A Hero new on Prime Video

A Hero is a complex moral tale about what it means to be good

One of the year’s front-runners for the Best International Feature Oscar, by the great Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, lives up to the hype.

The title sets the scene in the newest film by the great Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi. A Hero denotes for the audience a person of great moral character. When we first meet Rahim (Amir Jadidi), he’s on temporary release from prison. He’s in jail for being unable to pay a substantial debt. In Farhadi’s fable-like script, his fiancée finds a bag outside of a bank filled with gold. He immediately seizes on the opportunity to settle at least part of what he’s owed. When that backfires, he decides to return the bag. Workers from the prison find out and call the media to share his selfless act. Rahim’s life gets taken up in a whirlwind of a media cycle that celebrates him as a living saint, then tries to tear him down.

In arthouse circles, Farhadi (who has also won two Oscars) has built a reputation as one of the best writers in cinema. With films like A Separation and The Past, he engages with the big moral questions, writing scripts that have a domino-like structure. Small details with seemingly no relevance return to haunt characters, and small actions have devastating, life-altering impacts. No one working today is better at eeking out great moral questions out of ordinary situations on a purely dramatic level. 

As critic Tina Hassanian writes in her book Asgar Farhadi: Life and Cinema, “Farhadi questions the way things work in today’s world, and if there’s one thing his films do blame, it’s the disastrous but near-invisible effect of modern times on the frazzled Iranian psyche, torn between tradition and modernity.” The audience becomes drawn into this frazzled psyche through his use of off-screen space and dramatic irony. The audience knows more and less than the characters.

Consciously or not, the viewer is forced to take a stance. Is Rahim a hero, or isn’t he? Amir Jadidi’s warm but polite performance makes him difficult not to love. He seems nervous as we first meet him, but his soft-spoken and arresting charm quickly overcomes that. Jadidi’s performance navigates a tricky line that eschews easy readings. If we’re moved by his selflessness initially, the narrative throws in a curveball to throw us off again. At least from the beginning, we take for granted expected narrative tropes. He is who the film tells us he is, without realizing he’s the author of his own story. There’s a reason he’s in jail, and it might not be, as he argues, that his debtor has been unjust and vengeful. As the film goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that the initial premise is a false flag. We don’t have the moral high ground necessary to judge Rahim’s heroism; perhaps no one does. 

Asghar Farhadi A Hero
Asghar Farhadi

The audience is left with so many questions. Is it so bad that Rahim tried to settle a debt that has ruined his life, especially when he later changes his mind and returns it? It’s not immediately clear he wanted any attention for his small act, and the prison workers seize upon it as a means of bolstering their reputation. But even Rahim’s humility comes into question. Why call attention to himself within the prison system if he didn’t expect any praise? There are no easy answers. 

In particular, A Hero also reckons with the media’s power to make or break a man. The media loves nothing more than a fallen hero, and as much as they revel in building Rahim up, they take even more pleasure in tearing him down. The film carefully layers moral questions that challenge the audience to reflect on the nature of storytelling itself. What purpose do human interest stories serve? How and why do we allow ourselves to turn on people who hold no power due to a perceived moral error? Has having the world in our pocket irredeemably damaged our ability to relate to one another as complex and flawed human beings?

More than just a great writer, though, Farhadi exceeds in the way he frames events and people. The audience exists as a bystander, only seeing what Farhadi lays out for us. Essential details are omitted or occur in spaces we have not been granted access to. In particular, the dramatic use of these spaces forces a deeper reflection on the unknown. If we’re so quick to judge, has it not occurred to us that we might not have all the information? The making of a moral life is not black and white. 

With A Hero, Farhadi presents a film between fable and painful reflection on modernity. It’s destabilizing ideologically and as gripping as any thriller. It’s a movie that sticks with you and unravels assumptions and preconceptions. It’s a movie that invites you into its world and, as a result, shifts your relationship with the quick and easy trappings of a modern life ruled by powerful algorithms and media narratives. An absolute treasure of a film that centres on humanity and our relationships with our community. 

A Hero, directed by Asghar Farhadi

A Hero is available to watch on Prime Video.

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