The word “hero” is a complex term. Not because of its meaning, but because of how people perceive it. In my nation, and most Asian countries, we still have a misconception that “a hero” cannot be flawed. He or she is the perfect figure, sometimes almost synonymous with God, and our gods don’t have the right to make mistakes. Asghar Farhadi thematically explores this misbelief through the journey of an ordinary man who gets famous overnight for his selfless act, but he neither asks for the fame nor the name bestowed upon him. Even if the people consider him a hero, Rahim Soltani is a flawed commoner like everyone else. He has his shortcomings, and he does get driven by his self-interest, but society, which has already given him a high position in their mind, doesn’t want to accept that a hero can lie or commit a sin.
Asghar Farhadi’s film reminds me of Bertolt Brecht’s play, “The Life of Galileo.” In the narrative, Galileo hides the truth about his invention, the telescope, and sparks a chain of events that puts the man at the center of the stage, where he starts fighting for a cause. He is put into a battle, and then branded with the title of “hero” by his followers. At the end of the play, Galileo clears the misconceptions of his followers that he did everything for himself, in his own self-interest, and he is neither a hero nor intends to be one. The word becomes a curse for him, and that’s what happens to Rahim when he returns a bag with 17 gold coins.
‘A Hero’ Plot Summary
Rahim Soltani, a middle-aged man from Shiraz, Iran, took a loan from a loan shark to start a new business, but his partner conned him and ran away with the money. Unable to pay his debt, Rahim’s guarantor, Bahram, who is also Rahim’s relative, paid Rahim’s debt. But Rahim didn’t have a job to pay back, and so Bahram filed a complaint against Rahim and sent him to jail.
The film begins as Rahim gets a two-day leave and comes out of jail to meet his young son, Siavash, who stays at Rahim’s sister, Malih’s house after Rahim’s separation from his wife. While outside, Rahim also meets Farkhondeh, his current partner, with whom he had planned to marry after his release from prison. Farkhondeh found a bag with 17 golden coins at a bus stop, and she wants Rahim to sell them to pay off a part of his debt so that he can get out of prison and the couple can get married.
Rahim tries to sell the coins, but suddenly his conscience hits him, and he decides to return the bag to its rightful owner. He prints flyers and writes down the mobile number of the jail receptionist, Mrs. Marvasti, so that the owner of the bag can contact him. Soon later, a woman contacts Rahim and takes the bag from his sister’s house. The jail authorities hear about Rahim’s selfless act and arrange an interview for him to build their own image. It sparks a chain of events, and many more people attach themselves to Rahim’s story to harness the attention, but soon their actions backfire when the missing links to Rahim’s story start to unravel. Rahim is cursed with the title of a hero, which he never asked for in the first place.
A Lie That Created A Ripple
A character is built by the choices he makes. In Rahim’s case, the devil tried to lure him with a bag filled with gold. Rahim could have used the gold to pay off a part of his debt, but he was a man of conscience. He decided to return the gold to its rightful owner because he believed that the woman who lost it might need it more than he. Rahim’s selfless act wasn’t heroic, but righteous. However, in a dystopian society, such trivial actions are considered heroic because the society wants to send out a message. They needed a poster boy to inspire people to become righteous, and Rahim happened to fall into their trap.
When the devil failed to trick Rahim directly, he instead introduced an illusion of an image that could have brought happiness to Rahim’s life. The jail authorities arranged an interview for him that made Rahim a hero in the public eye. However, even at this point, Rahim tried to clear the doubt and told Mr. Taheri that he didn’t find the bag. It was the first flaw in Rahim’s narrative that he wanted to clarify, but on Mr. Taheri’s insistence, he hid the fact. At the end of the film, Rahim was labeled as a liar for making a decision that was not entirely his own. But yes, he could have spoken the truth and stopped the ripple. Inevitably, that particular lie sparked Rahim’s journey of transformation.
An Ignored Reality
A charity organized an event to award Rahim with a certificate and raise money to pay back his lender, Bahram. When the management failed to procure enough money from its members, they pleaded with Bahram to pardon the debt in the name of a hero that was standing in front of him. But Bahram was much more in touch with reality than any of them and thus refused to accept Rahim as a hero.
In my personal opinion, Bahram was the only character in the film who despised the flawed concept of heroism. He tried to explain to the authorities that whatever Rahim did was not heroic but it was his moral duty as a conscious being. He should not be celebrated for not doing wrong. Because if everyone starts worshiping people for such small good deeds, then humanity as a whole will lose its path, and everyone will only perform a selfless act because they yearn to become a hero, which, ironically, is happening in our digital age of social media.
However, society failed to understand the meaning of Bahram’s words because their perspective was limited to only two shades, and in that narrative, Bahram was a wicked creditor. He sold his wife’s jewelry and his daughter’s dowry to pay off Rahim’s debt, but no one wanted to hear the other side of the story.
The Devil’s Labyrinth
The real tragedy in Rahim’s life was that he failed to understand that he had already taken the devil’s bait and was stuck in a labyrinth created by him. The charity promised him a job with the local council, which would have allowed him to get bail and pay off his remaining debt to Bahram. However, the job came with a condition, and Rahim had to get a written testament from the woman to whom that lost bag of gold belonged. Even after a massive struggle, Rahim failed to trace the woman, who might have been a fraud, but that’s not important.
