December 20, 2015

Tempting Fate: the Western, The Vampire, and the Monstrous-Femininte in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

 Not too long ago, I started Grad School.  Eek.  At the request of a few buddies, and considering the fact that this is also sort of a movies blog, I now present a paper I wrote now some time ago.  Notes and citations are near the bottom.

The history of Iranian cinema is a long and torrid affair, much like that of American cinema, as Hamid Dabashi’s “Close Up: Iranian Cinema Past Present and Future” (2001) at times heartbreakingly describes. But despite the government’s frequent and unrelenting attempts at stifling creativity deemed irreputable or in any way damaging to the state (Dabashi, 32; Tait; Rostami-Povey, 6-7; Wright), there has always been, if not a strong, then a strong-willed underground scene (Dabashi, 33-75), and in recent years Iran has enjoyed more relaxed regulations (Dabashi, 253; Ghazi; Issa; Wright). Iranian American director Ana Lily Amirpour’s film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014), exists as an extension of this constantly reinventing cinematic history by offering a film which, like many classic underground Iranian films (Dabashi, 28), presents an engaging film which nonetheless succeeds in questioning authority. By merging the genre of the western and the vampire film, as well as employing a variety of inversions of the male gaze, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night critiques and denounces patriarchal ideology as well as discusses how westernization has reshaped Iranian culture.  

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (AGWHAAN) presents the story of the nameless lonely vampire, The Girl (Sheila Vand), and the poor, traditionally minded young Arash (Arash Marandi).  The film opens with Arash returning home, after stealing a cat, to find his junkie father, Hossein (Marshall Manesh), once again stoned on heroin.  Shortly after arriving home, Saeed (Dominic Rains), local drug dealer and pimp, arrives, looking for an installment on Hossein’s debts.  With Arash and Hossein having no money to speak of, Saeed steals Arash’s classic car, which Arash begrudgingly allows.  Saeed takes his new ride to meet Atti (Mozhan Marnò), one of his prostitutes, in the park, to bully and take advantage of her.  Watching this occur, The Girl follows Saeed home, enticing him to invite her in.  After Arash retrieves his keys from Saeed’s now dead body, meeting The Girl on his way, he nurses his father through his withdrawal period, now that his heroin supplier is dead.  The Girl then stalks the feverous Hossein after he is rebuked by Atti, who wants nothing more than a professional relationship with him.  Arash, walking home after a rave, high on ecstasy and dressed as Dracula, is picked up by The Girl, who takes him home after at first mistaking him for a vampire.  Following an intimate dance scene, and The Girl befriending Atti, she meets with Arash outside an industrial plant, where she tries to dissuade him from pursuing her, all while hiding her true nature.  Hossein, unable to loosen heroin’s grip, scrounges the last of his money, purchases a night with Atti, and, against her will, forces her to shoot up.  The Girl arrives, and after she kills Hossein, she dumps his body in the alley, with Atti’s assistance.  Upon discovering his dead father, he decides to leave Bad City, and he asks The Girl to come with, even after realizing she murdered his father.  They drive off not into the sunset, but into the dark, for stopping only for a moment’s reflection, before driving off camera and into the unknown.
In stylizing the film as an “Iranian vampire spaghetti western” (Macaulay) Director Amirpour invokes the image of the western film.  The western, a film genre created during the closing of the American frontier in the early 20th century, is arguably as old as popular cinema itself, spaghetti westerns themselves understood as the mid-20th century Italian revitalization of the genre (Reed, 54).  Even prior to the death of the “real” west, the actions of various notable frontier celebrities were dramatized in “wild west shows, theatrical plays, dime novels, newspapers” (Reed, 55), so it comes as no surprise that film would continue in this dramatization.  As the years between the death of the west and the creation of new westerns grew, the films continued to use certain signs and signifiers now synonymous with the genre, but towards different purposes.  Guns, horses, open ranges, these signs remained, but their purposes within the films became more than just western paraphernalia.  A shot of a lone man on a horse, before an enormous empty expanse, is no longer just a character, but the embodiment of the “pure hero of the western,” a man pitted against the open and terrifying wilderness (Reed, 58).  Through the manipulation of these signs, the western developed into a system that not only allowed (glorified/false) reminiscences of the country’s past, but a system by which American filmmakers could discuss relevant contemporary issues, such as mid 20th century westerns using Native American/Caucasian race relations as a metaphor for African American/Caucasian relations.  In this way, modern westerns nostalgically reference not only the narrativized notions of America’s past, but also western cinema’s own history of playing a major role in that narrativization.
