Cake

The “Cake” of the title refers to the homemade birthday cake a chronic pain sufferer named Nina wanted to make for her young son, representing her wish for a normal life and the physical abilities she used to have. A member of her support group, Claire, scoffed at her idea as being overly sentimental, but when Nina commits suicide by jumping off a highway overpass, Claire can’t stop thinking about it and visualizing her own suicide. Nina begins visiting Claire’s heavily medicated dreams as an almost demonic figure, tempting and criticizing her by turns.

But the cake is a lie; it does not accurately depict the financial straits most people with chronic pain encounter when they’re no longer able to work. As a former lawyer, Claire can seemingly afford to pay for a housekeeper to keep her place clean, prepare food, and occasionally drive her to Tijuana for illicit pain medication smuggled back into the U.S. in a hollow statue of St. Jude. Though she gets stopped at the border once, a quick phone call to her lawyer ex-husband takes care of it. She doesn’t seem to require public benefits and never seems to fight with her insurance company, though her doctor and physical therapists are starting to tire of her lack of progress.

At the ending, Cake appears to draw the conclusion that a chronic pain sufferer merely needs to deal with their grief and trauma to have their physical condition improve, but that’s demonstrably false. Many chronic pain conditions have their root in auto-immune and other diseases which have no emotional cause. It’s irresponsible to lead the public to believe that all that needs to be done is “get over it”.

The Story of Luke

The Story of Luke deals with a young man with autism, abandoned in infancy by his mother and raised by his grandparents. His grandmother, as his primary caregiver, had perhaps sheltered him more than she should have. Luke gets home schooled and/or takes distance learning classes for high school. He lacks vocational training or any sort of transition plan. When his grandmother dies, he is forced to move in with his Uncle Paul and Aunt Cindy, who have issues of their own (she’s on antidepressants, and he’s just a pill), and two younger (presumably) “normal” children. There are some scenes where “what to do about Luke” is discussed among others, and he overhears. Aunt Cindy has delicate sensibilities, and must have deep pockets as well, because she has the grandfather admitted to a nursing home following an incident where he attempts to grab her posterior, and offers her $20. At a rest stop on the way to the nursing home, Luke’s grandfather tells him that Luke is now a man and must live his own life, including getting a job and finding a woman who “is willing to travel and doesn’t nag too much”. At the rest stop, Luke meets a sympathetic convenience store clerk who gives him a pile of pornographic magazines when he asks about “screwing”. Luke’s final conversation with his grandfather has a strong impact on the boy, who decides, despite the challenges faced by his condition, to try to get a job and a girlfriend. These pursuits are made more challenging than they had to be by the fact that he lacks transportation, and his aunt is initially against him attempting to get a job. She comes around, when she realizes that enforced idleness and lacking the opportunity to acquire an adult role could be harmful and depressing to him as well.
Luke is not the “stereotypical autistic”. He speaks and responds to others, though stilted delivery and the repetition of common sayings act as an indicator that he does not have the spontaneity that others do, and the clearly-shown anxiety with every challenging situation he encounters hints at what lies beneath the polite well-groomed young man’s attempt at maintaining a socially-appropriate mien. He walks down the street covering his ears when loud sounds overwhelm him, and significantly sits in the seats reserved for the handicapped when he takes the bus. Some situations provoke a bit of mild “stimming”. Though he discloses some talent at preparing dishes he had seen made on cooking shows on TV, he denies any specialized or savant skills. When asked about his condition, though some call him “a retard” or say he has autism, he claims “my grandmother told me that I defy clinical categorization”.
The grandfather, who seems physically healthy other than an incident of incontinence and the revival of a smoking habit, dies conveniently the next time Luke is given the opportunity to visit the nursing home.
After he settles in with his aunt and uncle, Luke at first unsuccessfully pursues both work and love, signing up with a temp agency where he meets an older black woman “with nice tits”, who works as the receptionist, and is later the first woman he asks for a date. He finds out about a company that could help him, with a program called the Smile, which hires and trains people on the autistic spectrum for menial jobs within corporations. The owner, in fact, has an autistic son who works for him, Zack, supervisor of the new apprentices. Zack is bitter and abrasive, and feels a need to prove himself to his father. Luke is then hired as an apprentice and in spite of Zack yelling at him and being less than clear about some of his initial job responsibilities, he proves himself able to adapt. His resourcefulness and desire to ask out the girl at the temp agency hits Zack, who decides to try to help him, which has the result of helping himself at the same time.
Zack teaches Luke to carefully observe and mimic the body language and non-verbal interactions of “NTs”, or “neurotypical” people, and then shows him simulator software he developed which has on-screen virtual faces and personas responding in real time to Luke’s interactions with them. In spite of this unique training tool for human interaction, Luke still gets rejected when he asks the woman on a date. Zack ends up getting it used for customer service within the company, and hopefully, redeeming himself in his father’s eyes. Luke starts looking exceptionally personable and capable, and lands a long term job with the company.
In the meantime, Luke’s aunt, uncle, and cousins have been warming up to him, and discover the whereabouts of his mother. Zack helps groom Luke for the occasion and accompanies him when he decides to meet his mother. Luke discovers that his mother has another grown son and a family who doesn’t know about Luke, and she would prefer to keep it that way. Though Luke is disappointed that his reunion with his mother wasn’t a happy and loving one, by NT standards, he does get closure on why she acted as she did: “I didn’t think I would ever hear you talk to me” she said.