Persepolis is a 2007 animated French film based off of the of the graphic novel of the same name by Marjane Satrapi. The film follows a girl named Marjane (affectionately “Marji”) as she grows up during the Iranian revolution. It’s told as a flashback by Marji as she looks back at her life.
Marji is enamored with Western Culture, commonly imagining herself as Bruce Lee and other figures from out of Iran. When the revolution begins against the Shah, she finds herself drawn to the conflict, seeking, as many did, more freedom under a new government. When elections are finally held, Islamic Fundamentalists win with an overwhelming majority and they turn the country upside down. Thousands are murdered or imprisoned for having beliefs different than that of the state. Marji finds her own rebellions in everything she does, from listening to Michael Jackson and Iron Maiden to speaking out against the teacher’s propaganda. Ultimately she is sent away by her parents, who worry for her safety because she is so outspoken. In Vienna, she is unable to find her place in society where she is either rejected as a foreigner or can’t stand how others take their freedom for granted. After two unsuccessful and devastating attempts at love, she returns to Iran, a country still being torn apart by a war with Iraq. She is essentially forced into marriage simply for holding hands (a crime punishable by lashes) in the religious extremes of her home country. The marriage ends in divorce and she ultimately realizes that Iran is not the place for her. She leaves again, but this time with a firm acceptance of her cultural roots.
Marji is an incredibly powerful female character. Even from a young age, we hear her speak of equality for women not as an objective, but simply as the natural state of things. When double standards are imposed within her university, telling the women to dress more modestly (despite them already wearing near complete burqas), she tells the men to stop sexualizing them.
Persepolis speaks most powerfully about culture though. Marji loves her family dearly and it pains her greatly to see her country ripped apart. But at the same time, she does not appreciate the restrictions imposed upon her by society. The fundamentalist religious views of her government limit her and what she can do as a woman. To a westerner, it seems convoluted that wearing a veil is freedom, but for that culture, it was accepted as truth. It is only when freedom is taken away does one realize exactly how much can be taken away through tyranny. So when in Vienna, Marji finds it hard to relate to the superficialities that so many of the others are enthralled in. Simultaneously, it is difficult for her to appreciate her own culture back home, especially among the hostilities and misunderstandings of those who have no true idea of what is going on back in Iran. One part of Iran that she was always connected to though was her family, especially her grandmother. Playing the literary part of “The Teacher,” her grandmother’s wise words always helped to keep Marji tethered and heading in the right direction. Upon her return in Iran and the subsequent events, Marji realizes that even though Iran might not be the right place for her to live, it is still a part of who she is as a person and she must accept that.