When Rahim couldn’t find the woman, he brought his girlfriend, Farkhondeh, to the local council office and planned a lie to claim the job. There were already many theories circulating on social media that Rahim forged a story to become a hero, and when his cellmate shared a message with the administration, it compelled them to do a background check. One could say that at this point, out of greed to be close to Farkhondeh and Siavash, Rahim lied and in turn dug his own grave.
The prisoner, whose cell phone Rahim used to contact Bahram, created a misunderstanding in the narrative. Probably, out of jealousy, he lied to the administration that Rahim had sent a message to Braham promising 75,000 tomans a week before he found the coins. The administration believed that if the message was sent a week before the bag was found, then Rahim had evidently fabricated the story to escape prison.
Rahim believed that Bahram, whom he perceived as a salient antagonist in his life, shared the message with the authorities to manipulate them, and so he attacked Braham in his shop. The video of Rahim’s violence was recorded on the shop’s CCTV camera and shared by Bahram’s daughter, Nazanin, to expose the flawed man whom people had branded as a hero. In the video, the local council saw Farkhondeh, who lied to them that she was the woman to whom the bag belonged. It made them certain that the man in the narrative was nothing but a fraud.
One mistake after another destroyed Rahim’s house of cards and spoiled his brand image, which was built on a lie in the first place. Fortunately, Rahim realized that all this fame and attention was an illusion created by the devil to trap him, and thus, finally, he decided to break the realm and come out clean, at least to become a hero for himself.
‘A Hero’ Ending, Explained
The management found out about Rahim’s lie to get the job, and hence, Ms. Radmehr refused to pay Rahim’s debt out of the money they collected from its members. Instead, Radmehr decided to use it to save the woman’s husband from execution after he was convicted of murder. There was nothing Rahim could do to get the money back or stop the video from being shared on social media, so Farkhondeh requested that Radmehr give Rahim credit for donating his money to save the life of a convict. Farkhondeh believed that this news would stop the attacks on Rahim’s image, and for the time being, it did neutralize the situation.
Mr. Taheri, who could be perceived as an agent of chaos, tried to lure Rahim into another web of affairs and convinced him to reap the benefits of the selfless act that Rahim performed by donating his money to a convict. However, Rahim, who had already faced the aftermath of hiding the facts, was in a state of doubt. He feared that another statement would again trap him in the devil’s loop, which would further defame him. Above all, this time, Mr. Taheri asked to record Rahim’s son, Siavash, on camera to save Rahim from disgrace. However, it was evident from his actions that he was doing everything to protect himself and his department.
Fortunately, Rahim’s conscience turned up at the right moment, and he forced Taheri to delete the video. Though Rahim saved himself from another tragedy, his days of merriment were over because he had incited an enmity with the devil by raising his voice against Taheri and his immoral acts. Taheri and the prison management made Rahim a hero because they wanted to whitewash their own image. Recently, a prisoner named Shakuri killed himself after six years in jail. The incident raised questions about the jail authorities,’ and their jobs were in danger. Hence, Taheri never intended to save Rahim, but he was trying to protect the department through Rahim’s example.
Rahim’s bail was canceled, and he didn’t have enough money to pay off Bahram. With no other means of support, Rahim returned to prison, but not before leaving his son, Siavash, in the care of Farkhondeh, whom he had already accepted as his wife.
The closing sequence showed Rahim entering the prison, and at the exact moment, another prisoner leaving the facility. Looking at the prisoner reuniting with his wife gave Rahim the necessary hope. He believed that someday he too would leave the prison and reunite with his family. At that moment, Rahim was both happy and sad. He was happy because he finally made the right decision in his life and saved himself from a spiral of lies, but sad because his righteousness separated him from his family.
There was one scene in the film, which I suppose, summarized Rahim’s conflict and his transformative journey as a hero. In a scene, the warden, Mr. Salehpour, doubted Rahim’s intention and asked him why he gave Mrs. Marvasti’s number instead of his sister in the advertisement to return the bag. In a way, Salehpour accused Rahim of creating a scenario to promote himself and his selfless act.
In his argument, Rahim simply stated that he had never calculated that much because, like many of us, he had never been in such a complex situation. We can only understand the consequences of our actions when we look back in time. Even a wise man can sometimes fail to accurately predict the outcome of his actions. Hence, it’s almost impossible to run away from one’s fate or to avoid making mistakes. But a true hero is one who accepts his mistakes and, even if he fails to rectify his past actions, he should consciously try not to repeat them. And that’s what Rahim did in the end. He didn’t repeat the mistake by falling into another trap set by Taheri.
In my personal experience, most stories, at least the good ones, are our reference material in the world. They teach us through their narrative so that we don’t have to suffer like the heroes portrayed in them. Their journey saves us from misery and helps us to become better human beings. Rahim accepted the importance of one’s baggage and experience in life, and I believe whoever watches his story will grasp the message too and use it for the better.
‘A Hero’ is a 2022 Social Drama film written and directed by Asghar Farhadi.