Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Problem with "Persepolis," the film

So in an increasing attempt to solidify what this blog talks about, I think it safe to say that anything I want to talk about is what this blog talks about.


Essentially, the frame of this blog is a means for you to understand the writer: where he comes from, what he's thinking, and why, perhaps, he's thinking it. In addition to being morbidly obese and twenty-one years of age, I'm also a proud, gay, gender-queer person who is a staunch feminist. It is from that lens that I'd like to give my two cents on the film adaptation of Marjane Satrapi's "Persepolis."

Having read the novel about a year ago and recently as part of a common reading program put on by my university (which I reported on here for my college's newspaper), I've come to know the book, and the author, very well. In addition to reading Persepolis, I've also read Satrapi's book Embroideries, which was published between the two halves of Persepolis. While I wouldn't call myself an expert on Satrapi, I feel as if I've come to understand her language of storytelling—her interesting cross-section between graphic novel and memoir.

One thing that I love about Satrapi's novels is that they complicate the western view of women in Iran. There's this idea in the western mind (planted there for us by President Bush in his famous speech, naming, among others, Iran as part of an Axis of Evil) that the women of Arabic, middle-eastern countries have, for centuries long, been persecuted under Islamic law. It appeals to our western sense of crusade romanticism that even the intellegencia fall under. One way to rationalize our nation's blatant overstepping of Afghanistani, Iraqi, and dare I say soon-to-be Iranian rights is that we, as a country, will liberate these women from the oppressive, patriarchial hands of their sharia-laden overlords.

Satrapi works against this. She shows that, in Iran, middle to upper-class women had the choice whether or not to veil and that their was great backlash against its imposition upon Iranian women in the early 80s. Satrapi also shows, through her memoir, why women took off the veil, and, I think more importantly, why she might choose to put the veil back on, and what such an action means.

What struck me as odd is the way that the movie side-stepped most of these complications and how that might simplify, or even inhibit, the way a receiver of the memoir perceived the intricacies of the veil.

It's always a problem, adaptation, and good adaptation is almost an art form. For it to go about well, the writers and directors who are adapting the novel need to be experts in the novel and be able to capture the novels spirit—they must be able move past the letters of the page and into the heart of the story. What 'Persepolis' did, however, was go right past the heart of the story's literary complication, and bundle the movie inside of an animated, histrionic ball, that made the subject matter of the book not only more superficially interesting, but also lose insight into the complexities of the gender politics of the novel.

What viewers got was a sense of the hardship Satrapi undertook in her life in order to be a woman, free from the oppression of Iran not the struggle that Satrapi endured in order to be congruent with herself. The book drew an interesting line between what one's actions and words and what one believes and how, despite the simplification of a western eye, the truth of the matter is more complex and deep then ever before imagined. The viewer does a great disservice to themselves by not reading the book because in this adaptation what isn't lost is the heart of the story, it's the heart of the purpose of the story—to show us that we, as westerners, are not only very much like a little girl growing up during the Iranian Revolution, but that, more importantly, we are very much different from a little girl growing up during the Iranian Revolution.

Despite my theoretical impetus for writing this post, I enjoyed the movie. But when reading important and necessary books like "Persepolis," given our shaky political climate, what's more important—that I enjoy the movie? or that I engage in a dialog that makes more difficult my preconceived notions, thus prompting me to probe deeper and understand more?

I'm glad I understand more.


Bitchyssoise said...

One thing I found striking about the movie was its tone. I feel that in many ways it was de-politicized, becoming more of a personal memoir, and, like you said, forsaking some of the graphic novel's political aspects. I did, however, feel that the film succeeded as a personal story. Marjane (the character) was preserved in the transition from graphic novel to film. That's what ultimately sealed the deal for me.

Jake K.M. Paikai said...

While that is true (and I hate to say this about something artistic), I feel like the film, given our current geopolitical climate, had the responsibility to make the politicized nature of the novel important, as important as the narrative. The film didn't need to lose all of that in order to make the film-narrative work.

Marjane Satrapi has said in interviews that she doesn't consider herself a feminist, vehemently so. I guess, at the end of the day, what I wanted for the film and what she herself wanted may have been incongruous, but some part of me feels like she was just trying to get the green.

Bitchyssoise said...

Ooh, I did not know that Satrapi denied being a feminist. That's interesting, and kind of surprising. You could be right with the Geld theory. Why else would she change the tone of her own work? I'm sure there's reasons, but you may be onto something...

The more I think about the graphic novel, the more I remember the punch that a lot of it had (like that panel with keys around the soldiers' necks and the nails around the partying children's). It's too bad this didn't make it to the screen.

This is fun! Yay dialogue!