The couple has been married for 7 years, and has a son, Ali. Hamid is a self-absorbed intellectual who can’t accept the fact that his wife no longer loves him and wants a divorce.
He is so distraught over his wife’s rejection that he spends all of his time either remembering how happy he used to be or fantasizing about how life should be. He spends so much time obsessing about his wife that his job and health suffer. He constantly tries to seek comfort from his mentor, Ali, but he can’t seem to find him. In a final desperate attempt to end his misery, he borrows his grandfather’s rifle and attempts to kill Mahshid. Unable to kill his wife, he drives to the beach and tries to drown himself. During his suicide attempt, he has a final dream where every problem in his life is resolved; Mahshid decides to stay with him, his boss is happy with his performance at work, and he has found his mentor, Ali. When he wakes from this dream, he realizes that Ali has rescued him from drowning and nothing in his life has changed.
Artistic Cultural Background
“In 1997, Hamoun was voted the best Iranian film ever made by a survey of Iranian film critics.”(First Run Features). Before Hamoun, Iranian directors “shied away from depicting married couples due to Iran’s strict censorship codes that forbid any displays of affection or even touching by non-married actors.”(Hamoun). Since the couple in this movie is estranged, the director is able to omit physical contact, thus making the movie meet the requirements of the actors.
Dariush Mehrjui used “Felliniesque dream sequences” (Hamoun) to depict Hamid’s desires, dreams, and fears. Felliniesque is defined as “a unique combination of memory, dreams, fantasy, and desire…(they) are deeply personal visions of society, often portraying people at their most bizarre.” (Wikipedia). The use of this style of sequences adds a sense of depth to Hamid’s emotions. The chaos of his dreams draws the viewer into the thoughts of Hamid, and allows the viewer to experience his sense of helplessness in his life.
Historical Cultural Background
The theme of Hamoun is the effect of westernization on the Iranian middle-class, and the problem of trying to balance the assimilation of the western culture while still following Iranian cultural and religious customs.
Hamoun “looks at a class facing an identity crisis a decade after the 1979 Revolution.”(Hamoun). Hamid’s lawyer tells him “you were deceived by the upper class. You sold yourself, your honor, your soul.”(Hamoun). Hamid focuses on providing a big house for his family and money for Mahshid to pursue her interests instead of spending time with Mahshid and Ali. He seems to still follow Muslim law by using physical violence to “correct” his wife’s rebellion, but Mahshid has embraced her westernized lifestyle and sees Hamid as a stifling, unloving influence from which she must escape.
“By the end of 1982, the country experienced a reaction against the numerous executions and a widespread feeling of insecurity… The government saw that insecurity was also undermining economic confidence and exacerbating economic difficulties.” (Iran Chamber). The middle class was insecure in light of Khomeini’s violence against all people who embraced western influences. Like Hamid, they were caught between becoming successful and more materialistic, and being persecuted, or staying true to their culture as defined by Khomeini and his followers.
As in Unit 7’s story, “Zaabalawi”, Hamid’s mentor, Ali, is also elusive throughout the movie, and only appears at the end to save Hamid. Ali is seen throughout the movie only in Hamid’s dream memory sequences; except for the one time Hamid thinks he sees Ali in a car beside him. Hamid recklessly follows the car, only to lose it when he speeds through a stop sign and crashes into another car.
Hamid remembers being trained by his mother to follow Islam traditions, and he takes Mahshid to the shrine during one of their dates. I learned about the Islam religion in Unit 8, which helps me understand Hamid’s actions and prayers. In Islam, Abraham is upheld as the symbol of ultimate belief because of his willingness to sacrifice his only son. Hamid tells Mahshid’s mother about his quest to understand Abraham’s faith and love, and tells her “one has to be like Abraham, willing to destroy one’s beloved in order to regain her.”(Hamoun).
My friends Carly and Nikki watched the movie with me. Carly was surprised at the size of the house the Hamouns lived in- she didn’t realize how affluent Iran had become. She commented that their house was bigger than hers! She also remarked at how Hamid only seemed to have an intellectual interest in faith/tradition because he just wanted to study it and understand it, but his actions went against his faith and tradition. She thought his suicide attempt was due to the fact that he realized that he couldn’t be like Abraham in the Bible or his mentor, Ali, until he could be at peace with himself- something he probably thought was impossible.
