Retribution and Overcoming Trauma in The Salesman

***TW: Discussion of Sexual Abuse and Trauma***

The movie, The Salesman, directed by Asghar Farhadi, narrates the story of a couple of theatre actors in an already difficult situation, Rana and Eman. A lack of money prevents them from having both an apartment and a car, therefore they accept an invitation to move into an apartment offered to them by their friend Babak. What they come to learn very soon, is that the previous owner of the apartment was a sex worker who left her belongings in the apartment in search of another home. Despite the couple’s insistence, no one shows up to get the furniture. When Eman comes home one night he finds his wife covered in blood in a terrible state. She has been assaulted by one of the sex worker’s former clients, who was let in by Rana by mistake. Rana is deeply scarred by the event but can’t bring herself to talk about it and refuses to go to the police or to shower, in fear of re-living her trauma.

Despite Rana’s will, Eman is determined to find the culprit and tracks down the man he supposes to have the blame. In a turn of events, his father-in-law shows up to his house under Eman’s request to get some help to move out some boxes. The man gets interrogated and when Eman discovers the truth he locks the culprit in a small room and leaves, calling for his family to come and witness his confession. The man suffers from heart problems and is very weak, when Eman comes back he is unconscious. Rana and Eman manage to save his life and Rana battles with attempting to forgive him, eventually supposedly succeeding, seeing him for the weak old man he is. The man’s family comes and offers to take him away, but Eman wants to end their suspended business. He takes the man apart, gives him back the money he left in the apartment for the sex worker and punches him. After, as the man leaves, he collapses on the stairs and leaves in an ambulance. The movie ends with an image of Eman and Rana preparing to perform Death of a Salesman. The two are deeply perturbed, unsure of the outcome of their actions and of what will become of their relationship.

Image Source: Still via Amazon Studios // YouTube

This is a work which looks at Rana’s abuser from two perspectives. Repositioning our vision through Rana’s gaze, we see her abuser as a weak and frail man, flawed and mortal, which psychologically separates us somewhat from his abuses. From Eman’s, we see Rana’s persecutor as malicious and unhuman, encouraging us to want to seek retribution for his wrongdoings above all else. The co-existence of these points of views helps the audience to process the persecutor’s image in all its complexity, as a fundamentally weak man, who has done something unforgivable. It is particularly interesting to consider the victim’s response to her abuser, as Rana is the one that fundamentally asks Eman to forgive the man and let him go. She decides to cope with her trauma in a courageous refusal to be controlled by him any longer, which manifests in her desire to physically release him.

This decision might be considered a way for Rana to avoid the constant orientation around her traumatic experience, and is an ambiguous note to end on. Does this ending suggest that accountability is impossible, does it still leave open the question: is this enough to punish the physical and psychological damage inflicted by her abuser? The Salesman is a film however, which nevertheless places the ultimate control back into Rana’s hands, affording her the ability to let go of her trauma in a way which she determines, and stripping the abuser of his power.  

Lisa Greghi

Featured Image Source: Still via Amazon Studios // YouTube

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