(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt involved writing a poem based off of answers to an almanac questionnaire. In this case, question subjects like “Childhood dream,” “lover,” “hometown memory,” and “today’s news headline” brought to mind this animated drama.)
A culture builds a person
In a way they cannot hide.
By fine degrees, their memories
Instill a private pride.
I’m proud of where I come from,
And I love the U.S.A.,
But others feel an equal zeal
For countries far away.
I hear news full of chaos,
And my sense of pity grows,
For other nations have frustrations
Worse than Western woes.
Yet, being sympathetic,
I must not presume their shame:
Despite the vultures, other cultures
In the midst of flame
Have dignity and pride to be
Both different and the same.
MPAA rating: PG-13
I’ve stated before that I love animation that can tackle mature themes without wallowing in mature content. This is why I’m often drawn to anime and why I admire 2007’s Persepolis, which lost the Best Animated Feature Oscar (barely but deservedly) to Pixar’s Ratatouille.
The Iranian Revolution isn’t the first topic I’d think of for a cartoon, but Iranian expatriate Marjane Satrapi translated her personal experiences first into a French comic/graphic novel and then into this feature film. She did so not only with insight and honesty but with the perfect reason for siding with animation over live-action: that animated characters are far more universal in appeal and connection, allowing audiences worldwide to relate to something that is not inherently “foreign.” She succeeded. Her childhood home in Tehran seems like any number of world cities, and her personal tastes in movies and music (Bruce Lee, Iron Maiden, etc.) remind us that pre-Revolution Iran wasn’t entirely different from the West. (I liked how the young Marji enjoyed ABBA until her friends guilted her into considering them uncool. My mom has mentioned that it was much the same with her in 1970s America.)
Thus, when the actual revolution takes place, bringing Islamic fundamentalists to power, the sudden forced changes to the culture are understandably jarring, as women are compelled to wear head scarves while alcohol and all things Western are banned. While my knowledge of the politics of the time is limited, I was intrigued by how Marjane’s opinions were formed by her parents and dissident uncle, who opposed the Shah but were also persecuted by the new government. The sequence of events reminded me of the Russian revolution in Doctor Zhivago, particularly when Marji’s mother comments, “Well, whatever the outcome is, it can’t be worse than the Shah.” The shortsightedness of revolutions is still an issue today and just one of the many thought-provoking facets of Persepolis.
Marjane’s rebellious spirit eventually forces her to move to Europe, where she grows into a wayward young woman. Her activities range from communing with thoughtless anarchists to unsuccessful love affairs, and while much of it is rather depressing, the storytelling manages to incorporate a smart mix of profundity (such as the wisdom of Marji’s grandmother, a sterling example of an honorable elder) and amusement (such as Marjane’s post-breakup rant against her ex, which resembles and predates a similar scene in (500) Days of Summer).
Satrapi has insisted her graphic novel should be called a comic book, and though it’s more mature than many animations, in several ways Persepolis is a cartoon. The black-and-white simplicity of the flashbacks (which is the majority of the film) is usually realistic, but sometimes reactions are exaggerated, dreams become surreal, or certain scenes are hyperbolized as only animation can. Other times, serious moments are reduced to silhouettes, like a deadly flight from police across rooftops.
While the ending is both fitting and disappointingly melancholy, what comes before is not without its shortcomings. The depiction of the Islamic government is clearly negative, but the overall political message remains muddled from varied character opinions and a dream sequence associating Karl Marx with God. Though not too profane, some of the language is also a tad harsh, and the PG-13 rating is deserved. (There’s also an odd preoccupation with Marjane’s grandmother’s breasts, which are discussed three separate times, perhaps because of a distinct memory she had.) Persepolis is a wholly unique animation, a coming-of-age tale that views a tumultuous time through the eyes of both a child and a young woman, whose subsequent real-life success makes it that much more praiseworthy.
Best line: (Marjane) “We were so eager for happiness, we forgot we weren’t free.”
Rank: List Runner-Up
© 2016 S. G. Liput
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