Nikki commented on the fact that Hamid’s clothes were so modern and American (jeans, tennis shoes, and sunglasses) in contrast to Mahshid’s traditional black hijab. She said that she still pictured Iranian men in robes with a head covering, and with unkempt facial hair. She liked seeing the written Farsi and just having the English subtitles because it made the movie more exotic and real to her.
We were all offended by the idea that Mahshid had to get her husband’s agreement before she was granted a divorce because we can’t imagine not having equal rights with men. But we all agreed that this story of marital conflict, a distorted sense of self, attempts at happiness through material comforts is a story that a person of any culture can relate to.
Hamid doesn’t just fight against his wife’s rejection; he also struggles against loving his wife and son, and abusing/neglecting them.
Hamid blames the problems in the marriage on Mahshid’s psychiatrist and what he perceives as Mahshid’s mental breakdown (she became a successful artist). He eavesdrops on his wife’s therapy session with the psychiatrist, and hears her describe the reasons she fell in love with him- “his childish enthusiasm, his curiosity, his knowledge- he made me unfold.”(Hamoun). She then tells the psychiatrist that she fell out of love with him because of his unfounded jealousy and violence against her. She remarks,” Just because he is stronger, he must tyrannize me?” The psychiatrist responds, “It’s common to all Iranian men to tyrannize.”(Hamoun).
The Koran states, “Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other…As for those (wives) from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them.” (Koran). In America, most women don’t accept abuse and would not consider the abuser full of love.
The lack of bond with his son, Ali, is apparent when he picks his son up from daycare, and Ali’s only comment to Hamid is “where is my bike?” Ali doesn’t seem to miss his father, and does not say anything to him even when Mahshid drives up and takes Ali away.
Hamid refuses to see Mahshid as successful, and continues to call her art “junk”, but she sells several paintings at an art gallery. Hamid’s refusal to divorce Mahshid seems more about his desire to remain in control of his life than his love for her.
Hamid’s struggle to become more like Abraham, and even like his mentor Ali, is a main theme in this movie. He is impulsive, emotional, irrational, and temperamental. He focuses his research and study on Abraham’s lack of struggle with God’s requirement of the sacrifice of Isaac because he can’t understand this kind of faith. He can’t relate to Ali’s acceptance that his family has disappeared, and that he can have peace in his life without solving the mystery of where his family has gone. As Ali tells him, “Whether I search or don’t search, what does it matter? I am no longer in it.”(Hamoun).
Hamid drives himself mad by worrying and fighting against an event he didn’t initiate and goes against his desires- his wife’s wish to divorce him. Unlike Abraham or Ali, Hamid can’t put faith or trust in anything but himself, and this inability to let go ultimately drives him to attempt to take his own life.
Hamid also cannot seem to accept responsibility for any conflict in his life. He blames his wife’s psychiatrist for his problems with Mahshid, and blames his use of violence on his need for quiet while writing his thesis. He tells his coworker and boss that he can’t focus on his job because of the impending divorce, and chastises his boss for focusing solely on business that exploits poor countries when he demands that Hamid finish a report.
Mahshid was only a minor character in this film, because the focus was on Hamid’s struggles, not hers. I didn’t really get to know her through the film because I was never given any insight to her thoughts and feelings, only Hamid’s. I would have liked to know more about her; I was unable to sympathize with her as much as I could have because I didn’t know why she made some of the decisions she did, and I thought she was very self-absorbed and callused because she didn’t care how Hamid felt.
“Decades of westernization and modernization during the Pahlavi era have created modern and ultra-modern groups that easily fit into any modern setup anywhere. The way people behave, eat or drink, dress and how easily they interact with the opposite sex is normally an indication of how traditional or modern they are (even what class they belong too) and what to expect when dealing with them. With the more modern, females have no problems wearing heavy make up, exposing body parts or dress sexy while in company of males. With the more traditional, female dress codes are modest and a lot more conservative with darker colors and little make up. With such groups, at mixed gatherings males and females normally end up as clusters on their own if not segregated in the first place.” (Iran Chamber)
All cultures have differences of opinion in between generations. This movie shed’s light on the conflicts in Iranian culture, and shows us that, while we may be tempted to dismiss their conflicts as generational, the difference is in the severity of the underlying anger. Hamoun was almost driven insane with the conflicts westernization and blurred gender roles introduced into his world.
Hamoun was an interesting, insightful look into conflict- in marriage, between parents and their child, and within a nation still struggling to define accepted customs. By leaving the ending open, we are left to wonder if Hamid can reconcile with Mahshid or if he will continue to fight the divorce.