The question then posed is whether AGWHAAN can itself take up the “western,” or even “spaghetti western” film mantle.  Toby Reed, in his article “The Six-gun Simulacrum: New Metaphors for an Old Genre” (1996), wrote “the notion of a pure genre is impossible” (Reed, 56), quoting French philosopher Jacques Derrida who believes “as soon as the word ‘genre’ is sounded,” an “impossible boundary,” one in which everything exists both inside and outside of, is drawn (Reed, 54).  Reed notes that “every element inside the genre also exists outside the genre in another context,” but while no genre is pure, or self-contained, the notion of such a thing being impossible, a myth. Derrida saw this impossible boundary as “a permeable membrane” (Reed, 53, 54, 56).  In this sense, the actual signifiers, the guns, the horses, the ten-gallon hats, do not necessarily need to be present in a film for it to be called a western.  The signifieds, the notions the signifying signs point to, do.
Reed writes that Robert Warshow, in his highly influential article "Movie Chronicle: The Westerner" (1962), posits that the “the western is preoccupied with the extrinsic nature of the image – with the image’s surface” (Reed, 64).  Warshow sees this preoccupation with style, as “seen in the images of cowboys,” guns, and other western accouterments, this obsession with “an extrinsic relation to an object,” as standing in direct opposition to the “anti-style of modernism,” to modernism’s intrinsic relation to an “idea” (Reed, 64-65).  The western figure, for Warshow, is all surface, all veneer, no substance, “he is a walking sign whose appearance is his essence” (Reed, 65), Warshow himself saying that, in westerns, “a hero is one who looks like a hero” (Warshow, 200).
We see this preoccupation with image, with outwardly visible signs, at play all throughout AGWHAAN.  Shown almost directly after an extended scene in Arash’s dilapidated apartment, we see the focus on extrinsic preoccupation inherent in the drug peddling pimp Saeed, who surrounds himself with a variety of wealth-signs: an entirely modernized home theater, mounted animal heads, a poorly assembled and obviously unused drum kit.  But Saeed is not the only one putting up a front.  Arash too wishes to appear stylishly wealthy, momentarily succeeding to do so, a street urchin (Milad Eghbali) disbelieving Arash’s claims to have no money to spare based on Arash’s mode of transportation.  Even our vampire, The Girl, has put up a veneer.  Cultural norms notwithstanding, before her hunts she dons a long black hijab, dark black eyeliner, and segmenting black and white striped t-shirt, intimidating to some, enticing to others, but all of which ritualistically layered on, like a protective coating.
The western film’s abhorrence of modernization is played out through The Girl’s systematic humiliation and destruction of Saeed, the film’s most modernized figure, with his modern hair cut and decked out house, and her obsession with and sparing of Arash, a man, a gentleman, with a variety of traditional worldviews, who simply wants to reclaim his classic car steed.  The Girl herself stands as a figure straddling modernity and orthodoxy, or traditionalism.  Posters of modern and classic musicians live harmoniously on her walls, her taste in music, contemporary artists, pressed into vinyl, performing neo-dark wave and post-punk revival, are just a few examples of her transgressive nature, living at once in the past and the present. She isn’t seen outside her home without her hijab, but, beyond being a figure the spectator has been allowed to view topless in a bathing scene, her character has no problems being alone with a man to whom she is not wed, as seen not only in her scene with Saeed, but with Arash. Her existence as a vampire, transgressing the lines between life and death, seem almost secondary in this light.
According to film theorists Thomas Elsaesser and Malte Hagener, the cinema itself, much like how Derrida described the western genre, is a permeable, transgressable membrane, one which “simultaneously connects and separates,” this division implying “special proximity” (Elsaesser, 37).  These thresholds, liminal spaces, such as the auditorium’s screen, or Saeed’s veneer of wealth, can “hide and protect, but they also open up and reflect,” simultaneously protecting and opening up, bringing close and making something present, instead of filtering (Elsaesser, 39).  As well as outwardly reflecting his western-genre-required personal adherence to a preoccupation with style, Saeed’s façade of prosperity and power protects him from being attacked by Arash or Atti when he takes advantage of them.  This façade, however, is also what attracts The Girl.  It is this which catches her attention, bringing her close, inviting her in, to the point where she has not only transgressed the boundaries of his home, and his veneer, but his very skin.
