The Hidden Messages Behind “A Separation” Film

By Dariush Fakheri
May 2012
 “Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation”.       Poet and author Khalil Gibran

                                                                                                                                 Despite the fact that for over the past half century Iran has produced some of the best and most artful filmmakers in the world, “A Separation”, is perhaps one of the most masterfully written and directed films by Asghar Farhadi. Earlier this year the film created tremendous international buzz after it became the first Iranian movie in history to win an Oscar for the Best Foreign-Language film. The Oscar and other similar accolades have all been well deserved because of the marvelous cinematic accomplishment as well as the phenomenal cast and crew. Farhadi simply and selflessly presented this prestigious award to “the good people of Iran”. Yet many non-Iranian audiences may not be fully aware of the hidden messages Farhadi has creatively woven through the fabric of this remarkable film about the lives of Iranians living in Iran and elsewhere in the world today.
The film is a domestic drama that begins with a married middle-class couple arguing in front of a faceless magistrate. “Simin”, the female protagonist, is trying to convince the magistrate to issue a divorce document because she wants to emigrate from Iran with her daughter “Termeh” by using a visa that is about to expire in six months. “Nader”, her husband, refuses to go along with her plan because he wants stay behind and care for his old father who suffers from dementia and needs constant attention and care. The faceless magistrate, “Hajji Agha” does not show any interest in the issue and to him the couple’s disagreement is a small matter that is merely “taking the court’s time”. Instead Hajji Agha is hurried to close their file and get rid of them fast.
The defeated Simin, moves in with her family, leaving their 11-year-old daughter with her father and grandfather. Her husband, Nader, is forced to hire a very religious woman, “Razieh”, who accepts, without her husband’s permission, to take care of Nader’s father, while he is at work and Termeh, their 11 years old daughter who is at school. To do the job, Razieh, who is pregnant, must commute more than two hours and take along her young daughter. On the first day, Razieh, a devout religious woman (in Farsi, her name means content with), faces a religious problem. Her faith prohibits her from touching the old man that has soiled himself. She calls a religious hotline to ask whether changing the underwear of a man to whom she isn’t married is a sin or not. 
The job quickly overwhelms Razieh. Events show that Razieh is incompetent and not able to do the job that she was hired to complete. When Nader arrives home earlier than usual, he finds his father lying on the floor with one arm strapped to the bed, and there is no sign of the housekeeper. He explodes and confronts Razieh when she returns and throws her and her daughter out of the house. Razieh and her husband, “Hodjat”, who is an unemployed shoemaker and is hiding from debt collectors takes legal action against Nader for causing Razieh to abort her child due to the forceful ejection of her from his apartment. Filled with humanity, this powerful and dramatic story climaxes by bringing all the parties in front of a judge that patiently evaluates all and every evidence, claims, counter-claims and doubtful recollections with forensic details to untangle the web that seem to have entrapped everyone.
Throughout all these episodes, the audience will find the time and get the opportunity to know every single personality who is entangled in that web. But audiences should not make any mistake, this film is not an Iranian version the American 1980’s “Kramer vs. Kramer” divorce movie with the typical portrait of a family in crisis. Writer-director Farhadi has skillfully presented us with a deeper and parallel story that goes hand-in-hand with this deeply emotional family struggle tale. In the middle of all the arguments, outbreaks of emotions and violence, we are in reality witnessing the tensions between different ways of thinking and the spontaneous yet volatile confrontations that have been unfolding within society in Iran.
