Last Monday I saw the movie Persepolis as part of the RESISTANCE Film Series at Citizen. It was such a heavy experience and emotional investment that I was not able to utter a word after seeing the film. I knew that it was a good movie, but I wasn’t prepared for it to be so profoundly personal. Even after 30 years, I feel touched by Marjane’s narrative. There is a striking, even frightening similarity between Marjane’s reality and mine.
Greater of Two Evils
Baby Marjane’s Iran, though well shadowed by an underlying political storm, used to be a relatively prosperous place. Marjane and her middle-class progressive family would never have thought, as they protest against inhumane persecution of political prisoners, that the soon-to-come replacement would only add to their misery.
She led a life of an exile, being sent off to Austria and back, then sent back to Paris as a young woman. It was more complicated than having to bear the title of “refugee.” Part of it was a universal issue of expats—learning to be away from home. Fitting into another culture, making friends, speaking a foreign language, learning to make food, going to hospitals and pharmacies by yourself, having to call family and tell them everything was fine, etcetera. Part of it, as I speculated, was remorse and horror. It must be devastating to see that everything you stood for and believed in came only to hurt you and your loved ones. The revolution happened, the monarch was overthrown, but a better Iran didn’t arrive as promised. Ironically, she was asked to flee now rather than before. It was watching your neighborhood burning to ashes and your friends being locked up and not being able to do anything about it. It was hearing your mom trying to hide her sobbing voice on the phone and you trying to hide yours.
I used to feel a life like this is far away from my world; yet I see it approaching sooner and sooner for me. Maybe there won’t be a bloodshed war, but there probably will be mis-convicted crimes and secret persecutions. Maybe there won’t be massacres of political prisoners, but there probably will be death with unclear reasons and spiking population behind bars. Maybe there won’t be mandatory hijabs and police raiding parties, but there will be more 404-not found webpages, disappearing content, vanished voices.
Silence is strongest synonym for violence. I shiver for such a future to rule my country, but I fear more for a drastic shift a power that lands us in a worse place—history has proven it not only possible, but common. Iran, Afghanistan, Chile…will China be next?
I don’t know. I prefer not to think so. I hope a day will never come in which my parents send me off in the airport, and say to me “don’t ever come back.”
A Distant Familiarity
Another layer in this movie was Marjane’s personal life. Every so often, we were so busy looking at news to realize refugees have their own narrative about romance, pop culture, and much more of what we share as young people of the world. Sometimes we forget that they listen to the same kind of music as we do, they gossip about the same celebrities as we do, and they fall in love, they break up, and fall in love again, just as we do.
Marjane has fallen in love three times; she had faith that she met her Mr. Right, only to be let down, getting up to believe once more, and being let down again. She got cheated one time, and got unbearable bored by love the next. Had been put on either of us, it would be a banal tale of a heartbroken but naive girl looking for true love. Yet with her, the story is worth telling, because she was making a point, bringing a missing piece as counterweight to the overwhelmingly biased picture of a refugee.
Let us also not forget that she loves Iron Maiden and Michael Jackson, loves to act as Bruce Lee, wears dresses with plunging necklines to parties, and that such things exist in what we now label as a closed and stoic land.
I love Marjane. I love her for being full of guts and feelings. I love her for being true and honest, for never hiding and acting against her belief, yet ever so tender with her loved ones. I love her and I will forever remember her.