The skin too is a border.  Elsaesser and Hagener see it as a “symbolic interface between Self and the outside world,” “negotiat[ing] and re-distribut[ing] the relation between inside and outside” (Elsaesser, 111). While skin can be seen as “only a cover,” it is also a “means of expression and surface of inscription, … suggesting that much that used to be kept ‘inside’ now wants to be exposed and displayed” (Elsaesser, 115-116).  This mirrors both Derrida’s and their earlier position that borders, drawn boundaries, both protect and reflect. But much in the same way the liminal threshold of the screen opens up and brings close, skin too invites itself to be transgressed, “evok[ing] the cut, the incision and the mark” (Elsaesser, 111).   This “transgression between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, between Self and Other,” for Elsaesser and Hagener, is foundational to the nature of cinema (Elsaesser, 111).  However, this invitation, this desire to “‘reach out and touch someone,’” or conversely, to have the Other’s proximate body draw near, to have someone reach out and touch oneself, commonly evokes horror within the spectator (Elsaesser, 115).  For film theorist Linda Williams, the genre of the horror film combines this horror of an Other’s proximity, of a monster’s boundary transgressions, with images of the abject, which challenges the concept of boundaries at all (Elsaesser, 121).
Both of these qualities are present in AGWHAAN, explicitly so in The Girl, with her existing as a monster, a vampire, that transgresses boundaries, both social and physical, and in doing so presents the spectator with abject images, such as fingers being bitten off, and necks being torn out.  But it is not purely from her undead stature that horror is being evoked, it is also in that she is a woman at all. 
Williams discusses in her essay “Film Bodies: Gender, Genre and Excess” (1991) how the success of a horror film is “often measured by the degree to which the audience’s sensation mimics what is seen on the screen” (Williams, 270).  If characters in the scene are experiencing something horrifying, and the audience is horrified, then the scene is a success.  Horror lacks what other genres, such as drama or documentary, see as “proper esthetic distance,” the audience feeling manipulated by these texts’ “over-involvement in sensation and emotion” (Williams, 271).  Though in apparently unorthodox ways, like other popular genres, horror also often addresses persistent cultural problems (Williams, 276), namely, according to film theorist Barbara Creed, that of the monstrous-feminine.
In “Horror and the Monstrous-Feminine: An Imaginary Abjection” (1986), Creed describes how “all human societies have a conception of the monstrous-feminine,” and how this concept is situated “in the horror film in relation to ‘abjections’,” or “that which does not ‘respect borders, positions, rules’ … threatens life, [and] must be ‘radically excluded’ from the place of the living subject” (Creed, 251-252).
Creed posits that the horror film works as “an illustration of the work of abjection” through copious culturally/socially specific constructed “images of abjection,” including images of the corpse, blood, feces, and images of the crossing or threatening to cross of a ‘border’” (Creed, 253-256). In other words, a bringing about of “an encounter between the symbolic order and that which threatens its stability” (Creed, 256).  While The Girl certainly threatens life, and does not “respect borders,” as has already been discussed, it is not clear as to why too her femininity is monstrous until Creed outlines how, “as constructed within/by a patriarchal and phallocentric ideology,” “the concept of the monstrous-feminine … is related intimately to the problem of sexual difference and castration” (Creed, 251-252).  The horror film’s preoccupation with the abject image of blood, particularly images of “the bleeding body of a woman,” “suggests that castration anxiety,” a terrifying shock Freud believed no human male is spared when viewing female genitals, “is a central concern of the horror film” (Creed, 251, 256).  The sign of a slashed and mutilated female body, Creed writes, is what suggests, what signifies “her own castrated state,” as well as “the possibility of castration for the male” (Creed, 256).
All that said, director Amirpour did not simply create a theoretically successful western/horror film, but one that critiques patriarchal ideology, as well as both glorifies and denounces the westernization of Iran. 
