A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, the “feminist Iranian vampire-Western,” by award winning, first-time feature director, Ana Lily Amirpour is a riveting clash of stereotypes and genres.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a romance. The Girl, played by Sheila Vand, is the seductive, female protagonist. Her costume alone represents a mismatch of sensibilities—an Iranian chador with a French, striped fishing shirt—making her image a combination of playful flirtation and powerful mystery. Everything about her is a contrast; a fragile, young face, with innocent, piercing eyes, and the violent fangs of a vampire.
The Girl is a wild creature. She observes human behavior from a distance, playfully mimicking, or silently manipulating the powerless people she encounters. Her gaze, like that of any predator, transforms people into prey. We see others as she does, sizing up their value, as a meal, or as a companion. At times this way of seeing humanity is playful, a fresh perspective on our peculiar moves, our inexplicable motivations, or idiosyncratic charms. But the Girl also sees sadness, the anguish that leaks out of emotional wounds. This is the blood pulsing right under the surface, igniting her hunger. The Girl has a clear sense of hierarchy in her meal making. She feeds, not just to satisfy her appetite, but for revenge and justice.
Beyond blood, she enjoys simple things, ’80s synth-pop, skateboarding, and the innocent charm of Arash, played by Arash Marandi. Styled like a James Dean greaser, Arash is also an outsider in the fictional Bad City they inhabit. In contrast to The Girl’s tremendous life or death power, Arash is weak from the start. Humiliated and defenseless, he’s a victim of corrupt characters and unlucky circumstance, still, he maintains his simple heart. His naiveté is what draws The Girl to him. Their opposites attract.
Arash triggers another side of her, his judgment matters to her, like a teenager seeking approval, she strives to impress him, as in the scene where he gives her earring and she pierces her ears on the spot with adolescent bravado. She seems so grateful for his gift, but she is also wrestling with her desire to suck the life out of him.
The audience is privy to their enormous inequality. Arash is no match for The Girl, even as he perceives himself as her savior. To him, she’s a little helpless creature in a big, bad world; he’s a man with a car, ready to rescue her. The most obvious interpretation of the film is one about gender inequality, because The Girl represents the hidden and untapped power of femininity in a chauvinistic world, but this film goes further, allowing us an opportunity to stand back and see how blind we are about others, and even ourselves.
The film moves beyond entertainment and becomes an opportunity to reflect on our limited human understanding, how restricted our perceptions are. How often we think we know what’s in front of us, and yet, the truth would shock us. Arash, as endearing as he is, has no idea who he’s really in bed with. And sometimes, neither do we.
It’s funny to watch someone get it so wrong, but it’s also haunting, because I’m sure I’ve done it too. On a simple note, we don’t know the burdens our neighbors and coworkers carry. We tell ourselves we’d care if we knew, but we usually don’t even bother to see them. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night goes beyond making me think about common courtesy, I think about how we don’t know even those we feel close to.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a love story, albeit a scary one. And the beautiful adventure of love Amirpour portrays is one where the person beside you may be different than you imagined. They may be much stronger, they may destroy you, and you may destroy them. Amirpour’s slow, don’t blink, film, reminds me to keep that alert gaze outside the theater as well, watching for inequality, stereotypes and the unexpected in everyone.