Psychoanalytic Criticism of Majid Majidi’s The Color of Paradise
The Color of Paradise (known as Rang-e Khoda in Persian – literally “Color of God”), directed by Majid Majidi, is an Iranian film that is wrought with psychological contrast between the 2 main characters, Hashem and his 8-year-old son Mohammad, who is blind. Hashem and Mohammad are two souls, each representative of the past and future of the other and each undergoing a process of individuation and transformation as described by Carl Jung. Hashem is motivated throughout the film by his desire for a life of satisfaction and security for him and his family, while Mohammad is driven by his quest for “The Real,” as described by Lacan, which, in Mohammad’s case, is to “know” God.
The Color of Paradise begins only after the words “To the Glory of God” appear on a black screen and the screen remains black for a few minutes, while we hear the voices of boys and their teacher as radio music plays in the background. Majid Majidi begins his film by giving us the aural experience of a blind person before substituting a visual one for all those who can see. The soundtrack remains important throughout the film with its alternating chorus of woodpeckers, wind, birds, insects, rain, footfalls, and rushing streams, as these are the sounds through which Mohammad “sees” the world.
The action of the film opens in Tehran at a school for the blind attended by Mohammad. It is the end of the term and Mohammad is waiting for his father to pick him up so that he can return to his small village near the Caspian Sea for the summer holidays. When Hashem arrives late and first begs the school administrator to keep Mohammad for the break, we are given our first glimpse into the anxiety with which Hashem navigates the world. When the administrator refuses his request and rebukes Hashem for attempting to shirk his responsibilities, it is not long before the viewer witnesses manifestations of Hashem’s castration anxiety. Hashem feels deep shame about his son’s disability. He feels that his son’s blindness is a reflection of his own manhood, that to have produced an heir that is imperfect and, perhaps, unable to care for him when he is old, makes him less of a man. Several times throughout the film Hashem is faced with the option of saving Mohammad from danger or allowing him to fall out of a tree (this incident takes place in the first minutes of the film), tumble down a ravine, or drown. In the first two incidents Hashem hesitates and ultimately chooses inaction, although Mohammad remains safe. In the third incident, Hashem hesitates but chooses to act, although his hesitation has dire consequences for Mohammad and for himself.
History of Color Photography Color photographs have now gained the status of one of the most common commodities of modern living. It is quite impossible for us to imagine newspapers and magazines without them. However, it took a long time for the practitioners of photography to develop a reliable technique of color imaging. In 1777, Karl Shille discovered that silver chloride darkens, after it was ...
Hashem attempts to hide his son’s condition from all through avoidance. He avoids relationships with the other men in the village, for fear they will judge his manhood. He misinterprets the advances of the other children in the village toward Mohammad as cruelty and contempt, rather than the friendly playfulness they actually are. Hashem projects his fears onto his son and, though he loves Mohammad, treats him with resentment. We learn that Hashem, who is a widower, intends to remarry and that his betrothed does not know of Mohammad’s existence. Hashem fears that her family will perceive Mohammad’s blindness as a bad omen and will not allow the union.
On the journey to their village, we also are able to study the character of the child Mohammad. We have seen that his father seems to live in the spiritually restrictive order of “the Name-of-the-Father,” as originally theorized by Lacan and described by Tyson as the time that “we learn the rules and prohibitions of our society, and those rules and prohibitions were and still are authored by the Father, that is, by men in authority past and present” (Tyson 31).
When I was first asked to give a talk on mothers, since it would be mother’s day. I started wondering how Mother’s Day came to be. I was surprised to discover that Mother’s Day has a history longer than Christianity! Ancients celebrated Isis (Mother of the Pharaohs), Rhea (Greek Mother of the Gods), and Cybele (The Great Mother). The worship of these ancient goddesses is similar to the reverence ...
However, Mohammad has had a greater spiritual progression. He believes in God and seeks to “know” Him through his extraordinary senses of hearing and touch. At the opening of the film we saw Mohammad learning to read and write in Braille. Now we see him using this knowledge to try to understand what God is communicating with him through nature. Mohammad and the immortal, God, can be described in terms of Carl Jung’s theory of Natural Transformation. Mohammad and the immortal are a “pair of Dioscuri, one of whom is mortal and the other immortal, and who, though always together, can never be made completely one” (Jung 131).