Film has a long and sordid history of perpetuating patriarchal ideology.  Creed’s statements are mirrored by film theorist Laura Mulvey in her essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" (1975).  Mulvey agrees that, in film, “the image of the castrated woman,” symbolizing the threat of male castration via her “real lack of penis,” going further to say that this is what makes cinema’s phallocentric position possible (Mulvey, 14).  The image of woman under this phallocentric film regime, Mulvey posits, “can only exist in relation to castration and cannot transcend it,” signifying the male Other, tying women to their place as “bearer, not maker, of meaning” (Mulvey, 15).  This meaning that they are forced to bear is that of sexual difference, “thus the woman as icon … always threatens to evoke the [castration] anxiety it originally signified” (Mulvey, 22).  Mulvey believes films have two avenues of escape from this anxiety: “fetishism or sadism” (Elsaesser, 96), meaning either taking joy in the objectification of the female image, or taking joy in the destruction of it.  It is within this dynamic that the monstrous-feminine exists, and thrives.
Film theorist Carol Clover, who too mirrors Mulvey and Creed in their assertion that, to the male observer, “the lack of the phallus … is itself simply horrifying” (Clover, 240), wrote in her essay "Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film" (1987) that, as with her topic of choice, slashers, classic horror monsters, such as the wolf man, the poltergeist, the vampire, “represent not just ‘an eruption of the normally repressed animal sexual energy of the civilized male’ but also the ‘power and potency of a non-phallic sexuality’” (Clover, 238).  At the climax of most slashers, when the “final girl” has turned the table on the stalking male figure, generally at the moment she takes the weapon from the antagonist and uses it against him, she is effectively “phallicised,” at that moment halting the plot and ceasing any horror (Clover, 240).  The potential for a feminine victory is thwarted by her reversing of the roles, “angry displays of force” being gendered as masculine, turning the monster into the receptacle of that force, a state the film had up until that point gendered as female (Clover, 240).  While this phallicising of the female protagonist and reversing of roles may seem to only support the first half of Clover’s assertion, the “power and potency of a non-phallic sexuality” is expressed through these film’s desires to stamp out non-phallic power, either through having a phallicised stalking male figure decimate female characters attempting to assert their non-phallic sexuality, or by destroying the de-phallicised/castrated monster once it has failed to retain its agency, its murder weapon.  Horror films express “female desire only to show how monstrous it is” (Clover, 238).
If female desire is only shown to make it monstrous, Amirpour’s The Girl is doubly effective. Even without Clover equating slasher monsters and classic horror monsters in her initial assertion, we can see elements of this playing out in AGWHAAN, again best shown through the first interaction between The Girl and Saeed.  Up to this point in the film, the primary antagonist has been Saeed.  We have seen him intimidate some, bully others, and facilitate and profit from one man’s, and presumably many other’s, self-destructive tendencies.  When The Girl enters his home, an unknowing spectator may be concerned for her safety, assuming her fate to be the same as Atti’s.  After doing a line of cocaine, Saeed approaches The Girl, and attempts to push his finger past the threshold, the border, of her lips.  The Girl opens her mouth slightly, only to reveal her vampiric nature, via the exposure of her fangs.  Saeed, like the spectator, whose wish to transgress the skin, to reach out and touch the Other, has now been amplified, and he allows The Girl to draw his finger into her mouth, taking momentary pleasure from the transgression.  When The Girl, eyes menacing, bites down, and severs Saeed’s digit, she spits it out again, de-phallicising Saeed, but refusing to become phallicised herself.  She playfully mocks his attempts to breach the Other’s skin, caressing his lips with his own severed finger, not only remarking on his now castrated state, but symbolizing the terror inherent in one’s loss of phallic power within the patriarchy, and with her emasculating instrument, her fangs, she then wrestles Saeed’s life from himself.
