Persepolis is a story of the bravery of a young Iranian girl as she learns and comes to understand the politics of her nation, and the various factions that have fought to rule over it through history.
It is also a story of individual growth, and interference in that growth from political oppression and restraint.
The main protagonist, Marjane, begins the story as a child secretly devoted to God and the idea she can become a prophet, despite her unbelieving Marxist parents. (There is some conversation between God and Marx later in the film which serves as comic interlude.)
Later Marjane the teenager becomes disillusioned by the idea of a career as God’s intermediary on Earth, having lived through the Islamic revolution. She rebels against the conventions of society and her parents — with Iron Maiden as her guide — and is forever pressing against the limits of a government led by religious dictate.
Although animated, the film provides a convincing depiction of Iran through the ages, through revolution and war, and through Marjane’s journey into womanhood. It is atmospheric and through it’s switching between colour, and black and white, reminds us it is an autobiographical account. I think it’s important to remember this when watching the film, as the script is not written purely for the sake of making an impression on an audience but because it left an impression on a young girl.
Dialogue recounting Marxism and rebellion create both hope and melancholic despair as we watch Iran’s recent history unfold on the screen. This sort of conversation is through the medium of various characters who all come to much the same unfortunate end.
I liked the fact we are left without a happy ending but with the feeling of a person caught very much between a rock and a hard place. Marjane is a woman by now and whilst she has had her fair share of relationships, but she does not land with a hero who can save her from unhappy realities. She leaves the film alone in a taxi in France. This seems to carry the implication that the story is not over for the many displaced people of the Iranian revolution. Whilst Iran becomes harder and harder to call home, countries elsewhere seem equally as difficult to forge homes within.
If you liked the film version of this graphic novel then you should definitely read the novel itself. Although the film is very well made with great animation and remains true to the narrative style of the graphic novel, the account of everyday life in Iran is better told in the book. Perhaps due to time constraint the filmmakers excluded various scenes which in my opinion are very significant in making the tale more poignant and witty and shedding light on Iranian society.
While the film focuses on war and conflicts of religion, the novel also looks at class segregation within Iran before the Islamic Revolution. For example, there is a short tale of Marjane’s maid who is not allowed to eat at the same table as the rest of her family and whose love for a neighbour’s son is unrequited because of her status.
The young Marjane describes her revelation simply, “I finally understood why I felt ashamed to sit in my father’s Cadillac. The reason for my shame and the revolution is the same: the difference between social classes.”
The book also conveys more effectively how anti-imperialist language was appropriated by Islamists to justify oppressive policies after the revolution.
Through Marjane’s perspective as both child and then young adult and through her wonderful family we learn about Iran’s history, culture and society. Her own journey into adulthood tells a tale of isolation. It is a very inspiring read and makes one think about humanity, the consequences of war and the things in life we take for granted.