Apr 7, 2019 in Review

Film Review The Circle


All people face difficulties in their lives. However, the rate of challenges experienced by women in such developing countries as Iran is unprecedentedly high. The current paper provides a detailed analysis of the movie The Circle. A brief summary of the movie will be provided, and the untypical structure of the film will be analyzed. Furthermore, the general director’s style will be examined. Finally, the serious challenges faced by women will be investigated and the recommendations will be formulated. In general, The Circle is a philosophical movie that reflects the most urgent issues present in traditional societies as well as serious difficulties faced by women. All problems are unique, and there is no universal solution to them. Therefore, individuals should rely on the available resources and devote all their energy and strength to solving the problem.

Brief Summary

It is reasonable to provide a brief summary of the movie. It consists of several stories that are indirectly interrelated with one another. The movie begins from the story of a mother who has found out that her daughter has given birth to a girl. This was not good news for the woman as she hoped for a boy. This is highly important for conventional societies, and might even lead to a divorce. Thus, the woman is highly anxious about this situation. For this reason, she meets with three other women. They have escaped from prison and are trying to work out a plan for the near future. One of the women proposes to go to her native village. At the same time, another woman got arrested and was unable to make any decision. The other two women cannot come to a mutual agreement. One of them tries to go by bus but has to abandon her plans due to the presence of police officers.

As she has to modify her plans, she finds another prisoner at that station. Then, the movie describes the story of that prisoner (Pari). She experiences the abuse from her brothers. She has to abandon home as the brothers do not take into account her preferences and point of view. Pari has to go to the hospital where she meets another former prisoner. She is successful in concealing her past and is already married. Then, the viewers understand that Pari is currently pregnant, and the father of her baby is dead. Thus, she cannot even get the permission for abortion from none of her relatives.

No one wants to help Pari as all people are mostly concerned with their own lives. Therefore, she has to try to work out a solution to her problems on her own. She walks at night and has no clear plans about her future. As Pari does not have any ID, she is unable to stay at a hotel or use other public services. Once, she meets a woman that tries to abandon her baby. She hopes that it will be for the best. Pari is in such a low psychological state that she does not make any attempts to try to influence the decision of that woman. Then, the police officer notices that woman and suspects that she is a prostitute. She cannot explain to him that she is not a prostitute and has to escape. Another woman has to spend time in prison because she is also considered to be a prostitute. While being in the cell, the phone rings. The guard calls for the woman with a baby from the first episode of the movie.

Untypical Structure of the Movie

One of the major characteristics of the movie is its untypical structure. Thus, the director tries to influence viewers not only with the help of actors and the formal plot but also through the unique structure of the film that evokes many questions in the audience. It seems that there are two major innovative elements in the movie. The first one is the complete circle of events described in the movie. The last episode of the movie transforms into the first scene. Thus, the viewers arrive at the initial point of the movie and understand it from the perspective of the already obtained experience. The second innovative element is the structure of all stories. They are incomplete and do not provide sufficient context. For example, the audience can see that some women escaped from prison, but their full stories are not revealed. Then, the audience can see several interrelated events, but the further lives of characters remains unknown. Therefore, the director mostly poses questions rather than provides some answers. 

It seems that such innovative structure of the movie performs several important functions. Firstly, it proves that all events in the modern social life are interrelated with one another. Therefore, they should be analyzed in a detailed way. Moreover, the actions of some individuals affect the lives of others. The director encourages a more responsible attitude towards one’s choices and behavior. It is also evident that despite some difficulties many people are not highly responsive in terms of helping others. A vast majority of people are too concentrated on their narrow circle of interests. They are unwilling to make any efforts to help others. It explains the fact that they do not receive any assistance from others while being in trouble. 

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At the same time, it does not mean that the movie is highly pessimistic and does not offer any possible solution to the outlined problems. It merely shows that the scope of the problems is wide. It consists of both objective and subjective aspects. The objective aspects refer to the existing social injustice in Iran. The subjective ones refer to the unwillingness and inability of women to coordinate their efforts to achieve sustainable improvement in their lives by acquiring certain civil rights. However, the stories in the movie are created in a way that shows that negative outcomes are not predetermined. As all stories are incomplete, different outcomes are possible. However, in order to achieve positive results, people should change their behavior. The social system consists of the actions of specific individuals. Thus, any large-scale changes are possible only if they are initiated at the right moment.

