4 Stars – Insightful


 Most cultures agree with what is right and what is wrong when addressing ultimate decisions: We don’t kill others; we don’t lie to them; we honor parents; we aren’t unfaithful to our spouse; we don’t steal. However, in the lesser things such as those behaviors that guide relationships, like whether to tell your sister, mother or grandmother that she is dying of a terminal disease, different cultures often answer in different or even opposite ways.  This truth is explored in Lulu Wang’s award-winning film The Farewell.

Similar to Crazy, Rich Asians that exposed the Western world to a culturally rich snapshot of wealth in an Asian family, Wang’s film opens our hearts to the familial compassion the threat of death brings to a Chinese family.  As both writer and director, Lulu Wang is as much our teacher as she is our storyteller.

The ensemble cast asked to portray this journey are wonderful.  Showing both the normal machinations of any family with the sibling and in-law rivalries, they also masterfully show the struggle of a young Chinese woman who moved to New York when she was five and is now being re-immersed back into her birth culture.  Having spent most of her 30 year life in the Western world’s emphasis on the individual she now experiences the Eastern world’s primacy of the family or society.  The lessons that she learns enriches both her understanding of herself and a deep appreciation of her family and birth culture.

The two primary characters are the cancer-ridden grandmother Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao) and her demonstrative, moody granddaughter Billi (Awkwafina). In daily contact through her cell phone, Billi is deeply connected to her grandmother and wants to have an authentic farewell as it would be done in her adopted New York.  However, Nai Nai’s sister, two sons, cousin and niece have all agreed to not tell Nai Nai she has only three months to live.  Instead they decide that Billi’s cousin should stage a wedding so they will all have an excuse to come to China and be together.  It is this decision that causes much of the humor and wisdom of the film. 

Part of the difficulty of living in our global community, is that we are often captive to our own limited perspective.  Individualistic, anxiety and social cultures often approach very important decisions of identity and morality with a myopic vision that leaves little room for understanding, let alone appreciation differences in the other two.  These cultural silos then segregate us into tribal groups that not only have little empathy for those in the other tribes but can quickly dehumanize the others and even digress into violent responses.  Films like this can begin to bridge that gap and give opportunity for differences to be explored in a safe and honoring manner.

As an immigrant from China to the United States when she was six years of age, Wang’s own journey creates the foundation for her writing and directing.  Similar to Billi, Wang had to discover her own way in an individualistic world and though she also learned the piano as a child, she eventually earned a degree in both music and literature.  But as the film clearly shows she is a bi-cultural person who creates insightful dialogue for her characters as they walk through the valley of the shadows with one foot in each culture. 

We recommend that we all take this journey with her so that we may laugh and cry and understand and honor these beautiful people with whom we share the global community.


  1. The struggle of a family to find their way during grief is often seen in the exaggerated responses of love and anger, competition and compassion. How has your family navigated death and grief? What was your part in that experience?

  2. As you explore both ways to deal with death, do you think it would have been better to tell Nai Nai she is dying so she can state her own farewell, or it would be better for the family to bear the emotional weight for her as was decided by this family?

  3. Leonard Cohen wrote the beautiful hymn that is sung at the climax of the film. Consider his message:

Leonard Cohen - "Come Healing" (Music Video w/ Lyrics ...


O gather up the brokenness
And bring it to me now
The fragrance of those promises
You never dared to vow

The splinters that you carry
The cross you left behind

Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind

And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

Behold the gates of mercy
In arbitrary space
And none of us deserving
The cruelty or the grace

O solitude of longing
Where love has been confined

Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind

O see the darkness yielding
That tore the light apart

Come healing of the reason
Come healing of the heart

O troubled dust concealing
An undivided love
The heart beneath is teaching
To the broken heart above

Let the heavens falter
Let the earth proclaim
Come healing of the altar
Come healing of the name

O longing of the branches
To lift the little bud
O longing of the arteries
To purify the blood

And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn

Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

O let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb


Source: LyricFind

Songwriters: Leonard Cohen

Come Healing lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Songtrust Ave, BMG Rights Management



Posted on August 7, 2019 and filed under 4 STARS, INSIGHTFUL.