71 of 74 people found the following review helpful
I am by Nature a Boy,
This review is from: Farewell My Concubine (DVD)
Farewell My Concubine is about loss of identity. It is a study in how a person reacts to a slow and methodical stripping away of self. Because of this, the movie is almost a psychological study. Many people may think it is about repressed homosexuality in China, but they are missing the primary point.
The movie's main character, Cheng Dieyi, is the person most impacted by loss of identity, though it is also experienced by the other main characters as well. From the castration/mutilation inflicted on him by his mother at the beginning to his eventual suicide, it's as though layer by layer of his being is slowly peeled away. Let me for a moment simply regurgitate the way in which this happened.
Cheng Dieyi was born as a prostitute's son. From the very beginning, he would be considered a bastard child in almost every culture. His mother claims that he is getting in the way of her "business" at the local brothel and she seeks a way to be rid of him. She winds up taking him to a local acting troupe and when they refuse to take him because of his sixth finger on one hand, Dieyi's mother cuts it off. This can easily be seen as the act of castration. Then his identity is further stripped away by the acting troupe drilling it into his head that he is a woman, since he plays a woman in the theater. From this point on, he associates his lost masculinity with his best friend, Duan Xiaolou. However, even his friendship is taken away when Xiaolou becomes involved with-guess who-a prostitute. It should be apparent to all who see it, that the hatred he feels toward the prostitute, Ju Xian, is not only because she is taking away his confidant, but also because she reminds Dieyi of his mother. Like many people confronted with loss of identity, Dieyi seeks an avenue of escape by doing drugs. The last thing which he is able to keep as his identity is the role he performs on the stage as a concubine for the king of Chu-but even this is eventually lost when he is replaced by a child who he helps to rear.
Dieyi isn't the only one who loses his identity, however. Ju Xian struggled to rid herself of the emotional baggage attached to being a prostitute. She became involved with Xiaolou hoping to build a family and achieve some normalcy. However, Dieyi's relationship with Xiaolou complicates matters, and when she loses her unborn child almost all hope is lost. When Xiaolou disavows any love for her, her dream is shattered and she commits suicide.
From these two examples in the movie, one can see how one emotionally could be driven to suicide. Dieyi's loss of identity involves the stripping away of every aspect of his masculine self and a devaluation of things which he holds dear. Many people evaluate his relationship to Xialou as a homosexual one, and while it seems to be the case, I would argue that the relationship could also be merely one of a protector-devotee nature or possibly even an older-brother-younger-brother relationship. Ju Xian, likewise loses her self-respect by being a prostitute and later loses everything which could pull her out of this psychological trap. Since the events in China played a role in these two personal losses of identity, it is possible that the movie was simply expressing the author's personal sense of loss at the hands of a repressive cultural history. On the other hand, the fact that many events compound the loss of identity could simply be a way of showing how external forces can influence one's own sense of self. This last possibility is probably the author's intent, since the story could easily be told within the context of any tumultuous period-such as the United States during the Vietnam War era.
The end confirms my view of the film's portrayal of self-identity loss when Dieyi messes up the line in the play and says he is a boy not a girl. Throughout his life his identity as a man had been taken away. He struggled against it, was conquered by it, and eventually asserted what power he had left in the act of suicide. I felt tired and emotionally drained at the end of the movie. Farewell My Concubine, unlike any other film I have seen, superbly depicts human nature and is very insightful. It should be declared a masterpiece of not only Chinese cinema, but of film the world over.