There’s probably not a more timely film than Marjane Satropi’s animated history Persepolis. Based on her graphic novels, the film recounts Satropi’s experience during the Iranian cultural revolution, the toppling of the Shah, and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism that resulted in radical changes in Iranian day-to-day life.
The story itself is wrenching. In childhood, idealist Marjane sees things one of two ways: her way or no way. She spouts political dogma without fully understanding its implications, but then watches in horror as her family members and neighbors are imprisoned and assassinated during the tumultuous revolutionary period. The subsequent war with Iraq that followed for 8 years drains the nation of everything but its belief that women are so valuable that they should be completely shielded from the eyes of men.
Fleeing to Vienna, Marjane in her teenage years sees her world from the outside and thus becomes a stranger to it. She struggles to find a place for herself abroad while understanding the differences between the West and Iran.
The stark black and white animation is an effective metaphor for the black-and-white perspectives of fundamentalist religion, and the motion in the film is unique and interesting, using computer animation to provide techniques not possible through hand drawing. Marjane as a narrator is both endearing and unknowable in odd ways, but it is easy to empathize with her situation. The film nearly pointedly makes the statement that religion’s impact on government is often debilitating to civil liberties and does make some arguments for recasting our eyes on our own government to assess the damages incurred over the last decade. But mostly, Persepolis feels a little like a warning, a cautionary tale. At one point, Marjane’s grandmother scolds her for forgetting Marjane is still wearing her head scarf. “Fear so quickly leads to complacency,” the old woman reminds her. A reminder many of us need to hear.