However, Mohammad seeks this “oneness.” He “reads” the pebbles in a stream bed and the bumps on the back of a fern leaf, and listens to the “writing” of a woodpecker in a tree. Mohammad is full of joy and without fear. Tyson describes this as the knowledge that, “God the Father will be there for us and with us” (Tyson 23).
Mohammad is lacking self-consciousness and, although it seems he has attained a level of spiritual awareness of “The Real,” it also seems that he still exists in Lacan’s “Imaginary Order,” as his perceptions of the world around him are without cynicism.
Mohammad lost his mother at a tender age, and perhaps has replaced that crucial connection to his mother with a connection to nature. Melanie Klein describes this phenomenon in her essay Sense of Guilt, Love and Creativeness, “The relation to nature, which arouses such strong feelings of love, appreciation, admiration, and devotion, has much in common with the relation to one’s mother, as has long been recognized by poets. The manifold gifts of nature are equated with whatever we have received in the early days from our mother” (Klein & Riviere, 108).
As they arrive at their little village, Hashem and Mohammad are greeted by Hashem’s mother and Mohammad’s two young sisters. It is clear right away that these three adore Mohammad and harbor none of the resentment and fear possessed by Hashem. Mohammad’s sisters have not yet begun their summer holidays, so Mohammad asks to attend school with them. He is welcomed warmly into the school by the instructor and by the other children, but Hashem is, again, fearful that Mohammad will be judged and that he, in turn, will be emasculated. Mohammad spends time with his sisters and his grandmother and continues to listen for God’s message in the sounds of nature. He talks to himself, deciphering the code through his knowledge of Braille. Jung discusses this phenomenon of holding a conversation with our inner immortal, “You need not be insane to hear his voice. On the contrary, it is the simplest and most natural thing available” (Jung 131).
Rhythm and the Tyger The Tyger is one of the most famous works by William Blake. It is a great poem, which clearly shows the reader the way in which poetic devices and sound and rhythm affect the meaning of a poem. William Blake questions the nature of God, and faith. He asks two important rhetorical questions in the poem. Does God create both good and evil If so what right does God have to do ...
Hashem is a mere unskilled laborer and his family is poor, so his options are limited. He seems to view the opportunity to marry as a “start over” and believes that, perhaps correctly, this is the best thing he can do for his family. In her essay Depreciation and Contempt, Joan Riviere describes the importance of being given a “fresh start,” “The impulse to a fresh start is really one great motive behind a very important phenomenon in human life, so important that it has been regarded by some observers as an instinct in itself and called the herd instinct” (Klein & Riviere 24).
Hashem is scared that his fiancé will discover his secret, so he makes arrangements with a local blind carpenter to take on Mohammad as an apprentice.
Hashem delivers Mohammad to the carpenter, despite his mother’s pleas not to, and returns to his village. On his journey we see that he has his own relationship with nature, far different from that of his son. The sounds of nature that Mohammad uses to navigate and experience the world are, in contrast, a source of fear in Hashem. Hashem is unnerved by the ominous sounds in the forest and is angered by the hindrance of the rain. Klein also discusses this relationship in the above-mentioned essay, “With people who are living under such hard conditions of nature, the struggle for a livelihood serves other (unconscious) purposes as well. Nature represents to him a grudging and exacting mother, whose gifts must be forcibly extolled from her…feeling unconsciously guilty for his aggressive impulses towards his mother, he expected (and still unconsciously expects now in his relation to nature) that she would be harsh with him” (Klein & Riviere 110).
Nature as mother is a recurring theme in the film. Hashem knows he has caused his mother pain by going against her wishes and his guilt is manifested in his belief that nature will be “harsh with him.” He is displacing his fear and guilt onto nature. Upon Hashem’s arrival at his home, he is unable to meet his mother’s eyes and she immediately knows what he has done, despite her objections. Hashem begs her to understand why he has sent Mohammad away, “What have I done wrong to be stuck with taking care of a blind child for the rest of my life? Who will look after me when I am old and weak? Why doesn’t that great God of yours help me out of this misery? Why should I be grateful to Him? For the things I don’t have? For my miseries? For a blind child? For the wife I have lost?” (The Color of Paradise).
In Richard Wright’s “Native Son”, emotions are a very important element, especially that of fear. Blacks are afraid of whites, whites are afraid of blacks, women are afraid of men, and everyone is afraid of communists. In the novel, however, no fear is as important as the fears that Bigger Thomas feels. If it weren’t for fear, nothing would happen in the novel. Fear is a ...