The truly horrifying aspect of The Girl in AGWHAAN, however, is not her fangs, but her eyes.  Elsaesser and Hagener speak to this power, writing that various structures of visibility and looks find their privileged point of convergence in the eye through film’s articulation of shot, framing, and montage, a presupposed distance allowing “seeing” to act as a “pure act of ocular perception” has the potential power to promise or threaten “mastery or possession” (Elsaesser, 83).  As with all their themes, this concept can be understood as one that effects not only spectators, but characters themselves.  Mulvey mirrors this bleak ending sentiment, writing that while the look can be pleasurable in form, it “can be threatening in content” (Mulvey, 19).  The “traditional exhibitionist role” for women, Mulvey continues, is to simultaneously to be looked at and displayed, “with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact” (Mulvey, 19).  This leads to the implication that “in a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female” (Mulvey, 19).  Clover writes that women are hideously punished when they exercise the “‘active investigating gaze’ normally reserved for males” (Clover, 238-239).  For Elsaesser and Hagener, this leaves “no doubt about the phallic nature of the probing, inquisitive eye,” no doubt about it being the male gaze, aided by prosthetic devices, i.e. cameras, being the one exploring and scrutinizing the female body (Elsaesser, 86).
This is what makes The Girl not only horrifying, but also an instrument wielded in service of critiquing phallocentric films and culture.   When men in the film, be it Saeed, Hossein, or the Street Urchin, attempt to use their gaze to intimidate or control either herself or Atti, her counterpart, a reflection of herself, The Girl meets their gaze, and inverts its power.  She investigates their houses, mimics their actions, interrogates their actions.  The Girl meets them on their plane of power by claiming an active gaze, but, from their perspective, an inverted, perverted, and worst of all female active gaze, and there is nothing within their power that they can do to “redirect” her to her “traditional exhibitionist role.”  When The Girl is in the presence of men, she is there to see, not be seen.  But The Girl is not the only active gazing feminine presence in AGWHAAN.  Director Amirpour is, too, a woman, using an active, probing, investigating, inquisitive, if prosthetic, eye.
Elsaesser and Hagener discuss how film theorist Rudolf Arnheim believed that “the fundamental premise for our understanding of film” was that it is the spectator’s aptitude of combining disparate data and sensations, of creating a “gestalt,” that gives film realism (Elsaesser, 22). In order for spectators to achieve this, it was the job of the director to capture, with the camera’s lens, “the complex totality of the world,” which can only be caught through a “collision of shots extrapolated from this totality” (Elsaesser, 24-25).  In other words, it was the purpose of the filmmaker to direct the spectator’s gaze, to combine shots “in such a way as to have a specific effect on the audience” (Elsaesser, 25).  Theorist Sergei Eisenstein also wrote that “‘film cannot be a simple presentation or demonstration of events,’” rather that they should be composed of shots and scenes assembled to “elicit certain responses in the spectator” aimed at influencing them, “‘moulding (sic)’” them in accordance with the filmmaker’s purpose, “‘through a series of calculated pressures on its psyche’” (Elsaesser, 25, 26).  Eisenstein believed that by assembling these shots in a specific way, what he called “montage construction,” films can guide spectators to “follow a specific train of thought,” presented exclusively through images, to a “pre-ordained idea or experience” (Elsaesser, 27). Elsaesser and Hagener are quick to point out, however, that while “it is the film that directs the thinking,” it is dependent on “the cognitive, moral and affective associations the spectator invests” (Elsaesser, 27).  In other words, the thought being expressed on the side of the film would not exist if it did not transgress the screen, and coalesce within the mind of the spectator.  Their existences are dependent upon one another, existing as it were on both sides of the border, the barrier of the screen again simply existing as a permeable membrane evoking the cut.  Like The Girl does with her vampiric abilities, Amirpour meets and inverts the spectator’s active male gaze, understanding that their “pure act of ocular perception” also has the potential power to promise them mastery or possession of the images they see (Elsaesser, 83), by employing the trope of the vampire film.
Film theorist Ken Gelder, in his essay, "Citational Vampires: Transnational Techniques of Circulation in Irma Vep, Blood: the Last Vampire and Thirst" (2013), writes that vampire films allow for encounters with the Other, with something “remote,” between “something modern and something very old,” is “a key generic feature of vampire films” (Gelder, 81, 82, 83), much like the western.  However, the major difference between the two is that vampire films are also designed to “to interrogate one’s assumptions about cultural and geographical distance, and difference,” that “they take the ‘local’ and the remote into proximity with each other, juxtaposing them but also drawing them together” (Gelder, 81).  Once again the concept of disparate entities being drawn together by a border, by a boundary, is evoked. Critical theorists Johan Höglund and Tabish Khair continue on this line of thought in the introduction to their book Transnational and Postcolonial Vampires: Dark Blood (2013), in which Gelder’s essay is found.  They write that “the vampire narrative effectively and continuously maps transnational, colonial and postcolonial concerns” (Höglund, 2).  Höglund and Khair describe how, when Bram Stoker’s Dracula drives the visiting English Jonathan Harker, this, in many ways, marks the crossing, the transgressing, of the border between East and West, or “between the imagine self of Europe and the Oriental Other” (Höglund, 1), introducing that vampire narratives, even from their early days, are also about transgressions.
