Friday, August 30, 2019

The Farewell (2019)

Sometimes, it’s difficult to see the bigger picture.  There’s what we want and what’s best for others.  It can be difficult to reconcile the two, especially when thinking in terms of what you would want.  You might select a certain path in life, but that doesn’t mean the same path is best for everyone

When Billi learns that her Nai Nai (father’s mother) is dying, she takes it pretty hard.  Nai Nai has a few months to live, so Billi’s parents are going to China (without Billi, no less) to visit her.  The extended family has decided, as is custom, not to actually tell Nai Nai that she’s dying.  Instead, they use a wedding as a cover to get together.  (I’m still not entirely clear as to whether the wedding was real or just staged.)

Billi follows her parents to China and agrees not to tell her grandmother about the diagnosis.  It’s difficult for her to do this, considering that Nai Nai might have things she‘d want to do before passing away.  She was born in China, but raised in America.  She asks why Nai Nai isn’t given the chance to know and maybe make peace with her life.  Her parents counter that it’s already too late.  She’s going to die and it’s the family’s responsibility to carry that burden.  This way, Nai Nai can enjoy her final months.

There are some levels on which I can connect with the movie.  I was born and raised in the United States and am of European descent.  However, Billi was raised in the United States and leans American culturally.  It’s difficult for her to wrap her head around her parents wishes.   She makes the perfect surrogate for the audience.  She understands the language well enough to get by, but she’s asking all the questions that we might ask in that situation.

The movie did remind me of going to my brother’s wedding in China.  I de recall cigarettes being everywhere, as well as the occasional offer of baijiu.  (I even have a photograph of several high chairs with packs of cigarettes for the guests.)   The activities surrounding the wedding looked very familiar.

The movie doesn’t necessarily go into all the differences between East and West.  Instead, it focuses on the concept of death and how we treat those that are dying.  In the West, we’d tell someone, even if there is no hope.  We’d see it as the patient’s right to know.  Billi has a point in that Nai Nai may want to make peace with people.  There may be things she wants to do.

The rest of her family also has a point.  If there is nothing that can be done, would it not be better to let her live unencumbered by the knowledge?  There is a certain burden in knowing that you have three months to live.  In this case, what would really be gained by sharing the information?  There is also a group dynamic.  The family takes on the burden for the grandmother.  They’re there to help her.

The movie does focus on the choice, but there is more to it.  It does give Billi a chance to go back to the place where she grew up.  Some of it has changed, but so has she.  There’s a lot for her to come to terms with.  In a way, it was a good choice for her to go to China.  She could just as easily have told her grandmother over the phone.  Going gave her the chance to reconnect with her family.  I have to wonder what would have happened had she stayed in America.

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