Student guest post reviewing the film Persepolis…it always surprises me when the political science students decide to go on an artistic bent.
Persepolis is the unique memoir of Marjane Satrapi, an Iranian woman who comes of age during the tumultuous regime changes of the latter part of the 20th century. The film is an adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name; an autobiographical exploration into the author’s transition from childhood to adolescence and how she came to terms with herself amidst intense political upheaval and the alluring influence of Western culture. Portrayed in its seemingly simple graphic style, Persepolis takes on complex issues of self-identity, memory and a life in exile at a young age. These themes are further emphasized through the use of color as well as the lack of color, among other stylistic subtleties and stark contrasts.
Like its graphic novel counterpart, the film is conveyed monochromatically, in bold lines of mostly black, white and gray. Despite its monotone background, Satrapi is able to convey a sense of warmth, humor and independence in her heroine. There are parts of the film which are illustrated in only shades of black, white and gray, yet there are also moments in which scenes are depicted in bright color. The film utilizes the contrast of monochrome shades against the vibrancy of colors to emphasize the other contrasts in her life. Marjane’s life is punctuated by many contrasts; as she leaves Iran, she is leaving a land of strict repression for a life in Vienna full of freedom from her country but also her parents, yet she loses the comfort of her family and often finds herself alone. During her time in Vienna, she is also faced with the decision to be Eastern or Western, a choice which she believes she must make in order to fit in.
The use of color is also dependent on the continual psychological maturation of Marjane. Towards the end of film, in her present reality, Marjane is depicted in color, having overcome the obstacles of politics, religion, and war to finally come to terms with her identity. She is both enlightened and illuminated by the use of color. The course of the film is really her journey to self-identity.
Yet while the use of color underlines many stark contrasts, the use of monochrome shades brings in the idea that life isn’t just black and white; it isn’t just made up of contrasts and clear choices. The use of gray tones in addition to black and white symbolizes that middle-ground. In fact, Satrapi admitted that when she was young, she thought that she had to choose to be either an Easterner or a Westerner, but she doesn’t feel like she has to choose now, she believes that she can be either, both, neither, or whatever she feels like being (Satrapi, 2007).
Other stylistic elements of the film are representative of her journey as well; the visual perspective changes as throughout the movie as Marjane does. During her time in Vienna, the viewer senses her pain and feeling of isolation as she visually sticks out among her peers, in which characters have lighter hair and lighter eyes in contrast to her dark hair and dark eyes. The film is also framed as a flashback, beginning with adult Marjane in an airport remembering all the important moments that brought her to that single moment. The use of this framework and the continuous use of flashbacks create a sense of fragmentation, symbolizing the fragmentation of her life up to this point.
These stylistic elements combine to convey themes of self-discovery and the transition from a repressive society to one full of freedom, and the choices that led there. While this is a coming of age story, full of self-discovery, it never comes full circle. The opening scene depicts Marjane sitting in an airport, while the closing scene depicts her riding in a taxi; both of these are scenes in transit, giving the viewer a sense that Marjane is not yet done with her journey yet; it is a never ending search to fit into the life she lives as an Iranian in exile.
Satrapi, M. (2007, December 17). Interview by A Vo [Personal Interview]. Marjane Satrapi on Persepolis. Rotten Tomatoes, Retrieved from http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/persepolis/news/1698259/marjane_satrapi_on_persepolis_the_rt_interview_with_exclusive_clips_and_photos