The movie shows that it is unreasonable to expect any assistance from others if one is concentrated exclusively on his/her own problems. Other people also tend to adopt the same mode of behavior. As a result, the whole social system becomes inflexible, and it is highly problematic to change the emerged status-quo. However, all actions of people have long-term implications. Therefore, any changes in one’s behavior can affect the overall social structure. All these implicit messages are observed in the movie’s innovative structure.

Analysis of Director’s Style

The correct understanding of the movie and its implications is impossible without a proper analysis of the director’s style. It is necessary to specify the tools selected for achieving the director’s objectives. Jafar Panahi prefers focusing on the major social issues present in his native country. He believes that his movies can affect people’s behavior and reflect a need to respect the rights and liberties of all individuals. He indicates that women, the members of minority groups and children also possess some inalienable rights that should not be violated under any conditions. As Panahi criticizes the existing injustice in all of its forms, the Iranian government is highly hostile towards him as the members of the government believe that Panahi’s movies diminish the government’s support in the eyes of the rest of the population. At the same time, Panahi is largely supported by the humanist organizations all over the world.

In The White Balloon, Panahi demonstrates the beliefs and expectations of the small girl willing to buy a lucky goldfish. The film is very sincere and describes some traditional elements present in Iran. In The Mirror, the director wants to demonstrate the internal world of the major character. He stresses that people often try to use various social masks to create favorable images in the eyes of other members of society. In some cases, they merely try to escape the objective reality as they consider it to be unjust and disturbing. However, Panahi suggests that it is necessary to throw away any masks and analyze the inner side of individuals, their concerns and expectations.

Thus, it is evident that the director demonstrated interest to the problems of ordinary people even in his earlier movies. His films reflect his internal position that the rights of any individual should not be violated for the sake of the wider social or governmental interests. If the society is just, the interests of all of its members can be effectively balanced. However, his earlier works reflect a more direct approach towards stressing upon the major problems present in Iran and possible solutions to them. The situation is different in relation to the analyzed movie The Circle. In this case, the director has selected an indirect approach to elaborate the problem of the unequal treatment of women in Iran. 

It seems that his choice is caused by several factors. Firstly, the question of women’s rights is closely related to the national culture. Thus, it is very complicated, and various interpretations of Iranian culture are possible. Moreover, Panahi is the Iranian film director, and all these concerns are close to him. He does not oppose the Iranian culture and traditions, but he believes that any discriminatory practices should be abandoned in any case. Culture cannot serve as a justification for the systematic violation of women’s rights. Thus, women should play a more active social role in the country. However, these changes cannot be imposed externally; they should be a result of women’s rational choices and the desire to advocate for their rights.

Secondly, it is difficult to design a universal strategy of advocating for women’s rights in Iran. There are different situations and social contexts. As Panahi realizes these difficulties, he suggests that it would be more reasonable to formulate additional questions and specify the major concerns. In this way, people will become more sensitive to such issues and will be able to make suggestions. Moreover, not all Iranians are open to radical changes or reforms. Thus, Panahi wants to encourage them to initiate at least some actions in the right direction. All people have different opportunities, but they are able to make their contribution to solving the most urgent social problems. 

The director reaches all of his objectives with the help of organizing a proper structure of the movie and focusing on various motives demonstrated by different characters. Although all women experience difficulties, their situations are unique and not similar to each other. Some of them want to escape the police; others want to take care of their families (even if abortion is needed for this purpose); and still others just feel desperate and want to improve their mental state. The principles of the movie’s structure include the fact that all episodes are both independent of one another (formally) and allow comprehending the essence of the social problem.

The elements of the narrative are twofold. On the one hand, all traditional elements present in Iranian movies are maintained. On the other hand, narrative contains numerous innovative elements mostly related to the description of the experience of ordinary women with all their problems and concerns. The director uses mise-en-scene effectively to strengthen the overall impression on his viewers. The scene where the woman abandons her little girl is especially powerful as it shows how the existing social system forces people to act against the most fundamental principles of ethics (love for their children). Cinematography is organized professionally, and the viewers experience the described events as if they were real.

Editing is of the highest quality, and the motion picture is well-developed. The modern digital technologies are also used when necessary although they are not the central element in the movie. Sound plays an important role in The Circle. It both stresses upon the major elements of traditional Iranian society and helps perceive the emotions and feelings of different women described in the movie. The emotional impact of the movie is very strong, and it is the major achievement of the director.

