This article contains spoilers for the movie hero.
On Saturday, April 23, the Student-run Film Society Doc Films and Philosophy Night Owls Lecture Series hosted a free screening of Asghar Farhadi’s award-winning 2021 film. hero. After the screening and a brief reception, philosophy professors Agnes Callard and James Conant led a joint discussion on the ethics that drive the film’s plot.
set in the present day, hero It follows Rahim Soltani (Amir al-Jadidi), an Iranian man imprisoned in a debtors’ prison. While on vacation, Soltani returns a stolen wallet containing gold coins. When prison officials hear about this act of goodwill, they contact local news agencies, and Soltani’s story is infected with half-truths and exaggerations that grip the public’s consciousness. Sympathy for Soltani grows, but under scrutiny, his halves of truth crumble one by one. In the end, there is no way to recover a small good deed that has been turned into a symbol of moral action.
hero It won the Grand Prix, the second highest award, at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. It also marked Iran’s entry in the 2022 Oscar race for Best International Feature Film.
The screening of Doc Films and the next reception with pizza and drinks were free for students. Then Agnes Callard of the Night Owls, Late Night Philosophy Lecture Series, led a discussion on the ethical and moral issues that drive Farhadi’s story—a discussion that began at 9:45 pm and continued into the night. Callard, who leads the Night Owls, joins Conant in examining and deconstructing the film.
Conant and Callard focused on the tension between “being good” and “looking good,” which they isolated as the film’s primary primary conflict. Callard argued in the moral world of the film, “The ultimate good is the hidden good.” Ethical action, such as Rahim’s return to the purse, is highly ethical when it is not exploited for public gain. Moreover, she explained, by endangering the good work of the interests of public groups—charities, the media, and government administrators—the act becomes inseparable from the herd of lies and exaggerations that surround it.
Conant suggested, “At first, we kind of hope that … being on the good side and being on the show side can come together.” But when choices become necessary, the film’s characters routinely forgo moral behavior entirely in favor of maintaining good looks. Callard argued that for certain groups in the film’s narrative web, such as charities and government departments, this preference for visibility is in fact integral. It supports the cultural and social legitimacy that allows these public institutions, supposedly good agents, to function. “A good appearance is really important,” Callard said. “It is… that social bond that holds everyone together.”
Another topic of discussion was the legal controversy surrounding the film. Iranian courts are currently looking into whether Farhadi stole the plot of the film from a documentary produced by one of his students at the filmmaking workshop.
“The action and drama of the film continues through the actual life of the film,” Callard said. She said a student contacted Night Owls and Doc Films demanded that the show be cancelled in light of plagiarism controversies. However, Callard emphasized that hero “It is the compiled version… of the idea that worked,” not the documentary. She suggested that regardless of the external controversies, it was still a work of art worth discussing.
A public discussion open to public participation continued after the Conant and Callard conversation.
The ‘New Releases’ series will continue on Saturday from Doc Films Last night in Soho And Belfast In the next two weeks. You can find the complete schedule of Doc Films here.