Another theme that recurs throughout the film is the presence of water during moments of transcendence or transformation. Mohammad first realizes the potential for communication with the immortal through nature when he is washing his hands in a stream and feels the pebbles at the bottom. Hashem bathes frequently over the course of the events in the film. He is often seen alone in the forest, bathing in a stream, fearful of the sounds around him. Hashem feels tainted by misfortune, so it seems that he is using this bathing ritual as an attempt to wash away these stains, to no avail. Hashem’s mother, who, like Mohammad, has a strong faith in God, also has a relationship with water. She engages in ritual bathing before participating in religious ceremonies, but, unlike Hashem, she does this to honor God and become closer to Him. At the end of the film water serves as the vessel through which both Mohammad and Hashem are rebirthed.
In part, Mohammad represents Jung’s “Child Archetype as a Link with the Past.” Hashem has learned harsh lessons and has been traumatized by misfortune. As a result of this he has undergone the transformation the Jung describes as Abaissement du niveau mental which is caused by “mental fatigue” and has a “deleterious effect on one’s self-assurance” (Jung 120).
This abaissement “reduces one’s self-confidence and the spirit of enterprise, and as a result of increasing ego-centricity, narrows the mental horizon. In the end it may lead to the development of an essentially negative personality” (Jung 120).
Hashem truly loves Mohammad, but denies this love in order to justify the decisions he makes. Hashem seems to feel that to embrace his love for Mohammad would actually cause Hashem to cease making decisions that would be in pursuit of the security he so desperately wants for his family. He fears that his quest for what is tangible will be sidelined by what is merely inconsequential emotion. Joan Riviere describes this internal struggle in her essay Conscience, Morality and Love, “Prosperity as an ideal is concrete and definite; we can test and prove our success in attaining it…It is easy to scoff at and stifle love, impossible to count it like a bank balance; one may readily be deceived about it and mistake for it what is not really love” (Klein & Riviere, 50-51).
Abstract Carl Jung was the illegitimate son of a poet. Jung’s emotional voyage into the psychological unknown began early in his life; he became aware of two separate aspects of his Self. This experience drew him into the field of psychiatry, dealing with subjective phenomena. After relationship trauma, with Freud, Jung began a dangerous and painful journey into the unconscious, he communicated ...
In Islam, the pious do not fear death. To die is to be delivered to Paradise and it is to be embraced without trepidation. As described by the World Assembly of Muslim Youth, “The belief in life after death not only guarantees success in the Hereafter but also makes this world full of peace and happiness by making individuals most responsible and dutiful in their activities” (Islam Guide).
Hashem’s fears in life are caused by his fear of death and, more specifically, his fear of dying alone, his fear of abandonment. Because he has no faith in God, he feels that “Death is the ultimate abandonment” (Tyson, 22).
Shortly after the confrontation between Hashem and his mother, she falls ill. As she is dying, Hashem asks her if she would like him to retrieve Mohammad. Hashem’s mother is not scared of death. Like Mohammad, she has faith in “The Real” and is secure that “there is no absence in The Real” (Lacan).
She only fears for Hashem, for his lack of faith and gratitude, “I’m worried about you, not him” (The Color of Paradise).
She knows that Mohammad’s faith will keep him safe.
Meanwhile, Mohammad is with the carpenter, learning the trade. He is saddened by his father’s abandonment, but he endures, guided by his faith. He tearfully explains to the carpenter, who is kind to him, that even if his family no longer loves him, he will continue to seek to know God, “‘God is not visible. He is everywhere. You can feel Him. You can see Him through your fingertips. Now I reach out everywhere for God till the day my hands touch Him and tell Him everything, even all the secrets in my heart” ((The Color of Paradise).
Existence of God The truth behind the existence of god. As a flesh and blood we seem to aspire to be immortal, we have created stories guidelines ways in which we our able to become immortal. Christians call it jesus others call it alla or buddha. Does this make one better then the other or is just a set of rules that we all follow just so mankind can prosper. Is faith a trait that isl eared or is ...
Unlike his father, Mohammad does not fear death.
Hashem’s mother soon dies and Hashem is left distraught. His anguish is compounded when his fiance’s family calls off the wedding. They believe that the death of his mother is the bad omen that Hashem has feared all along. I think that Hashem views these events as punishment for his decisions and as proof that he is unworthy of God’s grace. In her essay Greed, Joan Riviere explains this thought process, “One great reason why a loss of any kind can be so painful is that unconsciously it represents the converse idea, that we are being exposed as unworthy of good things, and so our deepest fears are realized” (Klein & Riviere 27).
