“Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi

Film adaptation is the reuse of a written work, previously staged play, documentaries, or other forms of literature to a feature film. It is usually called a derivative work. For a long time now, novels serve as the basis of a film such as Erich von Stroheim’s 1924 Greed which was an adaptation of Frank Norris’s 1899 novel McTeague (Osborne, 2004). Today, film adaptations have evolved to include non-fiction and journalism works, autobiography, comic or graphic books, scripture, plays, as well as other inspirations.

Adaptation has become common since the early years of film-makingand one of the more popular adaptations are plays of William Shakespeare used in Hollywood sometimes with multiple versions from different periods (Osborne, 2004). Some of Shakespeare’s plays are loosely adapted such as O, Ten Things I Hate About You, West Side Story and Kiss Me, Kate among others.

Aside from stage plays, hit Broadway plays such as musicals or dramas, comic or graphic novels have also been adapted into movies. While theatrical adaptation usually does not involve as many interpolations as compared to novel adaptation, most movie versions have more freedom and much more commercial. Production scenery and possibilities of motion films result in many adjustments from the original material to the adaptation.

Critics usually notice and inform readers or audiences if an adapted original work has been true to the plot, linear to images, or other noticeable derailments for the better or for the worse outcome. The adaptive process also provides a continuing translation from a novel to film to another form of art derived from both the original and the film adaptation. Such example is that of Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” which was a film adapted into a Broadway musical and then adapted again into a film (Ebert, 2005).

This paper shall try to establish how far can a director and his production team change a work in performance on stage or screen, written works, or graphic novels and have it remain identified as the “real” work. This shall be in reference to the set texts of Persepolis based on the autobiographical graphic novel of Marjane Satrapi. It will argue that it is appropriate that adapted works are creative entities of their own and therefore have poetic license to keep works fresh and allow the screen writers voice heard. This paper proceeds to discuss film adaptation of Persepolis from a graphic novel to animated film support its argument.

Adaptation of previous literary or art works into film have certain limitation such as interpolation and elision. There is always the necessity to adjust to time constraints as well as necessary graphic or visual adjustments for film viewers as a sustained audience is much easier to achieve in both plays and written novels. Script writers wish to remain as true as possible to original materials, but a richer imagination and understanding are keys to achieving a more exciting film outcome.

Colorful and effective re-writing is also necessitated in order to provide justice and close interpretation to a previously accepted storyline. Criteria for good adaptations include effective re-capturing of important and climactic scenes as well as an overall equality of impact and theme (Geiger, 2004).

Elision has been proposed to be quite impossible to avoid. Certain aspects of a written or graphic novel, live production or stage shows may not be as appealing and effective in films, as focus on printed media may be highlighted through suspenseful craft-writing, or a stage scene may be highlighted through the lighting system, both will require adjustments on screen. Using Persepolis, this paper will detail its argument.


Persepolis is a series of graphic novels (from one to four) of Iranian Marjane Satrapi. It is adapted into film, an animation using certain styles such as black and white film for most re-collective parts, and colour in contemporary period. This has been achieved using “shadow theatre” with the expertise of Mark Jousset. The novel, however, was in black and white. The movie, co-directed with Vincent Paronnaud, won Jury Prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival and received rave and positive reviews including as one of the best films of 2007 (Corliss, 2007).

Problems in Adaptations

To address the aesthetics of Persepolis, this paper will argue using Leicht’s fallacies on adaptations. Leitch (2007) has proposed several modern film adaptation fallacies as follows:

