What a script! The movie is definitely in the indie film spirit and yet the story structure is quite traditional, and it serves the narrative quite well. We can discuss that more in detail when we talk about plot.
What really struck me about the script — and the scene-by-scene breakdown puts a spotlight on it — is the theme of lying. I’m guessing if you counted the number of times characters lied to others, it’s probably over 20. Of course, telling a lie is at the heart of the story concept: lie to Nai Nai by not telling her about her stage 4 cancer.
What’s fascinating is to see how Billi’s character arc is reflected in part by her growing acceptance of maintaining the lie with Nai Nai. But this gets into Theme and we can discuss that at length later this week.
One tiny thing I hadn’t noticed when I first watched the movie at Sundance last year: birds. That is a subplot with three beats. Twice a bird inside a house (or apartment). Then capped off with this (from the scene-by-scene breakdown):
Billi’s voice echoes over the closing shot of Nai Nai’s familiar peach-coloured buildings of her neighbourhood in Changchun China, surrounding a large tree. Birds scatter from the tree, flying off into the distance as a unit, their pattern of formation silhouetted against the sky.
Obviously, something going on symbolically with birds. I have a thought what that might be. How about you? Why would screenwriter-director include birds as this tiny little subplot which leads to the final image of the movie?
Again, if you have not seen The Farewell, please, watch it. In fact, why not read the script while watching the movie. It’s such a wonderful film.