Perhaps hoping to redeem himself and reverse his fortune, Hashem decides to retrieve Mohammad from the carpenter. As they travel back to their village, the bridge they are crossing collapses and Mohammad plunges into the raging river and is swept away. Hashem looks on in horror and, for a moment, we can see him struggle with whether or not he will rescue his son. If he chooses to do nothing, he will be rid of this burden. If he chooses to take action, he will be doing what his conscience is telling him is the right thing.
Like Mohammad, Hashem has a greater and a lesser in his soul. Hashem’s greater is Mohammad, who represents the faith that Hashem lost long ago. Although Mohammad still intends to seek out God’s word, he has become disillusioned by his father’s abandonment. Over the years, Hashem has become “unchildlike and artificial, and has lost his roots” (Jung 162).
He now cares only about the material pursuits. Jung would describe Hashem as being the cause of Mohammad’s new questions about the role of God in his life, “He who is truly and hopelessly little will always drag the revelation of the greater down to the level of his littleness, and will never understand that the day of judgment for his littleness has dawned” (Jung 121).
This is Hashem’s “day of judgment.” After a hesitation, Hashem takes off, running down-river, hoping for an opportunity to rescue Mohammad. Hashem fails to rescue Mohammad, however, and himself nearly drowns in the treacherous current. After disappearing under water, Hashem finally emerges again, bruised and unconscious, on a beach at the Caspian Sea. Slowly he awakens to wild geese passing overhead, only to see his son’s body lying farther down the shore. In the last of the film’s shots, amidst mud and clouds and crying birds, Hashem tearfully goes to the boy and tries to revive him. Then the camera cranes down to light on one of Mohammad’s hands, which simultaneously moves as it is illuminated by a heavenly beam. Was the boy merely unconscious, like his father, and is he now waking up? Was he dead and has he been brought back to life by a benevolent God pleased at Hashem’s change of heart? Is Mohammad in fact dead, having been defeated by the sea, the mother of all that lives, and does the heavenly light signify that he is now in God’s hands, and his grandmother’s blissful company, in the afterlife? We cannot know, because The Color of Paradise ends on this ambiguous note of tragic hope.
Mohammad has become the “Archetype of the Child as Beginning and End” (Jung 177).
The film opened with him in a pre-conscious state of early childhood, not yet having experienced the trauma of abandonment. The film ends with Mohammad entering into a “post-conscious essence,” which is an “anticipation by analogy of life after death” (Jung 178).
Hashem has undergone a rebirth, in the form of an “Enlargement of personality” (Jung 120).
Whether or not Mohammad lives is irrelevant, because the one who needed to be saved is Hashem and it appears that he has been, “everything that rises up from within can only be made our own if we are capable of an inner amplitude equal to that of the incoming content…a man grows with the greatness of his task. But he must have within himself the capacity to grow” (Jung 120-121).
Hashem’s remorse at his son’s suffering is clear and he seems to have found the capacity to grow. The two halves of his soul, the greater and the lesser, can now become one.
This film offers an exemplary comparison study between two characters motivated by very different forces. While Hashem is driven by fear (fear of emasculation, fear of abandonment, fear of death, fear of failure) his son Mohammad lives without fear. Mohammad embraces life and does not fear death, confident that God is with him all the time. Mohammad seeks to know God and believes that God is communicating with him, while Hashem ascribes his obstacles to a God who deems him unworthy of His grace. In the end, faith conquers fear, though it does so through tragedy.
The Color of Paradise (aka Rang-e Khoda).
Dir. & Writer Majid Majidi. Perfs. Hossein Mahjoub, Mohsen Ramezani. Sony Pictures Classics, Columbia TriStar, 1999.
Jung, Carl. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Trans. Hull, R.F.C. New York, NY: Bollingen Foundation Inc. by Pantheon Books, 1959.
Klein, Melanie, and Joan Riviere. Love, Hate, and Reparation. W W Norton & Company, 1964.
Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis 1954-1955. W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.
Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide. 2nd ed. Routledge, 2006.
“How do Muslims View Death?.” Islam Guide. World Assembly of Muslim Youth. Web. 8 Dec 2010. .