Can You Recognise Me?
This was a movie I wanted to watch. A return to the Zhang Yimou movies with Gong Li that captivated and moved audiences around the world. I could see the mood feel, the colour palette, the fine acting, the 1970s China, all coming together to conjure a cinematic experience I would savour. Yet some movie stills I saw and what little I read about the story left me cold. I knew ‘Homecoming’ would be sad. But would it be uplifting, at least hopeful, with a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel? The Cultural Revolution quite literally robbed Yanshi, played by Chen Daoming, of his identity, and returned him to his wife Wanyu, played by Gong Li, a stranger. She could no longer recognise him because she had amnesia. He would accompany her to the train station repeatedly to wait for her husband, who was him. Based on Yan Geling’s novel ‘The Criminal Lu Yanshi’, the tragedy to this human drama has a fateful twist that is almost unreal.
There is a difference between recognising and remembering. Wanyu could not recognise Yanshi. But she remembered him very well. Her devotion to him is what this movie is about. The capacity of the human heart to love, manifesting itself in a form of devotion, can be unfailingly relentless. As our Singapore population is greying, the phenomenon of not recognising and forgetting the dearest person is becoming more real than ever. A doctor friend told me some of the most heart wrenching stories. Before the irreversible illness of dementia hits, the fear of forgetting can be one of the most frightening experiences. When the mind goes, nothing is important anymore. It has nothing to do with riches, it has everything to do with memories. And it has everything to do with people, the people we love. It is equally, if not more painful, for loved ones to look into a pair of hollow eyes which no longer recognise or remember.
MG, Morning Glory, is my first dog. She has been with me for close to a decade. When I adopted her from the SPCA, she was a puppy and her name was Desiree. She was very active. In the early years, she barked freely and easily. She was very perceptive and could sense the arrival of my car from a distance. She is frightened of loud thunder and umbrellas. I concluded she could have been abused by strangers with umbrellas when she was little. While she was happy to get out of the house, beyond a certain point, she would refuse to move until she realised we were turning back home. Two years ago, she started to have seizures. I remember the first time the seizure hit. I was not home. I rushed home with a friend. She had recovered from it and appeared well enough. But the seizures would attack her again and again. The frequency would increase. After seeing vets, going for scans, taking medication, special diets, I decided against anymore invasive treatments.
When we moved into our apartment, MG strangely stopped barking. Then I discovered, for a period after her seizures, she could not recognise me. She would be sniffing around, looking for me while I was there. Last Sunday, I took her for a walk on a new route. At one point in the new surroundings, I realised she no longer knew who I was. She started to panic and pulled herself free from the leash while we were in the middle of the road. I picked her up, carried her across the road, and ran all the way to our flat. It took several long and painful minutes. She was making a strange sound and biting my hand. I could feel the pain but I could not let her go. When I finally put her down, my hand was bleeding. She had a blank stare. I held her close to me. The stare was the same. In our apartment, she was calm again. Soon she recognised her environment and the people around her. Later, she came to my bedroom and looked up at me. I could see the recognition in her eyes again. I hugged her. Looking at her, I no longer take this recognition for granted. Not for a minute.