“Raise the Red Lantern” is a film based in 20th century China where we follow Songlian as she enters a system of being a fourth mistress in a household.
I found the movie very interesting and I think it connects to a lot of the ideas in the literature we read in class. Gender and class binaries are present throughout the entire film. Songlian brings herself into this system for money. She starts off on the path of university and perhaps a job, but ends up bankrupt because of her fathers death, forcing her to turn to a marriage for money. She falls into a system where the goal is for women to compete for attention from a man (the master) and have their lanterns lit. The women in this system will do anything for the attention of the master. The women often turn against each other or even lie in order for their lanterns to get lit. These red lanterns symbolize wealth and prosperity.
Songlian feels trapped mentally, and physically she never leaves the house, symbolizing her mental state. At the end of the film, she “goes mad” as the other characters say, but this “madness” is what sets her free. She is no longer a part of the cycle mentally because she has freed her mind from the trap she was in. The brutal cycle that this story is, is emphasized in the end as well when a new mistress is married to the master, repeating the cycle all over again. This shows how hard binaries, power, and systems are to be broken sometimes.
Many film techniques are used to highlight these ideas. For example, Songlian is seen a lot being framed by things like windows or doorways. This adds to the idea of her feeling trapped and how as a woman in this time, she is opressed.