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Old Movie Review: To Live

Updated on October 30, 2012

A movie about Chinese History

            To Live is an important film about the twentieth century history of China, but while I was watching it, I almost didn’t feel like I was learning about that history at all.  Instead, I felt like I was experiencing that history.  Rather than describing the effects of China’s political situation during that time on the whole of the Chinese people or of making sweeping generalizations about China’s role in world history at that time, To Live simply shares that history through the story of one family.  I think that this has more of an impact on the viewer than any other approach to the film may have had.  The film manages to not only teach viewers about the history of China but also to inspire viewers to consider what is important in life as a whole.  After watching the film, I felt that I had a deeper appreciation of the struggles of the Chinese people during the early and middle twentieth century, and I also felt that I had a deeper appreciation for my own life.

What I liked about To Live

            What I like about this movie is that it manages to explain about the complex history of over three decades in China (from the 1940’s through the 1970’s) while only focusing on a few key characters.  I felt like I could really relate to all of the characters, because they were so well-developed.  The filmmaker was able to really create empathy for the lives of the Chinese people by making me care about the individual characters in the film.  I was able to feel concern with their troubles because I got a multi-dimensional sense of who they each were as individuals.  Most important, this understanding of their individual lives made it possible for me to feel like I really understood the wife’s persistent comment that “all I ask is a quiet life together”.  This refrain echoes throughout the movie as the family undergoes much trouble, and because of the way that the characters were developed, I really hoped that, in the end, she and her family could have that quiet life together.

            It is this comment of the wife in the movie that really touches at the heart of what I enjoyed about it.  The movie shows that, in the times of life which are most difficult, it is not how much or how little money you have that matters and it is not what is happening around you politically that matters either.  Instead, what is of utmost importance throughout all of life’s experiences is that you have close friends and family members to share life with.  “To live” means to share life with others and the movie touches on that in so many ways.  Most specifically, it shows the struggles of the man and woman together in their relationship, from the time that they are newly married (and she leaves him temporarily because of his gambling problem) through their trials together during the political upheaval in China and on in to their older age as they suffer through the loss of their son.

 The lessons of the lesser characters

            Although the ongoing love story between the two main characters offers an excellent example of the morals of the story, it is actually two lesser characters that I found to be the most interesting.  The first is the friend of the main character and the second is the main character’s son.  What is interesting is that the lives of these two characters intertwine irrevocably and this seemed to get to the heart of the movie’s point – we are all inextricably bound even when we do not at first realize it.  This is shown through this small interaction but seems to represent the larger idea that the history of China and the history of people throughout the world are also inextricably linked.

            The friend of the main character is a man that the main character met when he was first in the army.  At that time, the man’s wife had just left him and he did not know what was happening with his only son.  The man and the friend developed an intense friendship together as they struggled through wartime.  Later, the man loses touch with this friend and, having been reunited with his family, he focuses on life at home.  The scenes depicting his growing son’s life are some of the most touching in the movie.  Children have a way of bringing joy in to life, because they notice the small things that there are to enjoy in each moment.  And again, the point of this movie is that the small things matter in life.  These things are brought out in the movie in those scenes which include the son.

            Things come crashing down for the man when the friend reappears in his life, through pure chance, and accidentally backs his truck over the man’s son and kills him.  The family has to pull together to get through this tragedy; the crashing together of these two lives will forever affect them.  Later in the movie, the friend is feeling bad about himself and he considers suicide.  The main character convinces him that, in honor of the death of his son, the friend should respect his own life.  What really struck me about this was the unselfishness of the man’s act and the fact that he respected his old friend’s life despite the tragedy involving his son.  Also, this reiterated that everything that had happened in this man’s life prior to that time was important.

Summary of To Live

            “To Live” means to co-exist with other people and this movie reminded me that the things that we do have a great affect upon others.  The broad political decisions of China during the time the movie depicts had an important impact on the people living there at the time.  It also had an important impact on people throughout the world at that time and on the younger generations who would grow up in the aftermath of that time.  The decisions of those people in the movie about how to live their lives had an important impact on the others living around them and this speaks to the heart of the movie.


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  • vrbmft profile image

    Vernon Bradley 

    8 years ago from Yucaipa, California

    I am not sure, but I think I saw this film with subtitles or there is another similar to it. I remember the name of the movie being Ikuru? which I thoght meant TO LIVE. BUT maybe it is not the same movie, but I will check it out. It has been MANY years since I saw it. But other countries have WONDER FILLED movies and sometimes leave us to shame, altho in recent years our film industry is begining to stretch. Have you seen "Sensations of Sight"? How about "Paper Heart"?

    And b the way, you are becoming quite prolific here with HUBS with a capital S. You are outdoing yourself or someone!!


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