Guest Review by Andrew Singer.
The Farewell takes place in China, but the theme of family life is universal--how we deal with life and with death. The central conflict in the movie is between telling Nai Nai (grandma) that she is terminal (the frowned-upon-to-the-Chinese, independent Western way) or keeping this truth from her as she blissfully lives out her final days surrounded by her family (the filial-to-the-Chinese-but-unfathomable-to-the-American, collective Eastern way). While this conflict weighs most heavily on Billi, the granddaughter raised in the United States since she was a little girl, it is clear that her Chinese parents and aunts and uncles feel the same weight even if they seldom are willing or able to show it. Uncle at one point tells Billi that by keeping the truth from Nai Nai, they are shouldering the burden of this emotional load so that Nai Nai does not have to. But throughout the movie, it is Nai Nai who expresses concern for all of those around her. I personally do not accept that she did not know that she had more than her oft-stated lingering effects of a cold. She is too wise to not know her own body. No, she is also acting Chinese, shouldering her burden silently to protect her family even though she must know that they know. Each is so focused on protecting the other. The goodbyes are thus stated in the lines in between. The Farewell, which in Chinese is called 别告诉她, Don't Tell Her, makes you laugh and cry. I heard the sniffles and felt the tissues being used around me. There are painful moments of intra-family rivalry; awkward silences for paths taken, not taken, and to be taken; and the funny moments when dogs sing, food is pushed, and family is together. I watched The Farewell with my mother, herself a Jewish Nai Nai. She walked out of the theater sad, smiling, and intrigued with the realization that despite the differences between Eastern and Western cultures, we share so many of the same family dynamics.