“A Hero” is a highly acclaimed Iranian film that’s currently on Amazon Prime’s Top 10 list. It’s also Iran’s official selection for Best International Feature Film at this year’s Academy Awards.
The film’s title refers to a central question that’s debated throughout the storyline: Is the main character a hero? The Persian-language movie presents a window into the life of a man named Rahim (Amir Jadidi, “The Lost Strait”) imprisoned for outstanding debt. Rahim acquires a two-day leave from prison, a short window in which he tries to persuade his creditor to drop his complaint so that he can get out of jail and start working to pay off his debt. But as Rahim’s simple plan unfolds, the situation starts to spiral out of his control. The line between what is true and what is advantageous begins to blur, and small spur-of-the-moment choices end up having massive consequences.
As you can probably tell from that little summary, this is not a fun movie. But it is a powerful one and a film that’s far more relevant than it appears to be at first glance. At some point in the film, Rahim does a good deed — well-meaning and innocent, not meant to be noticed. But people do notice. He undergoes a whirlwind of fame and popularity, which he wisely uses to his own advantage, attempting to undo his personal misfortune. But it soon turns on him as his enemies attempt to soil his reputation in the public eye.
“A Hero” is a weighty film because it examines the dire consequences of being famous. At his core, Rahim is just an ordinary, flawed man who has done his fair share of good and bad in his life. But when the media publicizes his good deed, they make him out to be a hero and put him on a pedestal — and it’s quite a fall back down to the ground. The slightest blunder and he becomes the worst of villains, to the point where people would prefer to help a murderer before helping Rahim.
Throughout the film, there are numerous shots of Rahim and other characters going up and down stairs, symbolizing the rise and fall of public favor and the people’s constant vacillation between compassion and condemnation. The problem with living in the public eye is that you can only ever be a hero or a villain — when, really, Rahim is something in between. But there is no room for an ordinary man who’s doing anything he can to get out of prison and go home to his precious son. There is no room for compassion, or for truth.
The events in this film aptly demonstrate how a few selectively chosen facts can turn into rock-solid truth. In the hands of a large group of people, a story can take on a life of its own — and seeing this through the lens of Rahim made me rethink my many varying opinions on different celebrities. It’s just so easy to form split-second evaluations of a person’s character or personality based on a five-minute video. It’s so simple to see the individuals on a screen as flat, two-dimensional characters that I can judge as I please. Although Rahim is a fictional character, the story of his life reveals that what you hear on TV or see on social media is only the slightest slice of truth about a person’s life. The only way to truly know a person is to be up close and personal, to actually enter into their circle and be a part of their life. It’s the whole “don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins” saying from the book “Walk Two Moons.” And it carries even more weight, now, in a world that runs on the internet.
“A Hero” is a heartbreaking tale. But it’s also a necessary one. It speaks to the isolating experiences of those who’ve grown up in the limelight, and it reminds the rest of us that, no matter how much we read on the internet, we’re not likely to ever understand the full truth of a person’s life. “A Hero” reminds us to treat others with compassion and forgiveness because, when all is said and done, we’re just flawed human beings trying to make sense of our lives.
Daily Arts Writer Pauline Kim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.