Nothing is fair in this world.
The world spins, a globe constructed of thin plaster, held together by decomposing paper currency and false morality. Slowly we drown in the murky swamp of interwoven expectations and cultural machinations, reputation and perception overwhelmingly defining our existence until there’s nothing left, no thoughts left about how to navigate any of it all with any clarity. It seemed so easy in the past, to take something rough and unhewn, to chisel away at the blank slate and create something from scratch. Now millennia of wind and dust has swept the carvings into an indecipherable mess, and all that’s left to do is build an endless, futile staircase, shaky scaffolding that only allows us to slowly repair a crumbling façade to no avail.
Asghar Farhadi’s A Hero is a tapestry of tumbling morality, crushing modernity, and the impossible intersection of the two, eloquently poeticizing the way our evolving interconnectivity and eternal dependence on capitalism continues to erode the wellbeing of the struggling. Rahim (Amir Jadidi), imprisoned at the hands of an aggravated creditor, is desperate for a way out, but invariably finds himself unable to cure his insolvency from behind the cold concrete walls of his cell. Opening the film with this excruciating impasse, there’s an immediate and overwhelming sense of frustration, a knowing unease that for Rahim, there’s no logical way out of his quandary.
Farhadi’s tendency to depict the spiraling mania of dissolving social constructs in the midst of a central ethical struggle is on full display here, and A Hero is a microcosmic impressionist painting of cyclical poverty as a result of mistakes that may never have been in our control at all. Conjuring the aching desperation of Bicycle Thieves (1948) and the terrifyingly impossible struggle of Woman in the Dunes (1964), Rahim winds through the dusty streets of south Iran’s Shiraz, a small town where word travels fast and rumors infect like a vicious plague.
It seems such innocuously simple moment of serendipity that provides Rahim a potential avenue of escape, when his girlfriend Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldust) happens across an abandoned bag filled with gold coins, perhaps valuable enough for Rahim to bargain with his creditor. But the moral crossroads that meets at the center of the sleek leather bag with a broken strap is merely the tip of the iceberg as Farhadi continues to unravel the chain reaction this single moment releases. Here the film slowly begins to circle its title, floating the concept of “A Hero” atop our protagonist before calling to question how that word can truly be defined. Rahim makes the righteous choice, but no moment can exist in a vacuum, and the path that led him to heroism is littered with loose threads ready to be tugged before his thread of desperation is released from its form.
With Farhadi’s elegant and delicate direction, everything about A Hero becomes painfully human, a challenging watch if only because it holds a mirror to our actions, both individually and collectively, and how they trickle down and affect others. It doesn’t come down to the mere simplicity of putting you in Rahim’s shoes but expands to the intricate complexity of a web of comprehensible sympathy reaching through each and every character. It’s upsetting because it all seems so avoidable, and yet there is no single catalyst to direct your anger towards besides a system that has slowly eroded our ability to act selflessly and with complete empathy. Every action, no matter how heroic it can be perceived to be, becomes deeply mired in rotten self-interest and wrenching avarice, and the villain is the slowly dissolving fibers of human connection as we submit to the failures of our crumbling empire of greed.