Raising the Red Lantern: The Most Tragic Tragedy

Raising the Red Lantern is an unforgettable tragedy.

The film is full of corruption, horrors, disempowerment, and the opposite of freedom. Similarly to Pride and Prejudice, this film reminds Gen Z that there once was a time when women had no other choice but to rely on a man for financial security. This film shows the horrors of such a system.

This film perfectly shows viewers the claustrophobia women feel when relying on men through the way Songlian is always presented on the screen, as well as the limited options for women to escape such a corrupt system.

The mistress’ in Raising the Red Lantern are always seen in a confined space with little room to move around. For the purpose of this essay, I am going to focus on the film’s portrayal of Songlian. Songlian is almost always framed in some way. For example, in most scenes, she is framed by doorways, entrances, windows, bed frames, and even her clothing tends to have a framing effect.

 Still from  Raising the Red Lantern,  Produced by Hou Hsiao-hsien Chiu Fu-sheng Zhang Wenze
 Still from  Raising the Red Lantern,  Produced by Hou Hsiao-hsien Chiu Fu-sheng Zhang Wenze

Watching this movie leaves viewers feelings claustrophobic for the entirety of the film. As the film nears an end Songlian comes to terms with the corruption of this family. However, she realizes she is too late to escape and believes the only way to escape the confined space, the oppression, and the constant competition is death. She begins to desire death because at least she will have freedom and some space. In the final scene of the movie Songlian insanity is shown through her messy hair, “normal” clothing, and an escape from her small room. She is seen wearing loose clothing that does not frame her face and is seen walking around the long courtyard and exploring new places. Songlian being labeled as “insane” and “mad” is the only satisfaction that viewers receive because although she is insane, she is free.

Overall, Raising the Red Lantern is the ultimate tragedy where viewers are left with no character to root for as all are corrupt or dead. This film shows the true horror of living as a woman in pre-revolutionary China.

Satirical Binaries in Mean Girls

The 2004 classic, Mean Girls, is the perfect example of an effective satire. Mean Girls is a classic coming-of-age film about the vulnerable, Cady Heron, who is starting 11th grade at a new school. Cady Heron is nervous about starting at a new school because she is afraid she won’t fit in with the inevitable “Mean Girls”. As Heron starts school she meets as different groups of people with specific labels. These groups include, “The Plastics”, “The Art Freaks”, “Cool Asians”, and “The Desperate Wannabes”.

All of these groups are typical for a high school film. However, this film specifically is pointing out the flaws of cliques through satire. The portrayal of teenagers in this movie is exaggerated in order to expose the problems of most teenage friednships and relationships. There is constant competition between the members of the popular girls, “Plastics”. Although the girls in the “plastics” are supposed to all be friends, this is where the most ruthless behavior goes unnoticed. This competition and constant fighting between the girls is always funny. The jokes and insults always make the audience laugh which is why most go “unpunished” by viewers. However, the jokes and insults that are made throughout the film, are degrading to women. There is no main male character who is disempowering women which leads the audince to belive that this film is a empowering females. However, the truth is the girls are gaining power from degrading other girls in their circle or even their best freinds. This is made clear when Cady leaves her first friend, Janis, for the popular, “plastics”.

Cady: “You know I couldn’t invite you! I had to pretend to be plastic!”

Janis: ” But you’re not pretending anymore! You’re plastic! Cold, shiny, hard plastic!”

This is the end of Cady and Janis friendship and its end is not pretty. The fight seems to be surface level and its very comical as they are fighting over plasticity. However, this fight is key to understanding the deeper meaning behind Mean Girls. This fight specifically shows that bringing others down does not lift yourself up, in fact you will probably go down with them.

Institutions of Gender in Raising the Red Lantern

Raising the Red Lantern is a movie that highlights the impact of patriarchal ideas on the lives of women. Directed by Zhang Yimou, the movie follows the life of Songlian, a young woman who has just reached adulthood. After dropping out of university due to money issues, she marries and moves into the Masters compound, where she is one of four mistresses/wives. There, she lives in a traditional and patriarchal society, where she fights for the Master’s attention. Disillusioned by the cutthroat environment of the wives along with barbaric traditions, she ends up going insane after her first year. Overall, the movie provides a powerful portrayal of the impact of gender institutions on the lives of women.

The first gender institution introduced in the movie is marriage. Right off the bat, Songlian is confronted with a tough choice: Marry rich, essentially becoming a concubine, or find someone she loves, but face a tougher livelihood. Although this decision is often overlooked, I feel like it delves into the societal outcomes of women in patriarchies. After dropping out of university, Songlian is doomed to a life dependent on men. By marrying rich, she subconsciously chooses to submit to gender power binaries. She pledges her faithfulness with the Master, while he is allowed to have unlimited mistresses and affairs (As we find out with Yaner). Marriage also makes her submit to many expectations, ones that diminish her power. She is expected to bear the masters son, when the time comes, and get along with all of the wives, even when they become immature.

Another institution of gender portrayed in the film is the societal expectation of women to be submissive and obedient. Women in movie. are expected to obey their husbands and fathers who have the final word on any of their decisions. When Songlian tries to break this expectation by pushing back and arguing, she is punished by being dismissed or ridiculed. This can be seen very prominently after the hanging of the third mistress. In her room, while trying to process her grief, she repeatedly calls the Master and servants “murderers”. Although the master knows the truth, he gaslights her by telling her that she has gone mad. Ironically, after this point, she does, and spends the rest of her time as the “crazy wife.”

Finally, another prominent gender role is the use of women. In the compound, The Master makes it clear that the only sue of a woman is to serve their master. The wives all gather every night to see which house the master will occupy, craving the attention of a man who doesn’t care about them beyond their body. The older wives rarely every get time with the master because he is not attracted to their body given their age, even though he is the same age, if not older. The Master is fine with letting one of his wives get killed for having an affair with Doctor Gao.

Overall, Raising the Red Lantern is a great movie that shows the hypocrisies of patriarchal societies. Women are punished for actions that men are free to do. The film reminds us of the importance of dismantling practices that perpetuate oppression.