Sometimes life just seems so black and white. As children, learning our way in the world and our place in our family can make us allegiant or rebellious, whether or not we really know what we are for or against. Or when a country is going through political revolution and you’re told that the line between life and death is the line between good and bad, even though somebody else has decided which is which. So yes, it can seem divisive, but only when we see part of what is going on and ignore or block out the rest, the fuller picture. This is the brilliance of Persepolis, its message and its method.
Based on her autobiograhpical comic book of the same name, Persepolis chronicles Marjane Satrapi’s own journey of self-discovery as she pulls back veils both figurative and literal. Growing up Iran during the fall of the Shah and the subsequent decades of violence, war, and female repression, she is faced with many familial and political restrictions on her expression. When she is sent as a teenager to live in Vienna as a free person, she finds that even anarchists, hippies, homelessness, and various love affairs do not offer her the sense of belonging that she hoped to find. Only after she returns to Iran and experiences ‘more of the same, only different’ is she finally able to honor her feisty grandmother’s advice: “Be true to yourself.”
Visually, this film is exuberant, unique, and meaningful: The rough, highly textured gray-scale backgrounds are inhabited by stark black and white beings living out the full spectrum of emotions and actions that humanity is capable of. The child-like school play-esque animations purposefully used, seem to urge us to look beyond the obvious, and even tragic, to find the whimsical and absurd in life.
For many of us, the foreign context of Marji’s turbulent experiences could serve to distance us from the film and see it as ‘her story.’ But that would deny the greater message within it: no matter the political regime, social conventions, or personal relationships of our individual lives, we all have one purpose: to leave behind the world of black and white and enter a world of color, a world of truth and freedom within ourselves.