Pervasive fear! // To Live
“To Live,” directed by Zhang Yi Mou, has a number of dynamic, interesting and pivotal scenes. The scene in which Fengxia and Wan Erxi are painting a mural of Mao (and the discussion that follows) combines historical context, characterization to create an abundance of subtext.
The parents run home, anxious to see why their daughter’s prospective husband is vandalizing their property, to find that Wan Erxi, Wan Erxi’s colleagues and Feng Xia are working together to plaster Chairman Mao’s face over the home. The mural is obtrusive with its bright red and white and positioned in the middle of the house. While watching, I was shocked that they could do encroach on another’s property like this. But, their reaction to the mural explains the complaisant and willing nature that the all people have under Mao’s rule — they enter in smiling and delighted (body language of the parents). Fugui proclaims “aren’t you busy!” and ErXi replies with “we’re fixing the place up!” Both statements suggest that the working class automatically and unwaveringly accept all enforcements made by Mao so that they can live in peace — as the title of the film implies.
The sudden appearance of the painting crew also reflects the sudden appearances of trouble and hardship for the family. While they try their best to stay out of trouble, trouble always finds them (apparent in later loss of son and daughter).
Once the enter the house to find all of Wan ErXi’s colleagues, the haunting theme music starts to play. I have noticed that the music often plays whenever there is a Mao is given an indirect and suffocating presence. Without directly depicting the leader or the higher-ups of the army, Mao is omnipresent through posters, propaganda, and dialogue of the characters.
Around 20 lines of dialogue later, the film transitions into the wedding scene. One very important still is the table filled with all the presents that the married couple have received — all of them either Chairman Mao or The Little Red Book. The camera holds this image for a lengthy amount of time and serves to make it clear to the audience how important Mao’s influence has become. I had initially thought that Fengxia was representative of the ‘old culture’ that China had because the main trait that defines her — earlier on in the film — is that she was mute. This marriage to a respectable communist party worker who embodies the new government seems to imply that she (girl and customs) has been truly and completely silenced.
The short song sung by the guests at the wedding are representative of this theme as well. By using phrases like “Chairman Mao is dearer than mother and father” and “no ocean is as deep as class feeling,” the pedestal is set very high for Mao and his party.