A Hero Is a Movie in Which Everyone Both Is and Isn’t a Hero

Are you the hero of The HeroIs he really a hero? Is anyone ever a hero? As it turns out, the answers are rather complicated—narratively, but also morally. Director Asghar Farhadi has made a new film about the complex social issues of justice and decency today in Iran.

Rahim, Amir Jadidi’s first encounter, is currently on a temporary leave from prison. His ex-wife’s brother Bahram Tanabandeh owes him a $35,000 debt. Rahim has been in prison for 3 years. In Iran, a creditor who isn’t paid can be sent to jail until the debt is settled or forgiven. Rahim appears to be on the right track to repay a significant portion of his debts. Farkhondeh, Farkhondeh’s future wife, found him a bag containing gold coins and a wallet.

But after inquiring about selling the coins—it turns out their value has gone down—he takes the advice of a clerk to post a sign advertising the lost bag. The bag is claimed by the woman, who says it is money that she stole from her lazy husband in order to have some financial freedom. The administrators of Rahim’s prison decide to notify the media after hearing about the seemingly noble act. Rahim can’t tell all the truth because he has to conceal his affair with Farkhondeh. As he lies, he seems to be being presented as a noble hero to the public, which may feed Bahram’s belief that Rahim has misled people. Perhaps he was plotting to save himself and his creditor.

In Farhadi’s cunningly plotted story, each individual action leads to a reaction, sometimes from an individual, sometimes from a family, sometimes from an organized group—the media, the prison authorities, a background investigator who holds the keys to Rahim’s employment, a charity that helps pay off prisoners’ debts looking to use his case to gain attention—until Rahim’s predicament consumes the entire community.

A simple story about a man who tries to escape his debtor’s prison turns into a complicated journey through Iranian middle-class living. The story is about human interconnectedness, how decisions can be made in contexts other than their own, as well as the cruel and arbitrary ways they get trapped in. Rahim’s journeys are filled with legal requirements, cultural codes and rumors that can not be broken, as well as personal histories, which must all be remembered. The HeroAlthough it appears to be a story of one man on the surface, the truth is that this is the story of a whole society trying its best to figure itself out.

It also acts, I suspect, as a subtle critique of that society—not of the people within it, but of the legal and cultural systems that maintain an invisible control over their lives. It isn’t a film about Big Speeches and Lessons Learned. Rather, the movie is a powerful reminder that people accept the reality of the world around them, and then try to make things work for their families, friends, or themselves. The story centers on several instances where women are involved in complex family disputes that can lead to prison sentences. The movie suggests that most debts in complex societies are social or familial and cannot be reduced to simple figures. The movie sometimes acts, unintentionally or not, as an extended advertisement for U.S. bankruptcy, which permits the discharge of all interpersonal financial debts with no risk of imprisonment. 

It is remarkable how balanced the motivations of the film are. Nearly every actor manages to have both selfishness and generosity. self-sacrificing, sensible stubborn, decent In some ways, it is apathy. The HeroThe movie is full of moral complexity and fractures. It doesn’t resolve to a single lesson. Except that everyone has an inexhaustible capacity for self-interest and generosity, so it is much more difficult to separate the two.