Some driven woman isn’t going to make a two-minute speech that completely changes the ultimate decision. This is why I didn’t feel the global poverty worked well in the context of a romantic comedy.


    As a political science major, I found a number of questions posed in the film to be extremely relevant. The setting of the G8 is the perfect place to bring up these issues because its main purpose is to bring up important issues facing the world. Making it the background eliminates the need for a certain amount of exposition that would otherwise be necessary for Gina’s ethical and political views to become so glaringly and jarringly obvious.

    The central question that I took from the film, and one that I find especially relevant given the current political deadlock in Congress, is whether or not government (not just American) can make any sort of practical difference in the lives of the disadvantaged, especially when there is no immediate monetary incentive (such as in the case of dying children in Africa). The film doesn’t answer the question, which I thought was a good decision because it would have taken far longer than an hour and a half to address, but it does offer hope that the answer is yes. The film embodies the two different approaches to enacting the desired changes in its two main characters, Lawrence and Gina. Lawrence’s approach is one of someone who has spent a lot of time dealing with all of the bureaucracy that comes with civil service, patient and incremental, with the expectation and knowledge that everything he desires will not end up being made into law. Gina’s approach, on the other hand is one of a young newcomer to the business of politics, fast and unyielding, with an all or nothing mentality.

    The film doesn’t take a side, but I definitely sympathized with Lawrence’s character and his approach more than Gina’s. As much as I agree with Gina’s moral stance on the universal worth of children, I do think she went about elaborating it in a way that did absolutely no good, and in fact even hurt the chances of what she wanted happening. The realist in me just cannot fathom how she ever thought making a big scene would increase the chances of the measures she supported being agreed upon. I felt bad for Lawrence because while he may not have been able to get all of the funding that his project necessitated, he probably would have at least been able to get a portion of what was necessary. Instead, because of Gina’s stunt, he was never given the opportunity to let the international political system do its job. Additionally, he gets punished for being in the company of someone who so clearly disregards the international political order. While Gina’s motives may have been pure, I do think it was her responsibility to see how her actions would realistically affect the situation. If she truly believed what she says she did, then it was her ethical obligation to do what would most probably lead to the best outcome (whether that meant sharing her view or holding her tongue). I think it was rather selfish of her to be so vocal about her views when it was clearly to the detriment of the greater cause. That is the greater lesson I took from the film, that there are times to buck the system and other times to abide by it. Gina bucked the system for the sake of bucking it, so she could state her opinion and not feel guilty about sitting back while something so important was being decided. Ultimately, this is what led to both her and Lawrence’s downfall.


    Countries communicate with one another instantaneously, extending the boundaries of globalization, with governments moving past economic interactions and introducing a social agenda as well. Yet it seems that governments are becoming more and more aggressive in their desire to address the needs of people who they don’t govern. The Girl in the Cafe reminded me that the phenomena of countries becoming involved with other countries is nothing new to society, it just looked different before. In the past, the global conquests of the Dutch, Spaniards, French and the English were validated by the desire to “help” the barbarians native to the lands they desired. In the name of religion, these governments sought to change the traditions of the invading regions and transform the people into Xerox copies of themselves. Purging the land of its resources and manipulating human labor was simply an added perk of the job. Now I don’t think today, the countries of the modern world are pursing the “White Man’s Burden” on the exact same path as our ancestors, but there is still nothing normal about a road made of gold bricks. When the plot got to the G8 Summit, it reminded me of this suspicion. There is something fishy about members of a group trying to make decisions for members of another group simply because they can. This is the entirety of my problem with the G8. Representatives of the countries these world leaders are examining and analyzing are not even present at this summit. Moreover, these countries are not given the opportunity to lend their expertise and advice. We can easily see why it wouldn’t be right to send an anorexic to teach a class about nutrition, because that is backwards. So excuse me if this seems obvious, but the summit itself is just as illogical. There is no connection between a handful of professional arguers and a child soldier in Angola, especially when they are not even from the same country and have no insight on the internal problems. From the surface, the G8 can gain a crude understanding of what is happening within a foreign country, but the reality of that summary is the same as trying to write a book in numbers; incredibly frustrating for the person who has to use that book for a class in school. Through all this rambling, I hope I clarify that I by no means belittle the work done at these meetings and those involved. This type of work is extremely taxing as these professionals try to solve almost insurmountable problems. However, my aim is to draw attention to a glitch in the software used for problem solving.

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