The Psychology of The Apple (1998): Abusive Paternalism

III. Abusive Paternalism


What can be extrapolated from this analysis of Genie and Developmental Psychology as it relates to The Apple is two-fold. First, it can deepen the wrinkle of what I will dub “Abusive Paternalism” seen in Ghorban Ali Naderi. Second, it expands the discussion of language as it pertains to the film’s aesthetic.

Abusive Paternalism, in the case of this article, refers to the parenting style exercised by the fathers in both the case of Genie and the case of The Apple. Paternalism refers to authoritative rule in which a people’s freedoms are restricted for the sake of safety. The ruler in this case views what he or she is doing as in the best interest for those whose freedoms are limited. In the extreme cases outlined in this article, this paternalism leads to emotional, mental and/or physical abuse, hence Abusive Paternalism.

Ghorban Ali Naderi believes throughout the film that he is being slandered by the press and that his name is being tarnished as a result. While this is certainly a self-centered view of the situation, and his actions against his children are in no means morally acceptable, he truly believes that what he is doing to his children are in their best interests. In his moral reasoning, sending his daughters out onto the street could lead to their loss of societal respect, which he believes would result in them never being able to get married, an aspect of life he holds in high regard.

Without defending this moral stance—his actions are clearly detrimental to his daughters’ health and happiness—I would like to extend my previous argument that Ghorban Ali Naderi is nevertheless a sympathetic character, and I am doing this under the aforementioned presumption that Makhmalbaf intended his character to be viewed in this way.

Returning to the case study of Genie briefly, we can look at the fate of the girl’s father. Instead of appearing in court to be tried for child abuse, Genie’s father committed suicide, leaving a note reading: “The world will never understand” (James). (I don’t know why I can’t write a Film Philosophy article without it returning to the concept of suicide, but I digress).

Genie’s father exercised Abusive Paternalism through a warped logic that she was mentally disturbed and must be protected from the outside world. Like Ghorban Ali Naderi, the social isolation was under an assumption of safety. And like Genie’s father, Naderi expresses his own warped logic behind his daughters’ isolation, only to find that no one shares his beliefs.

What some of the characters in The Apple do show, however, is a sympathy for Naderi’s position. The social worker returns the children to Naderi with the established promise that he will change his ways. When he doesn’t, the social worker does not simply take the children away from him, but instead puts him in the reversal, the situation in which he must learn the error of his ways the hard way.

The film does not directly engage with the question of custody in the case of the children. What is left, then, when the film ends is a confounding ethical dilemma involving family and development. Is someone who engages in Abusive Paternalism truly fit to raise a child? Is the sympathy shown in The Apple appropriate given the severe nature of the children’s development?

I have opinions but no answers. The silver lining is that these cases are few and far between, but The Apple paints the isolation and subsequent liberation of Massoumeh and Zahra Naderi in such a poetic light that it begs for further analysis. The lack of conclusiveness to the entire situation only fuels this drive for analysis all the more.

On page four, the limiting factor of language and how to express beauty

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