A Critical Analysis Of The Importance Of Colour In Persepolis

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In the modern world, colour, and the lack thereof, holds a timeless aesthetic significance that can be applied to all forms of life and objects. This is especially important in many aspects of filmmaking as a way to represent certain emotions whether it be the nostalgia of remembering the past, or conflicts that explores the notions of freedom and restriction. A prime exemplar is Vincet Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi’s 2007 adult animated film Persepolis, a film adapted from Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel of the same name. The film follows a coming of age story of Marjane and how she come to terms with herself amidst political upheaval and influences of Western cultures.

Presepolis uses traditional black and white animation to convey a strong sense of memories and dreams. Black and white are often associated with the past, and opposingly, colour with the present. This is because before modern colourful televisions and prints, everything, from newspapers, films and photography, could only ever be captured in black and white. Persepolis is a memoir that takes place in Iran during the 1980s and thus the movie, and additionally the original graphic novel, chose to illustrate this memory with monochromatic colours to represent the past in an elongated dreamlike flashback. “Black and white seems more a representation of the un-real, of times past and other worldly whereas colour is more realistic and current” (Mills, 2014). In contrast, the fully coloured animation reveals Marjane in her present stage of her modern life. During the early scenes with colours (Refer to figure 1)), the audiences initially feel at ease from the cool hues of blue used for the backdrop of the environment, showing the relaxed nature of the scenery. Blue is commonly associated as nature’s colour for water and sky, emitting a sense of melancholy and calmness. In Middle Eastern cultures, blue is associated with connotations of safety, and symbolic of heaven, spirituality and immortality. On the other hand, Western culture symbolise blue with trust and dignity but can also evoke a sense of depression, hence the American saying ‘feeling blue’ and ‘singing the blues’. This backdrop against the harsh red of Marjane’s red shirt and black hijab reflects the internal turmoil of her emotions and identity, and draws the attention to Marjane from questioning passersby and additionally from us, the audience. Red is a powerful symbol for love and also imposes a sense of danger and violence, reflective of Marjane’s extreme upbringing during times of war. Alongside her crimson modern clothing, the black veil is a reminder of her traditional Iranian ethnicity which only covers her head instead of her entire body, reflective of her identity as a hybrid of both Western and Iranian cultures. Despite the unwanted onlookers at the airport, Marjane remains composed with a mundane expression, reflective of her acceptance as a minority in a foreign country and understanding of the experiences that shapes her unique identity. Her calm demeanor is further complemented with the blue sky plastered behind her, representing a sense of tranquility. However, there is an obvious separation between the two with the harsh black seats and windows that stand in between her and the outside, further creating a discord between her cultural upbringing as a Middle Eastern Islamic women within another country.

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(Figure 1: Marjane at the airport; Image from Persepolis, 2007)

Soon afterwards, the colourful palette seamlessly transitions into a black and white animation for almost the entirety of the film, displaying the contrast between her past naive self and her gradual transition to maturity and adulthood shaped from her experiences, her religious upbringing and the effects of the Iranian revolution on herself and her family. Black and white also connotes to the simple idea of good and evil, reflective of young Marjane’s childlike worldview. ‘In essence, she is in color because she has overcome obstacles of politics, religion, and war to come into her own. She has become who she was meant to be. She is enlightened and illuminated – illustrated in color.’ (Conway, 2010). The evident contrast between chromatic and monochromatic colours displays the spectrum of time between the past and present in a dreamlike quality, which in turn convey changes in values from one’s personal experiences and the acceptance of such changes. In a way Persepolis reveals ‘alternative histories in the heartland of ideology.” (Chakrabarty p 236).

Furthermore, Presepolis conveys the concept of freedom and restraint represented through the use of black and white. The use of black often relays ideas of power, symbolising authority as it is considered a dominant colour. Black usually represents death and darkness, signifying intense emotions, in contrast to white which is often associated with neutrality and purity. Furthermore white also allows mental clarity and induces open mindedness. ‘The combination of black and white always expresses extreme opposites. Symbolically, the ultimate connection is something that all humans can relate to as in the cover of night vs the light of day’ (Eisman, p 64). This is seen through the violent nature of war, the landscape coloured black with ash and smoke depicting the oppressive and deadly nature of war against freedom. The overwhelming use of black also represents the massacre spread across the country, revealing the terrifying aftermath of war. This is furthermore explored when Marji’s family and neighbours are affected by the attacks as they seek shelter deep in the basements (Refer to figure 2). The stairs leading downwards are depicted to be narrow and engulfed in darkness, symbolising imprisonment yet at the same time shelter from the raging war. The flashlight holds their only source of navigation further down into their confinement and consequently represents hope and security from the surrounding danger. Furthermore, to divagate away from the open sky and delve deeper into the underground is representative of the friction between freedom and restriction. The sky is often an allegory for liberation due to the vastness it evokes. Thus the act of straying further away from the upper regions reflects the loss of liberty.

(Figure 2: Marjane and her family seeking shelter in basement, Persepolis, 2007)

Similarly, the use of black and white also helps highlight how clothings are symbolic of a person’s value and how it can be restricting. Due to her religion, Marji wears a hijab, which is coloured black, symbolising restriction as she is forced to wear an oppressive outfit. The veil is also reflective of women in Iranic and Islamic cultures, a particular garment that covers them completely as a political tactic to subjugate and take control over them. ‘Though Marji associated the veil negatively, the Iranian government saw women wearing the veil as an embodiment of cultural authenticity — an expression of Iranian and Islamic culture, rather than repression (Bergolo, pg. 42)’. In the image below we can see her fight against this restriction by wearing a white, punk jacket in contrast to her black, conservative veil, allowing her to form her own freedom of identity outside of her religion. She is however criticized by two overbearing women in veils, spiralling around her in an attempt to constrict her within a small confined space, visually representing the opposing forces of freedom and restriction, with the latter holding a more dominating presence over the former. The women in veils are a representation of the extremely conservative value of retaining their traditions and garments. On the other hand, women who wore white valued freedom. Those wishing for the veil were still living in the dark ages where women were stripped of freedom and expression. This was reflective of the reigning traditional values held by both men and women within the Iranian culture.

(Figure 3: Marjane interrogated by two women, Persepolis, 2007)

While the veil represents restriction, it also establishes a sense of unity. The film delves into this by depicting a group of students donned in the same black veil, showing a sense of unity, further reinforced by the repetitive action of beating their chests with their hands. This, however, also detracts the individuality of each woman, restricted to hold the same values and traditions, which represents Iranian society at large as mechanical, one that lacks freedom in individuality, especially for women. Additionally, clothing is also representative of the separation between the young and the old. “Pale colours can be associated with young children as it is a comforting colour that have traditionally been used for children’s rooms. Psychologically, strong bright colours have shocking effects to a child’s inner vibration, which can make them restless and cause them to cry” (Atkinson, 2004). In Persepolis, most adults are restricted to the same black clothing in contrast to Marji who, as a child, wore mostly white, exhibiting her childhood freedom and innocence. Marji herself slowly starts to wear more black clothing as she transitions into an adult, conveying her lost of innocence as she is constricted to follow the same fate of aging.

A critical analysis of the importance of colour and the lack thereof in film reveals the way colour enhances certain emotions and conflicts. This is exemplified through nostalgia by conveying the contrast between past and present through hues and monochromatic colours, as well as the discord between freedom and restriction from the contrast between black and white. This viewing experience is undeniably enhanced through the lenses of traditional 2D animated films alongside different cinematographiques. Undoubtedly, a richer understanding of the significance of both colour and black and white can be observed through the investigation of Persepolis.


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