The Wind Will Carry Us, 1999
Written and Directed by Abbas Kiarostami
Starring Behzad Dorani, Noghre Asadi, Roushan Karam
Truly one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen. Despite taking place in a barren area of Iran, the gorgeous cinematography of The Wind Will Carry Us transforms its audience from simple movie viewers to privileged beholders of earth’s great splendor. The film’s palpable sensation of a vast arid desert stimulates the imagination as only a master filmmaker can. Before hints of a plot begin, before any human speaks intention, the visual grandeur of nature stirs the soul.
In the film’s opening scenes, our viewpoint rises from firm ground to open air looking out over an old SUV spiraling down a dirt road with rolling hills of golden grain spilling toward the horizon. A patter of talk rises from the car. The men inside debate whether they’re going in the right direction to a small town they’re seeking. A tree standing alone in an empty wheat field serves as their only landmark. For a moment, I turn off the subtitles to feel the effect of entering a foreign country with men conversing in a foreign tongue.
Images of Brecht’s play, Waiting for Godot, pass through my mind. In particular, I recall two men on a park bench with a lone tree on an empty stage reflecting the deep inner waiting that is life apart from its events. I turn the subtitles back on. “We’re headed nowhere.”, I read one of the men saying. I smile as I slide into a land where all transpires on a symbolic plane, only to be understood in reflection.
A young boy greets the men as they near the village, a village built into the side of a hill much like the ones built by Anasazi Indians, but smoothed and rounded. Homes are shaped by hand out of the earth, connected and knit together by clay paths kept immaculately clean. The purpose of the men’s visit remains obscure. The boy seems to know why they’ve come, but the men quickly swear him to secrecy. One man emerges as prominent; his assistants will always be nearly invisible. With a bit of a smile, he tells the boy, “If anyone asks you why we’re here, tell them we’re looking for buried treasure.”
The main man, dubbed the Engineer by villagers, asks the boy to show them where an old woman is dying. And then he never visits her. He asks others how she’s doing but he occupies himself with shaving, finding food and answering calls on his cell phone from a woman who also wants to know how the old woman is doing. Every time the cell phone rings, he leaps in his SUV and races to the top of a hill for reception.
At the top of the hill, a villager digs a well in a cemetery. The Engineer often sits and watches him dig while he talks on the phone. He tells the caller he has to wait for the old woman to die but offers no explanation about why. While the woman is very old and not eating, the days until her end are in question because she rallies off and on. To an unheard question, he answers it’s not a waste of his time. Death is clearly not a predictable event but one that must be waited for. The calls lend insight into his presence in the village. He’s on a deathwatch.
The Engineer seems certain he’s doing the right thing. He will not interfere with the course of events. He waits with patience and impatience. Of course, while I wait, I begin to wonder who he really is and since I don’t know who he is, I begin to wonder who a man called the Engineer might represent? Since the story gives no clue of his relationship to the woman, the villagers or the caller on his cell, I’m left to my imagination and I do begin to imagine. The teleological argument for the existence of God proposes a designer – an engineer, perhaps – who directs natural things to their end (St. Thomas Acquinas).
While the Engineer waits and walks through the village and its surrounding countryside, he passes fields and valleys toward and through mountains alive with color and texture. As he walks, we flow through stands of trees turned chartreuse green by glistening sunlight. Is the Engineer acting as imago guide in the wilderness of life’s existential waiting?
He befriends the boy who, as he passes him, is always busy taking exams. The boy’s schooling is central, his main pursuit. He loves to study, to learn and take exams. When the boy turns down a ride with the Engineer, he gets a lesson.
Engineer: Hurry up get in.
Farzad: I can’t come now.
Farzad: I need one more answer for the exam.
Engineer: What is it?
Farzad: The fourth question.
Engineer: You don’t know the answer?
Farzad: Because I don’t.
Engineer: What was it?
Farzad: “What happens to the Good and Evil on Judgment day? ”
Engineer: That’s obvious. The Good go to hell and the Evil to heaven. Is that right?
Engineer: No. the Good go to heaven, the Evil go to hell. Hurry in and write that, then come back.
Is he every child?
A young woman who lives across from where the Engineer is staying gives birth to her ninth child. One day she’s pregnant and stringing yarn on her balcony; the next she’s slim, no longer pregnant and back hanging yarn. She’s given birth with the predictability of harvesting a field of grain in summer.
Is she every mother?
The man digging the well falls in and is almost buried alive while the Engineer is nearby receiving one of his calls. He rushes the news of the accident to the villagers, saving the man’s life. He’s rescued. Not his time to die.
Is he every man?
As the Engineer watches a young woman dressed in red milking a cow for him, he recites poetry to her that elevates her task to a maid reflecting cycles of the moon. She lives in two worlds.
Is she every woman?
The maid gives him milk as a gift. The Engineer is recognized as an honored guest of the village though he does nothing substantial. Somehow, everyone knows and accepts his presence.
But the hovering and wandering of the film prompt us to ask “Why is he here?” We wonder what vision is being opened up for us. The Wind Will Carry Us leaves us to guess.
Perhaps we are following the angel of death, the one who engineers the cycle from beginning to end?
Perhaps we live amongst earth’s great beauty and do not see it as vividly as we could?
Perhaps we’re being urged by the film’s great beauty to see earth’s bountiful renewal, the way waiting for death is part of our learning and part of our knowledge?
Perhaps we scurry about, studying and working on the one hand while on the other, we move slowly, birthing, tending and dying?
Perhaps all is being overseen by the Engineer who is as ordinary as we are?
Perhaps The Wind Will Carry Us is making a call, a message of urgency requiring a race to the top of a hill repeatedly until time releases us?
The Wind Will Carry Us serves as a reminder, an assertion that we are critical observers of the earth’s grand mystery of regeneration so no one slips into forgetfulness.
Written by Dr. Jane Alexander Stewart
Newtopia staff writer Jane Alexander Stewart, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles who writes essays about mythic themes in film, creates “Myth in Film; Myth in Your Life” seminars for self-exploration and travels a lot. Her film reviews have been published in the San Francisco C.G. Jung Library Journal, Spring: A Journal of Archetype and Culture and Los Angeles Journal of Psychological Perspectives. Jane’s popular essay on “The Feminine Hero in The Silence of the Lambs” appears in the anthology, The Soul of Popular Culture, and in The Presence of the Feminine in Film as one of its authors. She’s also presented myth in film programs at Los Angeles County Museum, University of Alabama and C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich. A collection of her reviews and other writing can be found atwww.CinemaShrink.com.