I wasn’t sure what to expect when I watched Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. It wasn’t a long ride before I began to fall in love with the film – the black and white, the story, the skill of the cast in both facial expression and line delivery. Set in Bad City, it tells the tale of Arash (Arash Marandi), a noble young man who one evening meets The Girl (Shelia Vand), a vampire who roams the streets at night. While this is a love story at its core, it had elements of punishment. Particularly, Amirpour uses The Girl as an enforcer of moral good in the modern world against the backdrop of corruption and addiction while sparing and seeking to understand the misdeeds of the good people left in society.
|Love love fucking LOVE this one.|
The Girl’s dispatching of the amoral Saeed (Dominic Rains) speaks to the punishment of a man that does not play well with others. Saeed is an opportunistic parasite in every sense of the word: he preys upont the heartbroken and drug-addicted Hossein, he takes Arash’s prized car – which was earned through six years of hard work – as payment for his father’s tab, and refuses to pay prostitute Atti (Mozhan Marno, who stood out as a favorite) after she performs oral sex on him. One of my favorite pieces of sleaze when it comes to this character comes from his speech asserting the right to take Arash’s car: “Look, your father is a normal man. Gambler, enjoys women. Takes medicine for his pain. You see? Completely normal, alright? However, the things your father likes, he can’t afford.” Complete scum that tries to justify his ends. So it’s fitting that when Saeed first meets The Girl, she’s like a dark shadow in the streets – this is a reflection of Saeed, who swoops in to prey upon those who are in more desperate circumstances than he. I’d go as far as to suggest that Saeed represents everything that can go wrong in the modern world: from his tattoos to his dealing of drugs to the treatment of women as disposable sex objects, he is not an upstanding, traditional man with which you’d want to send your son or daughter out. Saeed is all about the power he exerts over those around him, not the virtuous life. When The Girl is in his apartment, he puts on a show of stereotypical masculinity for her: he snorts drugs, listens to crappy dance music and pumps iron. All this scene needed was for Saeed to piss on the rug and claim his territory. The Girl, however, plays along. She lulls him into a false sense of contentment. She sexualizes herself by allowing him to stick his finger in her mouth. However, she then uses this point of vulnerability – the beginning of sexual pleasure – to bite off his fingers and silently kill him with animalistic biting sounds. That Amirpour allows a woman wrapped in a dark chador – a very traditional piece of Muslim clothing for women – speaks to a need to punish modern life going wrong: the man that treats everyone as nothing while embracing the vice and using it to justify further misdeed is killed by a woman that projects the image of the traditional Muslim woman. That The Girl then robs him of his watch and jewelry is telling as well: in the end, Saeed has nothing and is scavenged as he lived in this life.
Conversely, Amirpour demonstrates sympathy toward the plight of a woman looking for a better life, as evidenced in the interaction between The Girl and Atti. When we first meet Atti, Saeed is asking her for her age while pointing out that she’s getting a bit old to be a hooker, asking, “Don’t you want kids?” She doesn’t answer, instead performing oral sex on him for which she receives no compensation. When she keys what she believes is Saeed’s car in revenge, The Girl follows her. In a curious turn, The Girl offers her Saeed’s valuables, proof of both his death and a type of compensation she never received. The conversation that follows in Atti’s home is both brief and moving:
The Girl: You don’t like what you do.
Atti: What did you learn all this time you’re watching me?
The Girl: You’re sad.
So simple, yet it’s the thing that Atti needs to hear: someone has noticed her sorrow. It’s easy to see that Atti is watched; she’s a thing of beauty in the darkness. That The Girl picks up on her sorrow means that someone has finally paid closer attention to someone who is outwardly beautiful: Atti is a prostitute that degrades herself on a nightly basis by selling her body to be used as a plaything for men. However, that piece of “morality” does not matter as much to The Girl because Atti is not using it to actively harm anyone. Rather, Atti is noted to be saving her money for some unknown travel (as indicated by the map hanging from her wall). This falls in line with the televised appeal to women: the narrator on the television speaks to women doing a lot to take care of their families, but warns that one day, her husband will leave for a new, younger wife or will die, putting her in a position that may cause her to compromise her virtue. Atti is Amirpour’s cautionary tale: we don’t get a backstory, but we know that she has a goal and wants to move on to a better life by any means possible. Thus the intention of the person doing something that is supposed to be morally objectionable winds up getting spared death: this is a woman that is trying to carve a better life for herself, not someone who is trying to hurt others. Atti is granted mercy and, later, protection because she is identified as a victim that is degraded by a patriarchal society that only values the sexual services she can provide.
|I mean, look at this shot. It’s beautiful.|
So where does Arash stand in all of this? Simply put, Arash is the perfect balance of modern life and traditional values, which makes him the perfect partner for the moral enforcer that is The Girl. Arash is not by any means a pristine soul: he steals earrings from his employer and takes drugs, but it’s his kind intentions and adherence to being a good person that saves him. Arash steals from a vapid woman, but it’s fueled by the need to recover the product of his lost hard work while taking care of his drug-addled father. He meets The Girl while under the influence of ecstasy, but lets her know that he’s lost and explains that he won’t hurt her. He shows kindness by asking why she’s in the street in the middle of the night, and notes that she’s cold when he touches her hand, going so far as to wrap her in a hug to warm her. The Girl responds in kind: she wheels him to her place, and when given the chance to bite his neck, she instead settles for listening to his heart beat. In return, he romances her and gives her a pair of earrings, making their poor intention into something beautiful and meaningful after The Girl confesses vaguely that she has done horrible things in her past. In an echo of this sentiment, Arash has to later come to terms with the realization that The Girl is responsible for his father’s death. While unspoken, he quietly seethes with rage outside, and she knows this. The Girl has committed a terrible act which has robbed the man she loves of his only surviving parent. However, Arash chooses to accept that she is both imperfect and a good, traditional person at heart. He gets back in the car and plays music for her while they drive away, signifying that he isn’t looking for perfection – he’s looking for the good person within, acknowledging his own misdeeds in forgiving hers.
|It’s you and me and the cat, baby.|
At one point of the film, The Girl blocks a child who has been begging for money and asks, “Are you a good boy? Answer me. Are you a good boy or not?” This test is repeated two more times before she threatens to remove his eyes if he does not tell the truth. Essentially, she forces a moment of extreme self-evaluation and honesty in a child. This is a type of tough love that works to set him on a path of being a good person, lest the vampire swoop in. “Be a good boy,” she tells him. And therein lies the rub. The vampire is not perfect, nor does she seek to make others perfect. The vampire seeks to make others better. The vampire is the monster that is needed to fight the more dangerous monsters of the waking world.