Most people have been in a situation similar to the one presented in Asghar Farhadi’s latest film, A Hero. Sure, maybe they haven’t been in prison for the inability to pay off a debt, but finding an item of value is an age-old debacle when deciding what to do with it. Clearly, the right thing to do would be to return it to its rightful home. But life is rarely so cut and dry, and this film uses its entire runtime to anxiously remind you of this very fact. It seems near impossible to do the right thing nowadays, especially when it’s so often met with vitriol and questioned authenticity. Some people would pocket the valuables for a simple fact about humans: it will be easier than trying to track down the owner. Others would try and find the owner in hopes of a reward, but if it’s not done selflessly, does that still make it a good deed? There are countless versions of this scenario any audience member of A Hero could perceive or have experienced, and that’s part of what Farhadi’s film sets out to accomplish.
The very nature of humans is a battle between self-interested preservation and a quest to make a name for oneself; whether it be a name that lives in honor or infamy is merely up to the individual moral code one may have. And if life is a complicated journey, the ambiguous nature of morals is arguably the biggest reason. In the case of Rahim, the lead character of A Hero, his very nature is called into question time and time again. Facing a massive debt that has kept him in prison for 3 years, stumbling upon a bag of gold coins seems like a free ticket out. Instead, Farhadi is able to mine an occurrence such as this to dig into the very nature of what makes a decision inherently good, and if the person behind it all can be considered a hero. It’s a deeply refreshing aspect surrounding this film, where the filmmaker doesn’t take sides and allows its audience to grapple with the ramifications of every decision made.
This is a deeply human film at its core, and not just from a thematic perspective. To put it bluntly, A Hero feels realistic in a way that many films don’t. Some might assume that a story such as this would require some cinematic flair, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. In its more dramatic or tense moments, a Hollywood film would cut after our protagonist slams a door upon giving his riveting claim of righteousness. But here, there are no protagonists, and the closest person we have to that is called out for his behavior and “reminded of his place”. We merely have characters looking out for themselves, in both a world and a film that won’t look out for them. Explosive arguments don’t end with a bang in A Hero, but with a whimper and look of utter defeat. These rules of society dictate everything surrounding the actions of our characters, and these rules (and the ensuing results), are amplified by local news and online virality.
It’s easy to have an opinion when reading 240 characters without context, or a headline specifically designed to attract the most base part of your attention. The nuance, and true discussions or even dilemmas, come from the details, of which Farhadi presents plenty. Just when it feels as if Rahim could not get into any more of a hole from a situation being taken wildly out of his grasp, Farhadi flips the script yet again. Even down to its final moments, there’s a sliver of hope that everything will get a neat bow wrapped around it. But to do so would be a disservice not just to the film itself, but to its audience. When asked about his use of ambiguity, Farhadi said, “This aspect makes the relationship between the film and the viewer more lasting beyond the screening. It gives the viewer the opportunity to think more about the film and to dig further into it”. In most cases, people will always consider themselves right over another person. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the way of life, and the damning final shot of this film amplifies this notion painfully.
A Hero will be described as many things in the years to come, but perhaps the most fitting way to do so is also the simplest one: it’s complex. It’s a film about the tangled mess that is a person’s ability to make choices for themselves, or for the good of those around them. What some deem a selfless act, others may see as a scheme. The film spends a lot of time trying to get to the root of Rahim and his reasoning, yet these answers often bring further stress and questions. It’s a film that is made to leave you feeling complicated about the decisions made. People and the very nature of choice are contradictory to one another, but at the very least, we can learn to be more understanding. And it would appear that if Farhadi wants audiences to do anything, even if it’s the bare minimum, it would be to understand one another. Because without that common level of understanding, what do we have?
Amazon Studios will release A Hero in select theaters on January 7th, 2022 and on Prime Video January 21st, 2022.