Masterfully, Farhadi turns this astonishingly written domestic drama into a serious dialogue about the opposing viewpoints regarding the current gloomy political situation in Iran and her future (no wonder that there is no background music in his movie). Today’s Iran is not unfamiliar with separated and different viewpoints about how to deal with many social, political and religious challenges.  “A Separation” turns into a multilayered adult drama. The story of one couple's collapsing marriage becomes a serious dialogue between parties who have inherited a beloved but ailing country and have an ownership right to its future. Suddenly the growing frustration of different ideologies in today’s Iran is being unraveled, with a serious and vital conversation taking place between different groups in the country. While this may look like a routine divorce film like “Kramer vs. Kramer”— Farhadi is inviting his audiences to partake in a very serious, essential and civilized conversation about the future of Iran.
No doubt, Farhadi lives under a theocratic dictatorship with significant fanaticisms. Yet writers and poets for centuries in Iran have lived under similar creative restrictive circumstances and overcome them by uniquely presenting their works with multiple layers or double-entendre. From the time of the great poets such as Hafez and Rumi, to the contemporary Iranian writers and poets, Iranian authors have always been subjected to a self-censorship or use of symbolism in their works. Indeed Farhadi is no exception to this centuries’ old rule for authors to abide by. It has been a daunting task, in the last 60 years, for the Iranian intellectuals to read any books trying to uncover the symbols and clues left by the intelligent poets and writers with alternative view points. Fear of the secret police, desperate try to outsmart authorities who where overseeing “the properness of published materials” to save their work from being labeled as unsuitable for publishing, forced countless authors to hide their real messages.
Turning back to the film, the partial split between Nader and Simin is exactly that, a partial separation. In “A Separation”, Nader (in Farsi his name means rare) is neither a hero nor an anti-hero.  He is representing a middle of the road of the spectrum of the Iranians political views. He is deeply and honestly in love with and committed to his country. Nadar is a symbol of average Iranians who love their country’s glorious past and are worried sick about its future. All that matters to Nader is that his senile father, a symbol of his frail country, is helpless and needs care. Primarily, his father wants the care from Simin, Nader and Termeh. He does not want Simin to go. He holds on to Simin’s hand despite Nader’s insistence that “father let her go”--  a symbol of Iran not wanting to lose any of her children. Iran needs the generation of individuals like Nader and others to stay behind and care for the country. At the same time the old man, which represents Iran, wants his granddaughter who represents the country’s future, to also stay with him.
More than any other, Farhadi wants us, the audience, to relate to and sympathize with his main character, Nader--  a true Iranian who tolerates every idea and class of people, as long as they are truthful and care about Iran first. Nader is not a religious man but is respectful to others who are. He does not discredit those who have left Iran already or want to do so either— those are individuals characterized by Simin. Farhardi invites everyone to have a true and honest dialogue about the future of Iran and he does so by working within the current system in the country. The director rejects confrontation but does not surrender to force either.

