I am not a reader of graphic novels and know next to nothing about them. But I heard good things about this movie version of one such series (Persepolis and Persepolis2, by Marjane Satrapi) and thought it would be worth a look. More than a pleasant surprise, the film actually knocked me out.

Persepolis movie trailor

It’s the largely autobiographical story of Marjane Satrapi, her time in Iran before and after the revolution of 1979, her family, and her flight to France. I did not think that a cartoon would be moving in this way, nor as thought provoking. But it is. The DVD adds excellent special features, takes us behind the scenes and includes interviews with cast and crew. The work involved in making the film is stunning, laborious, time consuming and admirable.

Marjane Satrapi strove to make this a universal story, a coming of age story, albeit one with extreme circumstances. I think she succeeded. It also made me think about the nature of revolution, how many start with high ideals and compassion and end with massive violence and oppression. Probably because the same people who provide the intellectual and humanistic underpinnings for these revolutions are almost never the same people who end up in charge once they take hold.

It may in fact be a case of incommensurabilities. Those who would launch revolutions against oppressors, those who would change the world for the better and bring liberation to the oppressed, are typically unwilling or unable to control events with an iron hand . . . the kind of hand needed when revolutions happen. Because destroying the old order means a new one must be formed nearly from scratch, and that rarely can be done without severe brutality, dictatorial and authoritarian rule. The anarchy created when one regime falls . . . must be controlled eventually. Oftentimes those who wind up controlling that anarchy are no better and sometimes worse than the regime they replace.

It’s almost a guaranteed dynamic. Those who seek great power, those who seek great power in an instant, especially, are not generally believers in freedom and liberation and fairness and equality and compassion and empathy for the people. They believe in power and want it now. They don’t want to wait. They don’t want to build something gradually over time. They don’t want to reform things. They don’t want to form the kinds of friendships and networks and institutions needed to enact progressive change over time. They are in a hurry. In their minds, brutality and more oppression are the best methods for access to quick power and control. A revolution is their perfect vehicle.

Reading Doctor Zhivago reminded me of that conundrum again recently. The peasants wanted to throw off the shackles of the Czar and the aristocracy. They wanted to keep the fruits of their labor. They wanted to grow food on their own land and be free to do so without being hounded by the Czar. They actually wanted to own their own land for once. They did not want to exchange one master for another. They did not want to give up their new found freedom to the Communist state.

The Iranian Revolution began as an attempt to throw off the horrific shackles of the Shah. It ended in establishing even harsher shackles when religious zealots took control. A true revolution of the people and by the people would have ended with no shackles, obviously.

Humans have seen this dance for thousands of years, and we seem incapable of learning. When will there be a true revolution that casts off all shackles and leaves us truly free?


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