There are images in Persepolis that hold the emotional weight which most movies can’t force out of me in two hours. There’s haunting images, images of joy, of fear, sadness, hatred, beauty and because the imagery is so strong – it’s a black and white graphic novel style animation that accentuates the emotional struggle by exaggerating human characteristics, nuns that move around like snakes is a particular joy to watch (the image above) – and with this strong surrealistic style it heightens the feeling of what it’s like to have the country you grew up in taken away from you and controlled by religious fanatics who are more power hungry than righteous. Then being uprooted from your suddenly morphing home and sent to another country where as hard as you try you can’t relate and the roots of your own life never quite break into the soil. This movie begs the question, who are we if where we come from has been taken away from us?
Marjane is the young girl in question and Iran is the country. What did I know about Iran other than what reporters bark at me and what our own religious fundamentalists would like us to believe. Iran is a bad place, right? Where their idea of God is skewed, right? And everyone there is exactly the same in their beliefs, right? Isn’t that the same way of thinking that allows terrorists to attack our country? Aren’t we religious zealots to them? I’m sure our own government doesn’t mind that the general public views the rest of the world under a simplified light, it allows them to go to war whenever they feel like it. What Persepolis does is add perspective. And it does it through the eyes of that young woman Marjane.
It is an autobiographical tale from writer Marjane Satrapi, who as a young girl lived in relative freedom. It’s strange rooting for someone who is rooting for communism. Weren’t we fighting against that as well? But as her youth disappears so does that freedom. The Muslims take a strong handhold on the country. The women must wear scarfs and long dresses while the men are allowed to wear tight pants with their “packages” prominently bulging for the world to see. Marjane’s family didn’t succumb to the changing world around them, her Grandmother tries to teach her to be an honest woman, forthright. And Marjane initially takes hold of these ideals. She listens to punk music and Iron Maiden. She speaks out against the teacher in class. She’s intelligent and sophisticated and too vocal.
Her Mother fears for Marjane’s life and sends her over seas. What we see here is the slipping away of ideals as Marjane clings to Western civilization as she enters into one heart breaking relationship after another. In the process her own fight, her own spirit is taken away. When there’s nothing to fight for, a person stops fighting. Eventually she goes back to Iran and is met with the ever changing times and is forced to become the woman she once was and the woman her Grandmother wants her to be.
If I haven’t gotten it across yet, this movie is told with an ample amount of humor. My laughter interrupted the silence of the movie house on several occasions, as did other audience members. This movie is an absolute delight while remaining true to the seriousness of Marjane’s fading world – and spirit. In the end the people of Iran, Marjane tells us, forget that they aren’t living in freedom. And as she leaves for the final time we see what the cost of freedom can be on a personal level and social level. It’s a sad moment, where as once she was able to say the name of her country with a spark of fire, its been diminished to a whisper from the back of her throat. The brilliance of this film is that because Marjane’s personal story is so universal it helps us understand the struggle she goes through with her ever changing country. Women of many ages would love this film, from one of the strongest female voices in cinema this year.