Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

Asghar Farhadi (director and writer) A Separation (2011)

The Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi’s internationally acclaimed film, A Separation (2011), presents a sensitive observation of human nature and the complexity of human behaviour in times of conflict and crisis.  The film focusses on moral dilemmas, where essentially good and honest people find it difficult to tell the truth when their welfare and the welfare of their family is at stake.  This drama involves a matrimonial conflict within a family that intersects with an escalating legal conflict between two families. 

While the film deals with conflicts between people, the most difficult conflicts are within the main characters, individuals who become troubled by their own consciences.  Farhadi is fascinated by people who mean well, and who can empathise with their antagonists, but who find themselves acting in ways that contravene their moral principles, such as by lying.

Farhadi also seemed fascinated by chance and how small chance events can produce a chain of events that end up profoundly influencing people’s lives, such as an argument at a front door at the top of a flight of stairs that leaves two families traumatised and damaged.  He is also fascinated in how a disagreement between a husband and wife who still respect each other, which was initially insufficient for a judge to grant them a divorce, could grow so that by the end of the film, divorce seems inevitable. 

Farhadi was also sensitive to how clashes between people can be exacerbated by differences in social class. The dispute between the two families featured in this film is also a dispute between members of different classes.  The family of Nader and his wife Simin is lower-middle-class, and they have a reasonably comfortable life.  Meanwhile, the family of his antagonists, Razieh and her husband Hodjat are working-class and poor.    Most importantly, Hodjat has internalised a sense of inferiority and a belief that others are only too ready to trample on his rights.  Therefore class-differences have added a chip on his shoulder that adds to his already aggressive nature in dealing with others.

The film also presents differing attitudes to the Muslim religion in modern Iran.  The lower-middle-class family in the film is depicted as more relaxed in their religious observance.  They value secular education, providing opportunities for women, and religious principles do not figure in their moral considerations of right and wrong.  Meanwhile, the working-class family is depicted as devoutly religious, being more patriarchal, very strict in their religious clothing and ready to follow religious teachings when facing moral problems. 

Filmed in the cinema verité style, Farhadi sought a naturalistic look and feel to the film and its actors’ performances. In the spirit of this approach to storytelling, Farhadi took care not to judge the characters in his depiction of them, to, instead, position the cinema audience to be the judge of the characters and how they handle their moral dilemmas and challenges. 

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

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The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: A Separation meaning, A Separation themes, A Separation analysis, A Separation notes