Holy Spider

In 2000 and 2001, a serial killer ran amok in Iran killing prostitutes. Serial killers killing prostitutes is probably as old as prostitutes, or serial killers, and you’ve seen it a million times, but you haven’t seen it in post-Revolutionary Iran.

What’s the difference?

Well, what that means is the second act ends with the capture of the killer, and the third act concerns the popular support for the killer among hardline Muslims.

Remember, kids, all cultures are equally valid!

Look closely-er.

The cat-and-mouse part of the movie, the first two acts, is nothing special in the world of serial killer movies. Although there is a moment of explicit fellatio, which was as shocking as the movie opening with—and staying focused—on a topless woman—while also not being filmed in Bakersfield. (It was filmed in Lebanon, I believe.) One interesting aspect of this is the movie’s focus on the killer which is…I don’t want to say sympathetic…but remarkably empathetic. The Spider, as he’s known professionally, is a family man whose neighborhood is increasingly being encroached on by prostitutes.

He’s a little weird. He has some PTSD from the Iran/Iraq war. No real attempt to explain his behavior is made, which is just as well.

The other interesting thing about this is the protagonist Rahimi is played by Zar Amir-Ebrahimi, who allegedly just signed on as the casting director and ended up playing the part because the actress who was going to play it ducked out over fears of playing the part without a hijab. There’s a sort of rough quality to the performance (although Amir-Ebrahimi is a seasoned actress) that lends some credence to the idea. That is to say, it feels less like Zar is acting and more like she’s actually concerned someone might murder her, and she’s going ahead anyway. (A meta-performance, almost. It’s a distinct and original quality they might not have gotten with the original actress.)

The third act is where the movie comes home both as a statement (and it is a statement) and an aesthetic product. The Spider is defiant. He’s not sorry. He was cleaning up the streets.

Dangerous headgear.

And, wackily enough, people agree with that sentiment.

I mean, hell, I could see their point. And the movie doesn’t shy away from the seamy nature of the business, which is doubly seamy and weird in a society where you might get stoned for not wearing a head scarf.

But, man, you’d think there’d be someone saying “Hey, prostitution is bad, but let’s see what steps we can take before murder.” I’m sure—I hope anyway, there were people in real life doing just that, but the movie focuses on the Spider’s supporters. Also, the Spider, knowing he has support becomes increasingly convinced he’s going to get away with it. And the movie shows, in subtle ways, that he’s losing his grip on reality.

As the result, the end is quite a surprise to him, as it will be to the inattentive viewer.

Even wide-open spaces on beautiful days in Iran seem oppressive.

The coda to the film has the Spider’s son (who idolized his father) demonstrating how he will carry on the family tradition, using his sister as a handy victim. (This is playacting, I hasten to add: He does not kill his sister.)

In our world of microaggressions and hypersensitivity, where some shriek that everything political action that doesn’t go their way is “just like sharia”, it can be almost difficult to process actual sharia, actual patriarchy, actual misogyny.

We had to go out of our way to see this, first because it was stubbornly staying in Santa Monica when we were short on movie choices, and next because our first attempt to see it—there were no subtitles and our Iranian is rusty. (The number of issues we’ve had with exhibitions is rather perplexing.) But ultimately we were glad we did.

A lot of official areas in Iran seem sorta impromptu.

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