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Last Train Home Documentary Analysis Essay

Last Train Home, Reflection - United States Essay Example

This documentary portrayed the brutal living standards of an average Chinese family - Last Train Home, Reflection introduction. Some scenes were shocking, heartbreaking and others simply moving. I often found myself thinking “What are these people living for? ” I understand how the daughter in the family found it easier to choose the working life at her age, however after seeing how her parents ended up, how can one choose the same when other opportunities are present? I am not asking these questions to judge their choices, I am asking them because I am trying to understand where they are coming from.

I believe the living conditions are horrible. They move away from their family in order to be able to support them. For the parents it is a matter of sacrificing the well-being of their children for their own relationship with them. The parents have strong love towards the children they do not even know, while the children feel little to no relation to the parents. Both sides are understandable. They work day and night so that their family have enough to survive, and so they can have a better life. They see them maybe one or two times a year. This is a life, but it is not living.


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They do not have any freedom because of the responsibility and threat on their shoulders. This is a life I would not want to lead. I believe there is great unhappiness here, and like everyone else I want to be happy. I think they can be defined as a modern version of the african slaves of the 1900’s. I think I would feel trapped living like either the mother, father, daughter or the son, and I would rather live like I do now. “Unrestricted globalization can damage the development of less developed countries. ” I believe this statement is very true.

What I understand from it is that when more developed countries force their style of living onto less developed countries, they usually do not have the sufficient infrastructure or resources to sustain this kind of living. This results in poverty, and population not being able to provide themselves with a source of income. As developed countries have a modern way of living with dependence on buying needed products with a form of currency, less developed countries might need to result in the less modern ways, meaning farming and making for themselves.

This because the country’s economy is not ready for the big globalization just yet. The poor economy of one country can be crucial in the decision making of another bigger and richer country. As an example, take the United States and its many companies such as Apple, they make a decision based upon China’s bad economy to put their factories in that country. By knowing that the country is in desperate need of labour, they push the pay rates as far down as possible and take advantage of the cheap working people.

This leads to not only bad working conditions but also bad living standards. They have no rights or welfares, and no security for their future income. The civil society surrounding a country can change what is going on inside the country. This is done by boycotting the products we know are produced in a factory where the employees are taken advantage of. If they do not get any demand for their products, after a while they will not be able to supply either.

Eventually many will have to shut down, and some might change their way of producing. Banana republic is a political science term for a politically unstable country which economy is largely dependent on the export of a single-limited resource product. Honduras used to be this kind of country, and they exported bananas. They sold them to United States at a extremely low price, and in the United States they were sold for more, however cheaper than the fruit already sold there. This made them very popular.

On Their Own: Zhang Qin and her brother, Zhang Yang, aren't allowed to live with their parents in urban Guangzhou — and so must depend on each other in a rural village in Sichuan province. Zeitgeist Films hide caption

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Zeitgeist Films

On Their Own: Zhang Qin and her brother, Zhang Yang, aren't allowed to live with their parents in urban Guangzhou — and so must depend on each other in a rural village in Sichuan province.

Zeitgeist Films

Back in the 1980s, the culture critic Marshall Berman wrote a brilliant book called All That Is Solid Melts Into Air. He argued that the great drama of modernity is the way that people go from being passive objects of modernization — mere tools of history — to subjects who struggle to define their own relationship to a world in which everything is changing.

Never has such change happened on a greater scale than in modern China. The different ways individuals deal with this is the subject of Last Train Home, a gorgeous new documentary by Lixin Fan, a Chinese filmmaker based in Montreal. Shot over three years, Last Train Home deals with an amazing social fact — every single Chinese New Year, 130 million migrant workers leave the cities and return home to their rural villages. The movie puts a human face on this migration by showing its affects on a single family.

Suqin and her husband, Chunghua, originally come from a remote village in Sichuan province, but for the past 17 years they've been living in the megacity of Guangzhou where they sleep in barracks, slave away in a garment factory, and give their savings to their family back home. When we first meet them, they're about to make the two-day train trip home to their village to see their two children, their sullen 17-year-old daughter, Qin, and her younger brother, Yang, who by law aren't allowed to live with their parents in the city. Suqin and Chungua are stoked, and we anticipate a happy reunion.

But when they arrive, dispensing toys and cell phones, we discover that things are not as we expected. Suqin and Chunghua see themselves as doing what it takes to brighten their kids' future — and they're upset that Yang's class rank has dropped from No. 3 to No. 5. In contrast, their children view them as bossy absentees who care more about making money than about looking after them. Things only go downhill from there.

Not that Last Train Home is grim or doleful. Fan shot the movie himself, and his images are absolutely ravishing. And he's put the story together with the help of Mary Stephen, an editor best known for her work with Eric Rohmer, who has a novelistic eye for detail. Together they've achieved that rarest of beasts — a documentary that's lively as well as deep, that's heartbreaking yet doesn't wallow in depression.

Structured around three annual journeys home, the movie tells a story at once epic and intimate. The epic side comes out in the second year, when Suqin and Chunghua spend days caught in a train-station queue so vast and devouring that you long for the calm of a soccer mob. These crowds remind us that the family we're watching is just one of tens of millions like it. Modernity is roaring along like a runaway train in China; things are happening so fast that, from one generation to next, people devise wildly different ways of being modern.

All The Livelong Day: Zhang Qin, one of the principal subjects of Last Train Home, wants to be modern — and doesn't want to sacrifice herself in the name of the future. Zeitgeist Films hide caption

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Zeitgeist Films

Eager to escape the millennial drudgery of subsistence farming, Suqin and Chunghua embraced the new economic freedoms. They moved to the city to give themselves, and their family, a better life — and they feel that they have. But because they were raised in the austere values of a Maoist peasantry, they do all this in the spirit of stoic self-sacrifice. It's impossible not to be touched by both their self-denial and by their sadness that their children don't seem be honoring their part of the bargain.

But their kids were born into a later, hypercapitalist China, and we don't really blame them for having their own ideas of how to be modern. They don't want to be A students like their parents expect, don't want to spend their lives sacrificing themselves in the name of the future. Qin in particular can't wait to abandon school, get out of the boondocks and move to the city where, surrounded by high-rises and neon and the intoxicating whir of the Now, a girl can have some fun.

Although we fear that Qin will be a lamb to the slaughter, Last Train Home is no morality tale. Fan realizes that he's chronicling a transformation so vast that there are no easy conclusions about how people should live. He knows that once the genie of modernity has been let out of the bottle, individuals are left to ride the whirlwind of history. They have to make it all up as they go along.

John Powers is film critic for Vogue and

Last Train Home

  • Director: Lixin Fan
  • Genre: Foreign, Documentary
  • Running Time: 87 minutes
Not rated

With: Zhang Changua, Chen Suquin, Zhang Qin, Zhang Yang, Tang Tingsui

In Mandarin and Sichuan dialect with English subtitles