Persepolis (the film)

Miss Jiwaku and I just watched the animated version of Persepolis last night, and I have to say, it was really very impressed. I’ve read only the first book — my friend Jean-Louis recommended it to me, and I enjoyed it quite a bit, even reading it in French. (Which was not so hard.)

I haven’t managed to read the other volumes, but I am curious. I have Volume 2, and figure I can check out Volume 3 next time I’m in Canada. But the way the film was put together — using Satrapi’s characteristic style, but with a wonderful audio track and really graceful animation — really impressed us both.

Lately, I’ve been coming back to the question of stories about young people trapped in fucked-up systems, stories about finding within oneself the fighting spirit to resist those systems, and stories about what Satrapi is quoted as having said in this interview:

The real war is not between the West and the East. The real war is between intelligent and stupid people.

She’s absolutely right, and this war between intelligent people and stupid people pervades the lives of everyone in the world, constantly. One of the things I liked in the movie, though, was how the Marjane character herself must first figure out what is stupid and what isn’t.

At one point, she is the ringleader in a group of kids who decide to torture a fellow kid because his father killed plenty of fellow imprisoned Iranians. Her mother sends her home before they catch him, and then Marjane realizes the error of her ways. But when she approaches the boy, telling him she is sorry and knows he is not responsible for his father’s crimes, he defends his father, howling that the man “only killed communists.”

This is a more nuanced question than the problem of evil, of which, by now, we know all people are all capable. This is the question of how an intelligent person can do combat with stupidity, without also doing combat with stupid people. For it would be impossible to walk away from Satrapi’s film imagining she advocates any kind of violence: the horror and stupidity of the Iran-Iraq war is just as boldly underlined as the horror and stupidity of the religious fundamentalism that took over the society in which she was growing up.

The film doesn’t, not quite, offer a concrete suggestion in this regard, but I think instead it performs it: it is a consummate work of storytelling, a act of memory, and an act of intelligence. As you see it on the screen, if you are intelligent at least, you grasp what Satrapi is arguing: that the way to fight the war between the intelligent and the stupid is simply to help awaken the intelligent in as many people as you can.

Childhood is important for this: it is important because the stories we are told during childhood affect what kinds of adults we can become. The stupidity and the intelligence that Satrapi mentions, after all, are not inborn in most cases: they are more a kind of a willfully defiant intelligence, versus a willfully controlling stupidity. And it may be that our stories aren’t just the main modes of recruitment, but also the weapons and defense on both sides.

Not to say that Satrapi’s film and books are kid stuff, but they are accessible to young people, and I think that’s not by accident: she is discussing important issues, problems, questions, but she’s doing so in a way that neither panders to young people, nor excludes them. Perhaps that’s part of the implicit point of the project: that we need to start making clear to kids that this conflict concerns them, involves them, and will shape their lives in ways more profound than they can exactly grasp.

A call to arms, perhaps.

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