The premise: A mom raises a bao child.
The audible gasp in my theater when the mother eats her bao child was one I’ll never forget. Let’s back up a bit. At first, you’re settling in for the ride. A mom almost bites into the bao she just made, and it cries out. She jumps, and the bao sprouts a body. You start to get into the short and realize it’s dealing with motherhood, getting older, and feeling protective over loved ones. And just when you accept that this woman really is raising a bao, it’s ready to leave. Stopping here, this is already an incredible idea on the part of writer/director Domee Shi. She front-loads the absurdity like a parent with a surprise newborn and doesn’t wait for you to catch up to the premise. Just as you sprint to catch up to her, the child is already starting to resent the mother.
By the time it’s pulling away from his mom, ready to start its own life, we can’t help but feel that the bao is a fool that needs to be more grateful for his mom, and maybe we should call our mom and... One sec — let me go call my mom.
Then what? SHE EATS HIM! Any chin-stroking, “ah yes, it’s one of those metaphors” people in the audience who love a good allegory were just as taken aback as anyone else in the theater. That’s why that gasp stuck with me. Because I thought Domee Shi was done throwing me curveballs. And while everyone’s still reeling from the mother’s choice to eat her baby, the son returns home. The real son. Any one-to-one metaphor suddenly comes unraveling, not because Domee Shi doesn’t construct a good allegory, but the story goes from absurd to universally relatable in a split second. It doesn’t matter how off-board you were up until that final bedroom scene. They’re eating and crying because of both the good and the bad, and who can’t relate to that?
Played before: Incredibles 2