Monday, June 11, 2012

A Separation & A Doll's House

This post is meant for those who have seen A Separation and read A Doll's House (all seventeen of you).

A major theme of A Separation is classsomething I simply wanted to note as it goes unmentioned below.

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After watching A Separationwell deserving of its reputation as one of the best films of 2011I was struck with how similar it is to Ibsen's A Doll's House; it's sort of a disassembled, reconstructed version of the play. 

Both works feature doors that slam like gunshots. Ibsen's play famously ends with a door slamming shut that stands as a tremendous, shattering exclamation point.

Both works involve men who care more about their honor and reputation than they do their wives (though neither of them would see it that way), which results in doomed marriages for both.  This occurs in A Separation multiple times. Once when Nader decides to stay in Iran with his sick father instead of going abroad with his wife (Simin) to create a better life for their daughter (Termeh), and once again when he refuses to pay off Hodjat for a crime he (probably) believes himself to be innocent of (which would have ensured the safety of his daughter). The first decision causes his wife to file for divorce; the second causes her to leave for good (she was on the brink of moving back in with him). Likewise, Nora leaves her husband Torvald in A Doll's House because he chooses to obey a blackmailer instead of sacrificing his reputation for her. 

Both feature women who are forced to help their husbands by earning money for them in secret. In A Separation, Razieh—much like Nora in A Doll's Houseis thanked for this by being blamed for, among other things, ruining her husband's reputation.

Both feature themes about the law being too cut and dry to take important moral complexities into account. In A Separation Nader tells his daughter that, though he knew Hodjat's wife Razieh was pregnant when he pushed her, he didn't "remember" (or think about it) at the time because his emotions got the best of him. When she asks him why he lied to the police (he told them definitively that he didn't know Razieh was pregnant),  he says something that is highly reminiscent of the following dialogue from Ibsen's play:

Krogstad [Nader]: The law cares nothing about motives.
Nora [Termeh] : Then it must be a very foolish law.
Krogstad [Nader]: Foolish or not, it is the law by which you will be judged...

This theme is mirrored by Torvald in A Doll's House and Hodjat in A Separation, two characters with an unwavering moral certainty that comes from their respective religions.

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One of the great things about Ibsen's play is that Torvald, however ignorant and oppressive, is a full, sympathetic character. He's a buffoon, yes, but an unwitting one. His oppression of Nora is nothing more than the result of allowing himself to be held captive by his era (not always, depending on your era, a forgivable offense). His sense of honor and pride is a byproduct of the world he inhabits, his definition of love is the one that's been handed down to him. This is not noble, but it's human. Torvald has followed the path of least resistance and thus ended up a sort of victim himself—not one of patriarchy or naïveté, but one of cynicism and society. Likewise, all of the characters in A Separation—and this is the film's defining strengthare sympathetic; their flaws and points of view are—however wrongheadedcompletely understandable.

A Doll's House is ultimately about individuality and self identity, about how attaching yourself to someone elseor something else, as Torvald does with custom and traditioncan be at the expense of your own autonomy. To never discover yourself, to never find your own identity, is to always play the role that's been cut out for you (by your culture as well as by other people's expectations). It is to give yourself over to the force of the world and be shaped by its hand. In short, it is to be damned.

"It is our fate, if we never had the chance to rebel," Arno Gruen wrote, "to live the absurdity of never having experienced a self of our own." In that sense, both of these works are also about people who are learning—or failing—to rebel.