If this were a film blog, I’d love to talk about the sound design in Persepolis. The ominous sounds of the tanks as they moved in, the wheels of the bicycle as the children chased after it, the frantic footsteps as the young men were chased across the roof; if you weren’t wearing headphones while watching this film, you missed at least a third of its artistry.
The animation, as well, would take center stage in this discussion. The black and white denoting the harsh separation between two worlds, nothing truly existing in the grey–where we all live, the flashes of color in the present-day scenes highlighting a more nuanced, though bleaker, outlook on the world, the homogeneity of the women in post-revolutionary Iran, nearly indistinguishable from each other; Persepolis uses visual narrative so effectively that it would work as a silent film.
“But in a way he loved his country, unlike his son who succeeded him.”
One commenter on Amazon, where I rented the film, complained that the film failed to mention the seizing of the American embassy. What this commenter gets blatantly wrong is that the film is under no obligation to mention anything. The first act of the film documenting the incidents leading up to the revolution are told from the perspective of our young protagonist, Marjane, and its her viewpoint that is important. Relegating this film to kowtow to the interests of Americans is negating the importance of the film entirely. Persepolis is a personal story, not a marionette play to allay a Western audience.
Speaking of puppets, the terrible French of the British puppet should have been amusing, but it was terrifying, like sharpened claws on a chalkboard.
“They think we’re all violent, bloodthirsty fanatics.”
And this is the point where I want to bring in Spivak, at least incidentally, since its that commenter’s attitude that blocks the Western audience from seeing the true message of the film. We are somewhat confused by the tangled emotions seeing a young girl sent away from her family to Europe, only to return and find herself out of place in her homeland. Marjane is disconnected from her European friends over their misconceptions about Iran, and displaced from her Iranian friends over her time abroad making the transition to the heavily regulated society difficult. As a Western audience we can relate to her ennui in both places, her depression at being denied her sense of self, but, more importantly, we relate to her sense of guilt for living in the Western world while Iran and its people are being torn to pieces. Yet, our guilt isn’t the same as Marjane’s guilt. Our guilt should be about realizing our complicity in a system that plays a deadly game with entire nations of people in a quest for oil.
“Our torturers were trained by the CIA.”
Have I mentioned the trickle down effect of violence to the children? Or the snake like movements of the women trying to regulate Marjane’s dress? These subtle points of visual narrative may give some Westerners the idea that they are correct in their prejudices towards Iran and its people, but that is only because Westerners–mainly Americans–tend to be terrible at subtly. Marjane Satrapi is commenting on her own society from within. She is bound by the ideology of power, or the hegemony, and recognizes its hypocrisies and ambiguities. She is living this statement. Westerners, benefactors of years of colonization, have a much more difficult time commenting on their own ideology, mainly because it benefits them in many unrecognizable ways.
Yet even as Marjane is privileged within her own Iranian society–progressive parents, an honest and straight-shooting grandmother–the pressure to conform upon her return at first sends her into a depressive spiral, but then she bounces back once she ultimately succumbs. She is living in the liminal space between two ideologies–black and white, Western and Iranian–and as soon as she begins to assimilate does she find a small amount of contentment.
“We were so eager for happiness we forgot we weren’t free.”
And that’s the point of years of pointless war. Remember the simple pleasures while your freedom is slowly fading away. Remember those who died while we make your decisions for you. Remember the fallen while we plan the next series of martyr-making escapades to keep the next generation from rising up their heads and saying “why?”
Just because Westerners don’t call thier fallen soldiers “martyrs” doesn’t mean we don’t treat them as such.
In many ways, Persepolis can be seen as a treatise against over-education. The more you know, the more you see through the world and the more simple happiness slips through your fingers. You feel less a part of the world around you by the simple fact that you can see more of it, more of the depth of it, more of the hues of the world instead of just the simple black and white. Yet the world is better in this view, full of more interesting people. The world of the over-educated is devoid of so many enemies and overflowing with stories, stories from everywhere, stories from everyone. In the end, Persepolis is also a reification of storytelling, not without, but in spite of ideology. If we can wrestle ourselves out of the stranglehold that Spivak argues suffocated the Western critic, then we get a little close to that Technicolored world. It is difficult, and it is discomforting, but it is glorious.