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Persepolis was originally a series of two books; the story is a critically acclaimed Memoir by Marjane Satrapi in which she tells of her growing up in Iran in the days of the Islamic Revolution that saw Shah’s regime overthrown (Tan). Marjane recounts the things to which she bears witness: the cruel impact of the war between Iran and Iraq and the success of the Islamic Revolution (Tan).
But what makes the book a great success is its black-and-white comic strip images that send powerful messages, and in spite of the strong themes that the story explores, it manages to be both funny and heartbreaking. Equally remarkable is the intelligence of the young narrator’s unrestrained voice. Like most great literary works, there was hunger to bring the book to the big screen. This effort came to fruition in an animation movie of the same name in 2007.
The movie shares a number of similarities with the book. But that is expected as the book is what gives birth to the movie. The notable thing is that, as is mostly expected when a book is adapted into a movie, the Persepolis movie also deviates from the book in certain ways. The purpose of this paper is to pinpoint and discuss these deviations and differences.
There are quite a number of differences between the book and the movie. For the scope of this paper, the focus will be on the major differences.
Differences in Plot. The first notable difference is in the opening. The first chapter of the book, ‘The Veil’ opens with the description of Marji, 10, in 1980 wearing a veil. But the movie opens with Marji at the airport, who then goes to the bathroom and folds the veil on her head (Tan).
The chapters in the book are patches/bits of selected events of Marji’s life as she tells it. The movie unites these chapters into a flowing story rather than bits of it. But it is still easy to realize that two chapters in the book have been completely done away with in the movie: those of ‘The Letter’ and ‘The Jewels’ (Tan).
In ‘The Letter’ Mr. Satrapi, Marji’s father, is against the love relationship between his maid (Mehri) and his neighbor. His reason, he explains to Marji, is that the said love affair is not possible as relationships between people from different social classes are not permitted (Tan). In ‘the Jewels’ we witness a confrontation between Mali and Mrs. Satrapi, plus two other women in a grocery store (Tan); here Mali feels it is better to lose everything to the Iraqis than have her own kind insult her.
These two chapters are quite crucial in exploring some of the themes that Marji touches on in the book. For instance, her father’s attempt to abide by the norms of social relations in trying to end Mehri’s affair with the neighbor, because he does not abide by the Islamic code of dressing which exposes a social conflict within him. And the confrontation at the grocery store reveals internal conflicts between the Iranians in spite of the shared enemy that they are fighting.
Again, while the book gives a detailed account on the relationship between Marji and her first love, Markus, the movie only touches on this briefly. It does not, unlike the book, give us the detailed account on how this relationship contributes to Marji’s learning from experience, her mistakes.
Another notable plot difference is in the end. The scene at the end of the movie is not in the book. In this scene there’s use of color, unlike the exclusive use of black and white in the book. The color is meant to represent the present. In that ‘present’, Marji takes a cab at the airport, and as they are driving away the driver comments on the shitty weather and asks her where she is from. Her answer is ‘Iran’.
Differences in Characterization. Characters are the key drivers of a plot. Cutting certain elements or parts of plot involves either completely doing away with or reducing the role of some characters. In this sense, this movie is no exception.
The characters who have completely been excluded in the movie include the women who insult Mali and Mrs. Satrapi in the grocery store. Even Mali and her children are missing in the movie, Mehri, Mr. Satrapi’s maid, is also missing in the movie (Tan). These characters are missing because the scenes in which they appeared in the book have been excluded in the movie.
Markus, Marji’s first love, has had his role reduced. In the book, Markus appears in almost ten pages as Marji tells of how they met and gives other details of their relationship. In the movie Marji only introduces him and a short while later she catches him cheating on her. The most notably new character, present in the movie but absent in the book, is the cab driver at the end of the movie.
There are a number of reasons for these differences. One is that movies are vision-oriented; Mr. Satrapi’s social conflict is in the mind and as such, is not likely to do much for picture depiction.
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Two, the scene at the grocery store may have been excluded because perhaps there was no more need to explore the theme of Iranians-Iranians conflict as many other chapters had already done the same such as the religious gatherings that reveal conflicting responses of the Islamic dressing code.
Three, that while the book is the story told by Marji, the movie is mainly the story of Marji. In other words, while the book focuses on what Marjani bears witness to, the movie focuses on Marjani. Therefore, there’s an attempt to reduce the number of characters and win as much attention for Marji as possible.
Four is time factor, while books can be picked and dropped any time, movies thrive in holding people in one sitting. So they have to consider the length. They have to be as short as possible in order to retain the audience’s attention. Movies therefore tend to focus on a particular story within an entire text. In this movie, the main focus is given to Marji and most of those elements of plot, including certain characters, in the book thought to be worthless to the main story of Marji are dropped in the movie.
These similarities and differences are expected because both the book and movie share a story, and are also two different media with their own governing rules of story-telling. And so in this case, in spite of all the differences, the movie is still taken to be a great adaptation of the book.
Tan, Sarah. “Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi.” 2003. Web. <https://www.popmatters.com/persepolis-2496242856.html>.