A Separation

This article refers to A Separation (film) directed by Asghar Farhadi. It focuses specifically on the relationship between the text and the context Encountering Conflict.



Farhadi’s film, set in Iran, explores a whole spectrum of intersecting conflicts stemming from underlying social and personal problems. The audience is made to see the ways in which conflict can breed further conflict and how the perspectives of individuals can differ in relation to the same event.

While you can’t mimic the style of the film for your context writing, you should still be aware of the cinematic techniques to deepen your analysis. Some key techniques to look for and analyse include:

  • Cinematography
  • Shot (long/short/establishing/etc)
  • Pan/zoom
  • Fade
  • Angle
  • Cut/Transition
  • Direction
  • Lighting
  • Frame
  • Sound (diegetic/non-diegetic)

More importantly though, let’s look at the big ideas of Encountering Conflict which emerge from A Separation.

Causes of conflict

A great deal takes place off screen in this film which is presented as exacerbating the conflicts which play out onscreen. In the opening scene, Simin identifies that she does not wish to raise her daughter under “such conditions”. Throughout the film, the tense political climate of Iran is hinted at repeatedly, as well as the differing positions of men and women within that society. This external tension is presented as having a significant influence on some of the characters of the film; in particular on the relationship between Nader and Simin.

In addition to this, poverty provides significant fuel for conflict within the film. Razieh is desperate for work, and later, payment for a day’s work, because of her desperate financial situation. Being laid off and thrown deeply into debt causes Hodjat to be depressed, possibly abusive and threatens him with the physical conflict of imprisonment if he cannot pay back lenders. The desperation that Razieh and Hodjat are experiencing then plays itself out in the tension between pursuing justice through the courts (and possibly sending Nader to jail) and accepting the blood money that could pull them out of a desperate financial situation. What’s more, even though Razieh desperately wishes to accept the blood money that could save her family, she faces an internal conflict as a result: she believes that maintaining the lie that awards her money will harm her daughter.

Differing perspectives between characters also creates situations in which conflict flourishes. The audience is given a unique perspective within this film: we see the conflicts take place from various perspectives and often have more information than the characters involved. This emphasises the ways in which characters are limited to their own world views. This includes the limited information that characters have (such as Nader believing that Razieh has stolen money even though the audience knows Simin used it to pay delivery men) and different perspectives of the same event (such as the contrast between how Nader and Razieh see the act of tying his father to the bed). Rarely are characters united in how they see an event or the importance they invest in different ideas, such as truth or justice.

Perhaps more than anything, A Separation portrays the ways in which conflict can lead on to other conflicts. It is the interpersonal conflict between Razieh and Nader that (apparently originally) leads to her miscarriage and the legal case against him. Even before this, the conflict between Nader and Simin and within Nader about his father’s condition have negatively affected him so as to be more aggravated towards Razieh. Legal suit leads to a counter suit and the situation spirals more and more out of control as more and disparate forms of conflict feed off one another. In this way, the film portrays the way in which, without resolution, conflict breeds further conflict.

Types of conflict

The forms of conflict which appear in this film are obviously diverse and innumerable, but there are several interesting pinpoints of clashes between and within individuals that are particularly noteworthy.

Many of the conflicts, or at least the way they play themselves out, appear specific to Iranian society. The legal system portrayed is quite different than the one we have in Australia, as is the dynamic between men and women. In particular, the conflicts faced by Razieh as a result of Hodjat’s debt are unique from most people’s experiences in Australia. Nonetheless, some conflicts do stand out as universal. Termeh’s painful placement between two parents going through a divorce is utterly recognisable, regardless of nationality.

Internal conflicts play a significant role in this film. Nader and Simin are seen to struggle within themselves about the desolation of their marriage and how to bridge the gap between them. Nader is afflicted by his father’s deterioration and how best to handle the difficult situations he finds himself in. Perhaps the most striking example of internal conflict, however, is that of Razieh on her first day at work for Nader. She finds that the old man has failed to warn her that he needed to use the bathroom and, as a result, soiled himself. She is a deeply religious woman, bound by her faith not to see any man naked other than her husband. Razieh’s struggle with this reality is clear: she is torn between her faith and her human decency that drives her to clean and clothe the elderly man. Her internal tossing and turning on this matter is so great that she reaches outside of herself and phones a religious hotline to ask if bathing the man would be a sin. This particular crisis of conscience portrays the way in which a decision, or different parts of ourselves, can create internal conflict.

Responses to conflict

While many of the characters in this film confront the same conflicts, they do not do so in the same way. Their responses are specific to them as people and their particular motivations and desires.

One response which is shown as being fairly consistent, perhaps as a philosophical statement by the director, is the obsession with one’s own suffering. Most of the characters speak and act in a way that shows they are unable to see outside the hurt that has been done to them. Hodjat and Nader are unable to speak with the judge in a way that acknowledges that harm has been done to anyone but themselves; Hodjat about his wife’s employment and loss of his son and Nader about the treatment of his father. This response displays how experiencing conflict can narrow a person’s perspective to only their own suffering.