Amirpour is using the trope of the vampire to prop up her use of the western, not only to discuss the conflicts between tradition and modernity, but between Eastern and Western ideals. However, Amirpour is approaching these two Western genres, or tropes, from an Eastern perspective, completing the meaning behind her description of AGWHAAN as an “Iranian vampire spaghetti western.”  Gelder implies that critics “geographically and culturally distanced” stand at a disadvantage when it comes to comprehending the underlying themes and messages of films they understand as foreign (Gelder, 81), which only further encourages a complete understanding of the purpose of the vampire in modern geographically-western horror stories*.

(*If not for examples such as Billy the Kid vs Dracula (1966), BloodRayne 2: Deliverance (2007) (also featuring Billy the Kid), and Curse of the Undead (1959), it would seem surprising that, with both genres dealing explicitly with the juxtaposition of modernity and traditionalism, there are not more, or at least any other, successful vampire/westerns.)

Höglund and Khair write that Stephan Arata, in his essay “The Occidental Tourist” (1990), argues “Bram Stoker’s Dracula can be viewed as an Eastern terrorist imperialist, a being set on bringing the horrors of colonization to the British” (Höglund, 2-3).  This modern critique of Dracula mirrors the assertions of Glennis Byron and Aspasia Stephanou in their essay “Neo-imperialism and the Apocalyptic Vampire Narrative: Justin Cronin's the Passage” (2013), an essay also found in Höglund and Khair’s book. Wasting no time in critiquing Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s statement in their book Empire (2001), “Imperialism is over” (Byron, 189), Byron and
Stephanou start their essay discussing how the early 2000’s “US venture into the Middle
 East has made it absurd ‘to speak of ours as a postcolonial world’” (Höglund, 3).  Byron and Stephanou write that the image of vampires in modern tales stays true to the vampire story’s roots as a conversation about the juxtaposition of the old world and the new, exemplifying “a threat produced from within the ‘civilized world’” (Byron, 193), the stories’ focuses have shifted. They suggest that as a result of the US “‘seeking to reinvent the imperial tradition and reintroduce imperial rule – and on a global scale,’” the image of the vampire began to be exploited “in order to address issues relating to the new American imperialism” (Byron, 190), with the Muslim often being “pictured by dominant post-9/11 discourse as a vampire” (Höglund, 8). 
What is not surprising is that, after this development, a vampire story would be produced with a presumably Muslim monster. What is surprising is that the story would be set in a Muslim nation, directed by someone with hereditary links to said nation. Amirpour’s manipulation of the western and vampire genres, as viewed from an Eastern perspective, is ironic, considering the critique of westernization that can be culled from their use. 
It is not the specter of the vampire, of The Girl, which haunts this film, but of the West.  Showing in quick succession images of dead trees and oil drills, oil processing plants and ditches overflowing with dead bodies, industrial plants and the undead, this Eisensteinian montage of images draws a connection, one that can’t help but evoke images of the West.  This land is vampiricly being sucked dry by its own people, to feed the west, and to make those in charge, those with power, rich.  This is driven home by the juxtaposition of the opening sequence, filled with these images, with the scenes shot in Arash’s and Saeed’s apartments. Arash’s is nearly empty save for his junky father, and Saeed’s is decadently decorated using the money extracted from the citizens unfortunate enough to have been tricked by the luxurious lifestyle offered to them, if only they open a vein.  The lonely vampire, seemingly birthed out of the city itself, birthed out of their neglect of their land’s, as well as their own, well being, stalks through the night, feeding on her neighbors.  The inhabitants reliance on western money to feed their addictions has poisoned their culture, from top to bottom.  The women no longer respect the tradition not to be alone in a room with a man to whom she is not wed, the music they listen to is exclusively western, even Arash is unable to escape is classic car obsession.  The traditional western-genre’s hero’s preoccupation with traditionalism, in AGWHAAN, is not presented as Eastern traditionalism, but Western, manifesting itself within Arash as a sort of hybrid of the two, confusing even him, as he is shown stealing earrings simply to get his classic car, his symbol of Western traditional values, back.  Amirpour is using her own monster, her monster film, to invert the active gaze of the spectator, to transgress the border of the film, and critique the real world.
