Friday, February 17, 2017

Women in Horror: Under the Shadow

* spoilers *

Under the Shadow tells the story of Shideh and her daughter Dorsa's lives in 1980's Iran. Shideh is an outsider in many ways in this society. The film opens with Shideh begging to return to university to become a doctor, but getting denied due to her political activism during the Iranian Revolution. Her progressive views and willingness to fight for them puts her at a disadvantage and she's stuck as a housewif when she doesn't want to be. In her apartment building, she's the only woman who drives. In the sanctuary of her home, she wears more comfortable clothing, watches movies and workout tapes on her contraband VCR, wears more revealing workout clothes, and vents her anger and frustration. Outside of her home, Shideh has to be properly covered and act demurely enough to escape notice. She is essentially forced to keep her true self suppressed in a reactionary society that would doel out grave consequences if she didn't.

Her husband Iraj doesn't suffer as Shideh does. He chose to continue with his studies instead of protesting or fighting and currently practices as a doctor. This is a source of tension between the two because he has everything she wants because of his gender and his choice to do nothing during the revolution. His assessment of her not being able to return to her schooling is "it's for the best," which is so incredibly rude especially from his place of privilege. He is not supportive at all and seems only self serving. He is drafted onto the front lines as a medic, but hides the notice from Shideh. When she isn't happy with that, he twists her words to mean she doesn't love him or Dorsa. He commands her to stay with his parents even when she made it clear that she can take care of Dorsa herself. His actions and words constantly undermind her and go against her wishes. He obviously agrees with his society's view of women through his actions even if he doesn't explicitly state it.

War is ever present in Shideh's everyday life. Explosions are heard while she's at the university and gunfire and alarms are typical occurances. Everyone places tape on their windows so they won't shatter when explosions got off nearby. It gets closer every day until an unexploded missile becomes lodged in the ceiling of her apartment building. In an incredibly tense scene, Shideh administers CPR to a medically fragile man a few feet away from this missile that might explode at any moment. A crack forms in their ceiling that gets bigger and bigger, threatening Shideh's sanctuary that she's made for herself and her daughter. To me, this danger is much more present and dangerous than the supernatural djinn. The very real war that threatens their lives provides much more terror and tension throughout the film. It also acts to isolate them as more and more of their neighbors leave until it's just Dorsa and Shideh alone.

The djinn is an uncommon supernatural creature and it's mythology is unfamiliar to me. In this film, djinn's can possess people after stealing something of they treasure above all else. This information comes from a mute boy who lost his parents in war and from an elderly neighbor. Shideh scoffs at this, but Dorsa can't find her beloved doll Kimia. Mother and daughter are pitted against each other when Dorsa thinks Shideh stole Kimia and Shideh thinks Dora destroyed her work out tape, which was the only release for her stress. After a frightening encounter with the djinn, Shideh runs outside without being properly covered and is shortly after arrested. She's given a warning, but shamed for going out looking so inappropriate. This was a surreal scene. Discounting the djinn, it's a war zone at this point and the state of her clothing seems very low on the priority list. It serves as a reminder within the supernatural elements that the oppressive society has their values and will enforce them no matter what.

At first, I thought the djinn was underdeveloped and cartoonish looking. I didn't realize that it's form was a chador, a cloth to cover the head and upper body of women leaving the face exposed. The djinn is a supernatural embodiment of the oppressive society and the real life horrors. It turns people against you who love you and takes the things you treasure most. For Shideh, her treasured item was a medical text book that was a gift from her mother. It represents her hopes and dreams to be a doctor that were taken from her and made impossible. Dorsa's beloved item is Kimia, but in the future, her career might be unreachable for the same reason. The end of the film has the two escaping, but the djinn still has the textbook and Kimia's head, showing that they aren't truly free and will continue to be held back and denied if they live in Iran.

Muy rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

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