Turning Red: Fear of Self

I talked a lot last week about my general impressions of Turning Red. This week, I want to delve deeper into the movie and dissect the theme of accepting oneself for the good and bad. Loving yourself is never wrong; ultimately, you will have people who will support you through your growth. I loved that message and think it’s essential for all ages to hear and hear it again because too often, we get caught up in some aspect of life, and we lose ourselves and have to undergo the process again. Some don’t realize they need self-healing and acceptance until later in life – like Mei’s mom, Ming.

Before I jump into my analysis of the theme, I’d like to point out that I believe the red panda is a metaphor for more than just self-acceptance; it is also a metaphor for various emotions. However big the red panda is, the more enormous feelings the character has. For instance, Mei’s panda is released after Ming publicly embarrasses Mei in the Daisy Mart. In response to Mei’s mortification, her panda is manifested due to her usual emotional state being threatened. However, Mei’s panda is smaller because her embarrassment is unrelated to protecting others.

In contrast, I believe Ming’s red panda is massive because she had HUGE emotions regarding Jin. I can relate to how she must have felt during that interaction with her mother. It’s very stressful when the family disapproves of your significant other. That stress manifested into a larger-than-life panda to protect Ming because she felt threatened, which led to her injuring her mother. Interestingly, her mother’s scar on her eyebrow has two meanings. Ming’s mother was physically wounded, yes, but also emotionally as well. That day, she lost her connection to her daughter.

Ming’s character is fascinating because she became what she ran away from initially. She is an unintentionally controlling person who puts too many expectations on her daughter to be just like her. At the movie’s climax, when we see she has been de-aged to a younger age, we see her finally express her inner feelings. She feels trapped and has to be perfect all the time. Ming is smothered and feels trapped. Mei consoles her and lets her know she understands where Ming is coming from, which is also cathartic for her. In this scene, Mei and Ming are final on the same page on how they feel. Mei and Ming represent two different reactions to similar environmental stressors.

I want to explore this even further. This movie seems to boil down to the characters needing to express themselves – their true selves. Ming seems afraid of talking about her feelings, much like her family. They seemed dysfunctional in how they communicated because Grandma Wu constantly tells Lily to be quiet whenever she tries to speak. It struck me that they must all feel similarly to Ming, always bottling things up and locking away themselves to please their elder. In turn, it leads to something else. Every single auntie and Ming wants to get rid of their pandas and thus their “undesirable” parts. Their red pandas are vilified, made to seem dangerous, and all-around unwelcome. The only way these women could “become normal” is to remove those feelings.

But the thing with that is, these women are locking away more than just their pandas; they’re locking away their true selves. And when you lock yourself out, it will eventually find its way out, and sometimes it is destructive as you’re forced to take a hard look at yourself. With Ming, her panda is freed again after Mei rejects the ceremony and tells everyone she is going to the concert instead. Ming can’t handle this – the thought that Mei is leaving tradition, seemingly leaving her, and everything boils over. Ming’s panda is set free, and it is destructive. Ming is a mix of emotions but is mainly terrified of losing her place in Mei’s life. Ultimately these feelings are set free, which causes Ming to finally come to terms with the fact that Mei is her person and wants to find out who exactly she is. Even in the film’s epilogue, Ming struggles to accept Mei’s choice to keep her panda but tries, which is a big step.

On the flip side, as I mentioned, Mei’s panda is released due to extreme mortification. Unlike the women in her family, Mei accepts her panda almost instantly and, by extension, accepts herself as her person. The scene where Jin shows Mei the video recording of Mei and her friends having fun is significant in meaning. It is a metaphor for her. Mei wants to delete the video, and Jin gently tells her not to. The deletion of the video is deleting herself. After talking with Jin, Mei decides she wants to keep her red panda and be herself.

Mei and Ming are foils of one another, and it’s interesting to see how their characters are fleshed out. Something to note is that Sun Yee also played a role in this overarching metaphor. When Mei first enters the bamboo forest realm, she holds a portal and looks down with disapproval. Once Mei returns after the events’ climax and decides she is keeping her panda, Sun Yee smiles. I believe the panda, while gifted for protection, is also Sun Yee’s gift to her progeny to reach their full potential and be themselves. By keeping her panda, she will be able to experience everything life offers and be more well-rounded.


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