Brae’s review published on Letterboxd:
The Farewell certainly has no shortage of conflict, but the one at the heart of every other conflict is that of eastern philosophy and western philosophy regarding the ways in which we navigate life and death itself. How much of our own life do we truly own? Of course we’re always inhabiting our bodies and we have our own thoughts, so it seems to be a slightly ridiculous question for any westerner going in to see this film, but if you go in with an open mind and a willingness to understand then maybe the answer isn’t as immediately easy to arrive to as first suspected.
From birth, we are raised to be independent and do what makes us happy, but that comes with rules. You need to work to make money to ensure that you’re even around to abide by those rules in the first place, and if you can’t then you’re going to need an emotional stock in someone who is able to look after you. In some ways, that bond and trust extended to others in your life to always keep you fed and sheltered is a piece of yourself that you don’t truly own. Your life is, in part, owed to others. We, as a society, are desperate to make our own mark, but the only way to do that is to take from some and give to others. No one can truly exist as wholly independent.
So maybe in the same way we can entrust those fragments of our lives to each other, the same can be applied to our deaths. Is it better to know and to carry that emotional burden or is it better to have the people in your circle finally give those pieces of yourself that they took long ago back to you, in a final push of solidarity to send you off with a fully realised self and identity. Is it more important to grieve all that is being lost or to celebrate the entire journey and the pieces we share amongst each other in earnesty. How do we choose to say goodbye?
There’s no correct answer, which director and writer Lulu Wang masterfully conveys in every scene, displaying a nuance to the traditionally high impact culture clash, clumsier directors may have shown more than was needed, but Wang brings the casual and familial conversations at the dinner table and never doubts the audience to understand that we don’t need a fancy show to believe these characters differing sense of beliefs and values, whilst still holding unconditional love for another.
Emotions, we feel, are to be instantly validated. In today’s society especially it’s never enough to feel sad, or to feel happy, we feel an urgency to ourselves to be understood. If we’re not too busy destroying ourselves over the perceptions that we are failures or somehow inherently wrong then we might actually have some time to self reflect and begin the gruelling work on bettering ourselves. The Farewell makes perhaps the first case I’ve truly understood of allowing yourself some privacy. “Just because I did not cry does not mean I did not love my father.” One character says, attempting to explain that we don’t always need to obligate ourselves to an emotional performance, and sometimes it’s alright to just feel shitty.
There’s so much that this film does right, and I could write much further at length about why I’ve written what I have but that would require spoiler tags that I’d prefer to not place on this review, as I think it’s important that anyone who sees this go to see this film immediately. Awkwafina carries her performance with grace and strength and will surely be spotted at the 2020 oscars.