This is part of SSUC’s March Spiritual Gathering Series
which seeks wisdom found in 2019 Oscar nominated films. 

Bao centres around a middle-aged Chinese woman living in Toronto. After her husband shoves three freshly-prepared bao (dumplings) into his face and heads out for the day, our protagonist watches as one remaining bao sprouts arms and legs and begins to burble like a baby.

What follows is a chance for this woman to experience all the joys, fears, and sorrows of motherhood. As her child grows, gets hurt, learns new things, and eventually begins to rebel and try to fly the nest with his fiancée, his mother – in a last-ditch attempt at holding on to her dear child – devours him.

While the experiences depicted may be specific to Chinese cultural nuances and intricacies, the themes are universal if, as viewers, we can step outside our own perspective. Our cultural signifiers might be different, we may or may not show our love through food, we may or may not see our own culture represented, but basic human emotions of protection, love, care and home are an experience that spans each of us as humans.

This moment where mom devours her dumpling boy is emotional. The first time I saw this, I gasped. I was taken aback. In an animated film that lasts 7 minutes, we might expect to laugh or to escape with some light entertainment…but this scene hits hard. This moment, as we can see by mom’s immediate reaction to what she’s done, is raw and human; it’s the pain of loss.

I think it’s left up to us whether this moment represented a real-life argument gone wrong, a mother’s attempt to protect her son and keep him at home, or the acceptance of the irony that there was no way she could’ve kept her son safe without losing him.

If our expectations of another don’t allow the kind of freedom

  • that lets a child leave home, or
  • that lets others outgrow the labels and silouettes to we put around them*, or
  • that lets another forge their own path, even if it means diverging from the one we expected,

then this moment in the film is saying to us that our expectations are consuming the ones we care about. We might as well eat them up.

*Mark Nepo, in his book The One Life We’re Given, describes this love in this way:
“We’re too quick to name or label people we meet without taking the time to experience the spirit they carry. And we seldom allow for those we know and love to transcend the name we’ve given them. Then, when they outgrow the silhouette we’ve put around them, we’re surprised, and even see their change as a betrayal.”

Thanks to Domee Shi’s amazing animated short, Bao, we are able to ask ourselves:

  • What might happen when we loosen our grip on our all-consuming expectations…of ourselves, of others, of our aspirations?
  • Where can we see that we’ve been holding on too tightly?
  • What might happen if we give each other the chances we all need to be whole?