The character of Simin wants a divorce. She represents those Iranians who put their own  interests over and above the interest of their country and have “escaped their responsibilities”. The character of Nader knows that his wife wants to leave him and accuses her of giving up easily on their relationship which symbolizes many Iranians who have run away from the “problems” in Iran to seek an easy answer. Yet Simin is not totally discredited by Farhadi as she values her 14 years of her marriage with Nader and but thinks that Nader’s approach is counterproductive and not workable. Her character’s mentality represents the type of worries or concerns that some Iranians in Iran have when it comes to the idea of forcefully removing the current regime in Iran and how they prefer to revolve the political issues peacefully instead of facing the killing and imprisonment of thousands of people by the regime. Nader response to Simin by saying,” I do not surrender to force"--  which symbolizes many Iranians who are willing to confront the tanks and machine guns of the current regime in Iran when the time arises.
Farhadi does not see the current governing authority as all bad. To him, there is a two face to the mullah’s regime in Iran. The character of Razieh represents the ethical side and those in the Iranian government who Farhadi sees as reasonable and willing to compromise, as a opposed to the character of Hodjat, who represents those in the regime who use force to win a discussion. Both factions in the government want to run the affairs of the country, but are not capable of doing so and cannot guarantee its future, neither by themselves nor as a team. Likewise, Razieh’s character represent the “reformists” and non-hardliners in the Iranian regime, such as Iran’s past presidents including Khatami and Rafsanjani or the one of the Green movement’s religious leader Karroubi. Her character, like these past Iranian “reformists”, are not competent to undertake their jobs properly and fail miserably.
The word “Hodjat” means authority in Farsi and in this movie his character is resentful, angry, and a believer in the holy book as the final authority. At the same time, he thinks that the whole world is against him--  symbolic for many of Iran’s current fundamentalist Islamic leadership which is paranoid that the world is out to get them. Farhadi is also using the character of Hodjat to show the muscle that supports the Mullahs and the theocracy in today’s Iran. In Hodjat’s eyes, Nader and Simin are part of the corrupt and entitled elite, arrogant and ungodly and full of contempt for an ordinary working man like him.
The “judges” in the film represent Farhadi’ audiences. They are both “Hajji Agha” but there is a big difference between them. The first one is a faceless magistrate who does not care about the case, does not probe and wants see this matter as a simple issue that only takes his time. But the second one is the type of an audience that Farhadi is after, a patient one who shows interest for truth and tries to stay objective. He takes interest in finding a solution based on discoveries, considering all sides to reach a conclusion. But the second magistrate does not get to the final line either. Farhadi refuses to make the final decision on his audience’s behalf, again he is merely trying to open a dialogue between his beloved countrymen, wherever they are and however they think and in a civilized manner to save the future generation, represented by Termeh.
The character of Termeh (the Farsi word for a precious fabric with rich traditional meaning and symbolism in Iranian culture) represents the future of Iran. She is desperately looking for reconciliation, peace at home and is truly scared that her family will collapse amid a series of fights and accusations. She respects and cares for Iran who is symbolized by her ill grandfather. Iran’s past, present situation and its future are important to her. With his father’s  constant help, she is working hard on her education and even studies the glorious history of the Sassanid dynasty, with her grandmother, while waiting for her father’s release from jail. Learning from her father, she has a good relationship with Razieh and Hodjat’s daughter. Termeh is the central to the drama unfolding around her as well. She does not consider her father to be guilty but respects him and cleaves to him to keep his marriage alive. Nader teaches her everything from equivalent Farsi terminology, Arabic, foreign languages, math and finally how to stand for her rights at the gas satation.
In Farhadi’s observation of the current situation in Iran, doubt and mistrust is overwhelming. To him violence is not the solution. The dialogue in the film among the characters becomes tangled and problematic because everyone in the story thinks that he or she is right. Nobody in the film is a villain and the characters represent all of Iran’s population with different voices having their own ideas of how the future of Iran should be. In addition Farhadi believes that Iran is not and should not be a force for destabilizing in its part of the world. To him, Iran is home of a rich culture and precious values. After the Green revolution and in light of Iran’s situation and current image in the world, Farhadi’s dialogue becomes more necessary and urgent. He rejects the fact that in the future a combination of Hodjat and Razieh, who present the present ruling party in Iran, is the sole and prevailing solution.
The film finally ends with Nader, exhausted from the all ordeal is sitting on a chair outside the judges room. Simin is standing on the other side of a glass wall. They are not talking to each other anymore. They are both in black.There is also no sign of Razieh, Hodjat or anyone else in this drama either. In the background and the end of the court’s hallway, we hear a man and a women screaming at each other and child is crying nonstop. This final scene presents the people of Iran who are today at a crossroads and unable to make a decision about their future amidst unfolding in their country. The last judge in the film finally asks Termeh to make a decision between two prominent ideas. Now, we, the knowledgeable audience must also make up our minds as well regarding the future of Iran. In fact, it's the watchful Termeh — like all the young generation of Iranians — who will pass the final verdict on
?who's right and who's wrong. She has made up her mind and Farhadi is asking his audiences, have you

Dariush Fakheri Is The Founder Of The " Siamak " Iranian 
Jewish Organization In Southern California And Former
 Publisher And Chief Editor Of " Chesm Andaz " Iranian
 Jewish Magazine.

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