33rd Annual Conference Track 1, Session 3: Popular Culture and the Sacred: Religions, Cultures, Worldviews

Presentation Title

Don’t Tell Her: Ancient Buddhist Metaphysics as depicted in Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell”

Presenter Information

Kate MorganFollow

Presentation Type

Paper

Description

In a stark contrast from present day materialist Chinese theory and culture, director Lulu Wang investigates the opposing forces of communist-inspired modernist medical reality and traditional Chinese metaphysics (as opposed to medicine) with her lens. The struggle Wang’s primary character Billie encounters, as depicted by actress Awkwafina, in failing to tell her Grandmother the truth about her medical condition as the whole family rallies to be a supportive unit in the wake of an upcoming wedding unfolds a drama revealing much about the difference between generations.

If this film, depicting a rare momentary breech into the usual communist-era family separation influenced by a number of materialist theories, warns the reader against the excesses of sacrificing family relationships for the need of state, trade and progress, Wang’s "real-life lie," as she calls it, warns the viewer of the problem of ending a “desire to live” in patients lurking within the contemporary medical system by being overly rationalist about delivering a diagnosis. Provided with alternating scenes of a family struggling to build relationships by falsifying the scenario of an upcoming marriage and others demonstrating the propensity of education, work and political duty separating the average Chinese family — viewers are in a position to judge the necessity and benefit of supporting a long-lived family matriarch as well as sympathize with their struggle to choose better decisions than post-Maoist communist dictators interacting with neoliberal and capitalist conglomerates and world corporations might necessitate or encourage. However, any debate over the abstract ideas of freedom and control in Wangs tale quickly disappear: we discover that this family is embedded within a cultural narrative of marriage and togetherness and questioning the motive of separation for the sort of work which it thought to be ultimate progress and liberation.

Wangs’s use of metafiction to tell this story encourages us to question, along with her heroines, the "feminine" Modernist narratives of Chinese communist liberation, and to value in their place a feminist strategy built around story-telling and family togetherness. While convening for a wedding fabricated to cover the impending death of its senior female matriarch discovers that their narratives should be tried and convicted. The divine "Oneness" which the author visually claims for personal relationships completely changes a medical trajectory for its most senior member as pressure to not deliver culturally freighted words, as warned by traditionalists transitions to an improved prognosis. The myth that one can "only obey" what news a doctor delivers s patient is ultimately diminished in the transformation of narrative regarding self, body and mind. Telling her own “lie” to preserve “face” in the Asian sociolinguistic tradition, Billie realizes she can accept the idea that accepting balanced family structure and continuance of progeny can heal relationships rather than feeling the need to cede authorial and bodily control of her grandmother to a central narrative voice of a doctor in a patriarchal grammar.

By emphasizing the omission of an unwanted truth and how community discourse matters in political and personal ways, the dynamic character development present in “The Farewell” (2019) suggests that Wang has developed a unique and contemporary discursive space that transcends traditional narrative and modern Chinese expectation.

Purposefully and productively post-postmodern, Wang presents multiple sorts of visual scenario to her viewers in “The Farewell,” with an eye towards the politics of narration and the teller of the tale. Never relinquishing complete narrative authority, Wang nonetheless encourages her viewers to question the stories medicine presents, juxtaposed as they are one against the possibility of life and all that sustains it. The film’s use of framing and scene composition leave the viewer considering the relationship between its two possibilities and wondering how we can revise the existing cultural narrative of medical history.


Share

COinS
 

Don’t Tell Her: Ancient Buddhist Metaphysics as depicted in Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell”

In a stark contrast from present day materialist Chinese theory and culture, director Lulu Wang investigates the opposing forces of communist-inspired modernist medical reality and traditional Chinese metaphysics (as opposed to medicine) with her lens. The struggle Wang’s primary character Billie encounters, as depicted by actress Awkwafina, in failing to tell her Grandmother the truth about her medical condition as the whole family rallies to be a supportive unit in the wake of an upcoming wedding unfolds a drama revealing much about the difference between generations.

If this film, depicting a rare momentary breech into the usual communist-era family separation influenced by a number of materialist theories, warns the reader against the excesses of sacrificing family relationships for the need of state, trade and progress, Wang’s "real-life lie," as she calls it, warns the viewer of the problem of ending a “desire to live” in patients lurking within the contemporary medical system by being overly rationalist about delivering a diagnosis. Provided with alternating scenes of a family struggling to build relationships by falsifying the scenario of an upcoming marriage and others demonstrating the propensity of education, work and political duty separating the average Chinese family — viewers are in a position to judge the necessity and benefit of supporting a long-lived family matriarch as well as sympathize with their struggle to choose better decisions than post-Maoist communist dictators interacting with neoliberal and capitalist conglomerates and world corporations might necessitate or encourage. However, any debate over the abstract ideas of freedom and control in Wangs tale quickly disappear: we discover that this family is embedded within a cultural narrative of marriage and togetherness and questioning the motive of separation for the sort of work which it thought to be ultimate progress and liberation.

Wangs’s use of metafiction to tell this story encourages us to question, along with her heroines, the "feminine" Modernist narratives of Chinese communist liberation, and to value in their place a feminist strategy built around story-telling and family togetherness. While convening for a wedding fabricated to cover the impending death of its senior female matriarch discovers that their narratives should be tried and convicted. The divine "Oneness" which the author visually claims for personal relationships completely changes a medical trajectory for its most senior member as pressure to not deliver culturally freighted words, as warned by traditionalists transitions to an improved prognosis. The myth that one can "only obey" what news a doctor delivers s patient is ultimately diminished in the transformation of narrative regarding self, body and mind. Telling her own “lie” to preserve “face” in the Asian sociolinguistic tradition, Billie realizes she can accept the idea that accepting balanced family structure and continuance of progeny can heal relationships rather than feeling the need to cede authorial and bodily control of her grandmother to a central narrative voice of a doctor in a patriarchal grammar.

By emphasizing the omission of an unwanted truth and how community discourse matters in political and personal ways, the dynamic character development present in “The Farewell” (2019) suggests that Wang has developed a unique and contemporary discursive space that transcends traditional narrative and modern Chinese expectation.

Purposefully and productively post-postmodern, Wang presents multiple sorts of visual scenario to her viewers in “The Farewell,” with an eye towards the politics of narration and the teller of the tale. Never relinquishing complete narrative authority, Wang nonetheless encourages her viewers to question the stories medicine presents, juxtaposed as they are one against the possibility of life and all that sustains it. The film’s use of framing and scene composition leave the viewer considering the relationship between its two possibilities and wondering how we can revise the existing cultural narrative of medical history.