Problems of Women in Iran

The major social issue examined in the movie is constant discrimination faced by women in Iran. The Western viewers can be influenced by the following two aspects. Firstly, the discrimination is overwhelming, and it is present in all social spheres. Secondly, the majority of women live under such conditions without expressing their dissatisfaction. It seems as if they implicitly agree to live in such a society. All episodes of the movie show different aspects of discrimination. At the beginning, one of the women is disappointed that her daughter has given birth to a girl rather than a boy. Judging from this fact alone, it becomes evident that Iranian women experience a much disadvantaged position in comparison with men. Moreover, the woman is concerned that her daughter’s husband may decide to divorce her as he expected their child to be a boy. Thus, the complexity of the situation consists in the fact that the child’s gender can lead to the divorce, and such a situation is typical for Iranian society.

The next evident case of discrimination is observed when two Pari’s brothers treat her brutally. They neglect her position completely and are ready to use force if it is necessary from their side. The fact that several women in the movie are ready to abandon their children does not mean that Iranian women are careless about the future of their children. It merely means that the social environment is highly oppressive, and women have to sacrifice their children to meet the expectations of the dominant social groups that consist mostly of men.

From a philosophical perspective, it seems that the majority of women in Iran perform the functions of involuntary supporters of this system. Although they disapprove this regular violation of their rights, they do not initiate any actions that can improve the existing state of affairs. They continue operating in the framework of them playing a secondary role. As men receive this sanction from their victims, they also continue to use their former strategy. It seems that the director encourages women to become more active in terms of advocating for their rights and protecting their liberties. If they demonstrated the disapproval more radically, a large fraction of progressive men would support them. All people who visit Western countries are aware of the large amount of liberties enjoyed by Western women. They are aware that any gender-based discrimination in these countries is inadmissible. Therefore, they can support the positive reforms. However, the initial impulse should come from women demonstrating that they do not accept the role of victims anymore.

Thus, the movie also addresses the issues of liberating people from dogmas and traditions that restrict their liberties. The movie does not advocate for the disrespect to the Iranian culture in general. It stresses that any cultural or traditional arguments cannot result in the promotion of any forms of social injustice. Women should be free to make their own choices and decisions. They should not always adjust their behavior to the existing expectations of men. All people should have the same basic individual rights regardless of their gender, social status and other similar characteristics.  

Although these principles seem to be self-evident for the representatives of Western countries, they may cause substantial opposition in such countries as Iran. The reason is that many people are against any changes in general. Moreover, some categories of people (for example, Iranian men) have some privileges unlike other social groups (such as women), and they are not ready to abandon their privileged positions. However, it is necessary to distinguish between the voluntarily adopted traditional lifestyle on the one hand and the large-scale social discrimination on the other. If Iranian women prefer to be passive in the country’s social and political life, and this decision is voluntary; then no one should impose the norms or traditions of other countries on them. However, if women face discrimination, i.e. if they are deprived of certain rights available for men; this situation cannot be considered admissible. International organizations should also contribute to solving this problem.

Thus, the movie appeals not only to the citizens of Iran but also to those of other countries. The movie indicates that the modern world cannot be just if such discrimination exists in some countries. The developed countries should search for effective ways of influencing the governments of those countries that violate the rights of their citizens or some groups of citizens. It is evident that the entire process should be peaceful and based on diplomatic tools. In general, all individuals should comprehend that the mutual respect and preservation of the rights of all people is the optimal alternative for all people and countries without any exception.


In conclusion, the film The Circle is one of the most influential Iranian movies. It addresses the problems associated with the violation of women’s rights in Iran from several perspectives. The movie has an innovative structure. It consists of a large number of episodes that are almost independent of one another. They are incomplete, and various hypotheses can be formulated regarding the future of women shown in the movie. However, it is evident that their situations are very difficult, and they have to deal with constant discrimination on behalf of men. Although this discrimination takes different forms, it is present in almost all spheres of Iranian society.

The director’s style is evident in the movie as he addresses the most urgent social issues as well as implicitly criticizes the Iranian government. For this reason, his activity in his native country is highly restricted. The movie focuses on the need for changing the existing state of affairs. One the one hand, Iranian women should express their dissatisfaction with the given acts of discrimination more actively. On the other hand, Iranian men and people from other countries should also participate in the process of women’s liberation. The modern global world requires cooperation between all people, especially in relation to such important issues as the ones demonstrated in the movie. 


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