Furthermore, this response shows the ways in which the roles of conflict can be subjective. This film does not have a set “victim” and “villain” but many different characters who might claim the former identification. Razieh sees herself as a victim of Nader and Nader sees himself as a victim of injustice. Perhaps the only characters who might universally be recognised as victims are the children who are entangled in the conflict; Termeh and Somayeh.

A powerful example of contrasting responses to conflict is between Simin and Nader. These two characters are often involved in the same conflicts, but are totally unaligned in how they behave as a result. The legal conflict which Nader faces over the death of Razieh’s foetus makes him invest in the idea of clearing his name through the courts. In contrast, Simin fears for Termeh’s safety, and for what the courts might find, and encourages Nader to pay the blood money. For him, paying the blood money is admitting fault, and his pride drives him to refuse. For Simin, bringing an end to the conflict promptly is more important than fighting for truth or fairness. He accuses her of being a coward and she agrees that, when it comes to her daughter’s safety, she is a coward.

The notion of truth is also contested between characters. Notably, Termeh is fixated on truth throughout the film, even though she lies for her father to the judge. In contrast, Nader believes that truth and justice are not necessarily mutually compatible when it comes to the justice system. He explains at length that truth is a difficult concept; that one can know something and yet not know it in a moment of passion. He tells her “the law doesn’t care” because he believes that the courts have no room for nuance or grey area. The suggestion here is that a formal legal process has a limitation in the way that it can create justice: it is not able to reconcile two people’s apparently disparate truths without finding one wrong and one right. Nader is further shown to question the worth of formal legal processes in the doctor’s office with his father: he is prepared to launch a counter suit against Razieh but thinks better of it while roughly undressing his father.

A great deal of this film is absorbed by interpersonal conflicts as displayed through arguing and shouting, but there are other ways in which conflict manifests itself as well. Razieh’s body language and use of her chador to cover her at times displays her internal conflict and fear. Alternatively, Nader’s internal conflict spills over and physically manifests itself in the scene where he bathes his catatonic father after pushing Razieh. He cries against the old man, clearly overcome with sadness at the rate with which his life is falling apart.

Conflict resolution

In many ways, this film is critical of the idea of a formal justice system, or at least Iranian courts. The opening scene positions the audience as a judge, looking on at the conflict between Nader and Simin. The system fails Simin here: the laws in Iran do not allow for “no fault” divorce in which parties can separate for reasons other than abuse or infidelity. It is clear that Simin wants a resolution to the conflict: she is asking for a clean break from her marriage so that she can flee the country with her daughter. She says: “Judge, I’ve come here so you can solve my problem,” and insists “my problem is not small”. Her plea is in vain however, the Judge responds: “please don’t take up the court’s time,” and rejects the case. The conflict between husband and wife is left unresolved by formal legal process.

A Separation also considers the ways in which conflicts can end without resolution. Many of the problems faced by characters come to a close without a solution being found or a compromise being reached. Presumably the charges against Nader are dropped and no blood money is paid, but this does not resolve any of the conflicts faced by Hodjat and Razieh or between Nader and his wife and child. Equally, a permanent separation is granted by the court for Nader and Simin but this does not appear to resolve the conflict. Neither of them seem happy or even relieved after so long fighting and Termeh is clearly brought no release by the decision. The immediate conflicts may have come to an end, but resolution remains elusive.

Consequences of conflict

Conflicts give rise to often serious and lasting consequences in this film. Separate from resolution or an end to the conflict are the effects on the lives of individuals involved.

The act of pushing Razieh out the door happens quickly and seems small in the grand context of the fight between her and Nader. For the audience, it is one moment in the sequence of a longer fight, and for Nader it is not a significant exertion of physical force. And yet, up until the point where Razieh reveals the truth about the car hitting her, both audience and other characters are led to believe that this small moment has had catastrophic consequences. Even if the miscarriage was caused elsewhere, this event demonstrates the ways in which physical conflict can send significant ripples through the lives of others.

Compare this with a real world example of the split second decision to hit someone. One-punch kills or “coward punches” are discussed frequently in the Australian media. Consider the ways in which something that happens very quickly can have massive consequences for even those who are only peripherally involved.

One powerful display of the consequences that conflict can have on people’s lives comes in one of the final scenes of the film; after Razieh admits the truth to Hodjat and he storms from their house. Moments before, Somayeh and Termeh were playing together in the yard with smiles and squeals of joy, but now their eyes catch in the living room and they glower at one another. The young girls were not directly involved in the conflict, nor have they done anything to one another, but the clash between their parents sends shock waves through their own lives which they take out on one another. This small moment shows the ways in which conflict can have devastating consequences even for the bystanders who cannot escape the ripples of harm.