  1. Contemporary adaptation theory. Leitch (2007) considers this as a founding fallacy of adaptation studies that makes them ineffectual due to lack of what Robert Ray calls “presiding poetics”. Adaptation studies lack the discipline to establish “support of any more general theoretical account of what actually happens, or what ought to happen, when a group of filmmakers set out to adapt a literary text,” (p 149). Leitch (2003) quotes Brian McFarlane’s observation that, “In view of the nearly sixty years of writing about the adaptation of novels into films… it is depressing to find what a limited, tentative stage the discourse has remained,” (p 149). He has acknowledged the methodologies of empiricism by Morris Beja and neo-Aristotelianism of James Griffith as well as tendentious Novels into Film by George Bluestone with regards to his observation. Taken into consideration in this instance is the collaborative nature of movies of which he explores whether adaptations are similarly collaborative or the work of a single agent. Here, he repeats another earlier argument about “binary oppositions that poststructuralist theory has taught us to deconstruct: literature versus cinema, high culture versus mass culture, original versus copy,” from James Naremore (Leicht, 2003, p 150). This, however, is contradicted with Persepolis, having taken a much more interesting collaborative work as an animated film with substantial contributions from animator Mark Jousset and co-director Vincent Paronnaud. It is to be noted that the film has amassed unparalleled attention and acceptance that in most probability added value to the novels or the graphic autobiographical books. Definitely, as movies aim for mass consumption, what has been highlighted as Naremore’s argument and as earlier predicated, there is a need to adapt to what may be perceived as more palatable medium and process that film can provide where paper or print cannot.
  2. Differences are rooted in essential properties of their respective media. Leicht (2003) argues that this is a fallacy observed by Bluestone and Siegfried Kracaeur’s claim in Theory of Film that “…each medium has a specific nature which invites certain kinds of communications while obstructing others.” Assertion and depiction of each medium rest on the argument that films and novels break the rules essential to the qualities of their media and that there has been a perceived rationale for the system of arts as Rudolf Arnheim proposed (Leicht, 2003).Descriptive voiceover has been assailed as uncinematic, but this cannot be avoided in the case of Persepolis, it being an autobiography, black and white in its novel, and simplistic, visually speaking. There are certain aspects of a printed literature or art that may or may not be adaptable to film and the exploratory as well as experimental nature and capacity of film adds privileges to certain works of art or literature in this instance. While the print medium, specifically comic or graphic arts or novels have in fact introduced as well as revolutionized cartoon, animation or the film industry itself, time has come that the collaboration and fusion of talents and acquired styles, techniques in all media are inseparable. It is only a matter of choosing which technique or style should be adapted, fused with, as well as highlighted that the argument falls.
  3. Literary texts are verbal and films are visual. Leicht (2003) finds this fallacy the most enduring and pernicious. Persepolis in this instance has banked on the opposite side of this fallacy. It is simple, and the graphic novel has been simple. While the animation adapted techniques to add depth and visual impact, it stayed true to the simple comics originally drawn by Satrapi. The novel itself has sparse texts, owing probably to a Muslim culture limiting women to express themselves explicitly. The memoir itself is an act of Islam rebellion, its publication a salt added to the injury, sexual content and dissident thoughts as outrageous assault to a global religion. The film, however, aided the whole process of the art and the expression by staying as close to the few verbal nature of the book with few graphics stunts.
  4. Novels are considered better than films. This argument is considered true in some instances, and in others, a fallacy. There will always be camps with differing opinions on the matter but the success of films or movies in the economics of consumption and popularity cannot be set aside. Many novels set out lonely, of which will only gain recognition once it was started to be adapted into film, starting from the hype of contract signing. If wide acceptance and popularity does not count to becoming “better” as a novel against it becoming a film, then, the argument ends as that. However, this cannot be claimed with Persepolis which definitely benefitted as a novel due to the film. Novels will always have their own merits, them being original and embodying the exact wants, capacity and rigour of the authors. Films, however, are media that reaches out to a wider audience, thus having the need to work out competencies and conform to needs or demands.
  5. “Novels deal in concepts, films in precepts.” Bluestone is merited for this assumption for proposing that “moving image comes to us directly through perception, language must be filtered through the screen of conceptual apprehension,” (quoted by Leicht, 2003, p 156). Concept and precept cannot be separated in some instances as that of Persepolis. Precept may only be applicable to Persepolis where there was the complete ignorance of the novels whilst it may still be necessary to refer to the novels where the movie failed to deliver a depth that more educated viewers may seek.
  6. Through complete access, novels create more complex characters. This is an undisputable argument that need not be used when discussing film against books. Written works has always been presented with the privilege to explore characters as it may deem necessary (or otherwise) whereas films need to consider certain aspects of time constraint that books need not worry about.

There will always be a continuing satisfaction and dissatisfaction between original works of art or literature and their adapted counterpart. This will depend on several factors that include initial infatuation, the factor of which comes first for the reader or viewer, which has been appreciated first, and which was better understood.

Films adaptations, however, will always be grounded on economic reasons as a necessary supplement to reach out to a wider audience as well as to present a concept in an easily digested manner.

When it comes to Persepolis, whilst the original novels have their own merits as works of art and literature, the film itself is another work of art that explored possibilities despite the limitations it has adapted as its own and as based on the original work. All these compromises as has been deemed necessary by authors, writers, directors, artists and their managements in the publication and film industries has been accepted as a means to an end. The end, of course, is sustainability and economic in nature. Acceptance, popularity, and positive reviews are all by-products of the collaboration between the production team and the author, but artistry and originality cannot be taken away from them.


Leitch, Thomas M. 2003. “Twelve Fallacies in Contemporary Adaptation Theory.” Criticism, Volume 45, Number 2, pp. 149-171.

Ebert, Roger (2005). “The Producers review.” Web.

Geiger, Jeffrey (2004). “Some guidelines for analysis of film sequences.” University of Essex Film Studies. Web.

Osborne, Toby (2004). “Art of Adaptation.” Hollywood Lit Sales. Web.

Corliss, Richard; “The 10 Best Movies”; Time magazine; 2007; Page 40. Web.

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