Doubly ironically, this is precisely the type of film an imperial West would want to see.  They want to see that the East is just like the West, or at the very least that they desire to be like the west, that they loathe themselves, their “foreign Western culture,” as much as the imperial West, secretly, also does.  In that sense, the film could be Amirpour presenting to Western audiences what the West thinks it wants, but instead the film itself acts as the Eastern Other, coming back to haunt them, tricking them into inviting it into their (film)houses, so it can drain them of their blood(money), one at a time, and grow stronger, possibly returning one day to burn the whole corrupt city down.  As Red Skeleton once said, "it only proves what they always say, give the people what they want to see and they'll come out for it" (Keyes, 198).
All of this said, the other half of AGWHAAN’s origin must not be ignored.  It was shot in a small town in southern California, by a director who is herself half American, as well as half Iranian.  Born in England, partially raised in both Florida and California, Amirpour is herself a person who has straddled and transgressed borders.  This film straddles borders as well, being produced by western companies, shown at western movie festivals, and having a cast list largely consisting of American actors primarily, if not exclusively, having worked in American, but being set in a fictional Iranian town, having Persian as the primary language of the film, and getting its start winning “best short film” in an Iranian film festival.  Its critique of westernization begins to pale under this light.
In Iran, currently, the most popular films are, by far, films created in the West.  Iran’s entertainment sanctions are becoming more relaxed due to the “millions of Iranians [that] have been switching to the use of banned satellite television equipment,” simply to watch Western films and television shows (Ghazi).  The Iranian government likely wanted to start seeing revenue from these taxable hours of entertainment.  It is unlikely, but remains a possibility, that, so as to have her film be more likely to appeal to the ever-evolving tastes of her Iranian brethren, Amirpour created a film that speaks directly to Western sensibilities.  It is no surprise that, as stated above, the Iranian government too is uninterested in the Westernization of their culture (Tait), but their insistence on impeding and discouraging female creativity is reason to suspect that this film may not play on legal channels in Iran (Wright).
Throughout AGWHAAN, there is both an abundance of lionizing and decrying of the West.  What is most likely, however, is that neither is what was intended.  Being herself born in the “millennial” date range, Amirpour is most likely presenting a discussion of what this essay would like to term as “culture bleed.”  Amirpour identifies, as stated above, as both Iranian and American.  As with the western film, and the vampire film, and any boundary-defining feature, there is no pure, or self-contained, example of an Iranian-American.  She exists on either side and within the transgressions between both definitions, a state of existence ever more feasible with the advent of the internet.  With the internet at one’s fingertips, cultures we’ve been cut off from, eras we haven’t considered, histories and narratives never imagined, all of these things are instantly accessible, and are, both fortunately and unfortunately, appropriable. Enough exposure to this deluge of information, and one’s identity is bound to start taking a different shape.  Under this light, it becomes evident that Amirpour is not just able to identify as Iranian-American, but, like all people, able to take on a variety of identities, all of which possessing their own transgressable boundaries and non-self-contained definitions.  Her identity is as fluid as that of her film’s, the evidence for one message as fluid as the evidence for another, making it impossible to discuss every example.
Laura Mulvey once discussed how, “‘if women’s cinema is going to emerge, it should not only concern itself with substituting positive female protagonists, focusing on women’s problems, etc.; it has to go much further than this if it is to impinge on consciousness.  It requires a revolutionary strategy which can only be based on an analysis of how film operates as a medium within a specific cultural system’” (Hagener, 97).  Amirpour’s film exists at once around and within the transgression points of an almost innumerable amount [LHJE1] of boundaries.  If other filmmakers follow in suit, Mulvey’s utopian “women’s cinema” may yet come to fruition, and not simply as “a counterpoint” to classical Hollywood cinema (Mulvey, 16).


A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Ana Lily Amirpour. SpectreVision.  2014.  Film

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