The Farewell

Disclaimer: there is no possible way for me to have any critical distance from this. It is, quite literally, with almost the SOLE exception of its premise (which in itself is not that far from something my family would actually do) a story that traces my life. I think that Lulu Wang has made a movie straight from my own heart, telling a part of my story in a way I could never tell, if only because I am too much inside of it.

It feels almost self-indulgent to say, but I live Billi’s story. Down to every conversation, every relationship individually explored between her and her family, the attempt to connect and engage and understand when she returns home... Her family parallels my own, and how we fit into it echoes each other too. I’ve mapped this family into mine from person-to-person, role-to-role. My cousin is Bao and every-fucking-body asks me if I prefer China or the U.S. (“it’s just different”), I can’t communicate with my family not because of the language but because I am terrified of my cultural divide, at some point we stopped staying at the house and started staying in nearby hotels. There is always distance. The elevator is always broken. We burn paper iPhones over my grandpa’s grave for him to use in the afterlife— I’m pretty sure we hired people to cry at his funeral— we have family meals at giant round tables and my uncle argues with us about America. My grandma is a matriarch and she is dying, my mom refuses to cry about it and I am so scared of returning home. I am terrified of that taxi ride every time.

As the only first-gen American in my family through both lineages, being Asian and American has felt like an immensely glorified privilege and also a painfully isolating burden. Billi said it best crying to her mom on the dressing room floor, it’s only always been the three of us (Mom, Dad, Me) and I resent them and myself for failing to connect me to my extended family, for abandoning them and coming back and things never being the same.

There is no way for me to reconcile the constant tension between Eastern and Western senses of filial piety and what is seen as good or moral or right— I can only sit quietly, and try to navigate through a little bit of both. 

I keep trying to make my experience of this movie not about my guilt or shame that has forever been tied to my experience of family. But I started sobbing no more than 5 minutes into watching this and did not stop. To know that people I know and people I love will see this movie feels weirdly invasive, like “Oh, now you’ll know all of this about me, and I didn’t want you to have to see this before...” But I know that’s selfish, because if there’s one thing that has been affirmed from seeing this movie it’s that my own deepest fears, guilt, relationship with family— whatever, the things I thought were the most personal to who I am — are actually so much more universal than I thought. Or valuable in being shared. A cheesy, probably obvious sentiment, but yeah, this movie gave me that.

Maybe I was a fake film student before because for all the bullshit I spouted about how “”””intimate film is”””” I did not think that film as a medium could ever get as personal as this. But maybe that’s because I am watching the wrong films, and maybe it’s because we haven’t been making them. From what I’ve heard from my friends who also felt this strongly connected to The Farewell, I think that this is what we can do with movies when we are granted the breath to start moving beyond representation, carving out a space for ourselves to speak narratives beyond the placement of a monolithic Asian body/culture on a screen. This is what follows “#AsianAugust,” when we wipe the slate clean again from CRA, Searching, To All the Boys etc. and find even more even more, and we must! keep! the! momentum! going!

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