“Under the Shadow”: Womanhood is More than Just Motherhood

Under the shadow was a beautiful horror movie that combined war, motherhood, and the supernatural. Set in Tehran, during the Iran-Iraq war, the story follows Shideh and her daughter Dorsa who’s building gets hit by a missile. Shideh then becomes convinced that the missile carried a Djinn, a Middle-Eastern malicious spirit, into the building and that Dorsa is the main target. Right from the beginning of the movie, we follow Shideh as she gets refused re entrance to her university after she had joined a political group who took violent routes of rebellion. We see that Shideh once had the opportunity to enter university as a medical student and was actually encouraged by her mother. This is important to note as not that many women usually enter medicine back in the 80’s and especially not for such a patriarchal society. It is then seen that Shideh has quite a few rights and her husband sees her as an equal. She has basic rights like driving, which is noted by a secondary character in the movie who points out she is the only woman in the whole building to drive.

Once Shideh arrives home, we get to see a fight with her husband. He believes that the war is becoming much too dangerous for them to stay in that city and Shideh refuses to leave her home because of rumors that say Tehran is the next target for attack. In the fight, her husband suggests that they should relocate to his family’s house, to which Shideh responds is unnecessary. She makes it a point to him that she can take care of her child and is a capable mother. With this fight, a lot of people might have assumed that she was a neglectful or selfish mother because she didn’t put her child’s safety above everything. However, later in the movie, you can very clearly see how much she’s willing to do for her child. Dorsa, the daughter, had a very strong emotional attachment to a doll and the Djinn stole the doll in order to keep them hostage. Dorsa refused to leave without it, and Shideh spent long periods of time searching for it, even putting her life in danger to make her child happy.

On the topic of her refusal to leave, her husband calls her stubborn and irresponsible. In some cases, you could say that if a man were to refuse to leave his home during war, he is strong and brave. However, for a woman in the same context, she is selfish and a bad mother. Her refusal is a huge act of bravery and she stays strong for her child the whole time even when there’s alarms of missile attacks and they must hide in the basement. However, once she feels the supernatural is dangerous and they must leave, they are the last ones left in the building; all of the other families left one by one throughout the movie. She faces these horrific things alone, protects her child, and fights the Djinn. In the end, she does leave to go live with her in-laws, but I truly do feel like she showed absolute bravery the whole time. Her refusing to leave her home was strength to me, not stubbornness. And at no point in the movie did I ever think: “Shideh is a bad mother”.

Although the supernatural is a strong part of the movie, it’s also a very important thing to note how the war affected the setting. Not only did it make it scarier, but we get to see a strong woman go through such tough times. When she was younger, she had joined a political group who wanted to revolt against the gouvernement. She believed it was patriotic and she should do something for her country which is why she stopped attending her medical school. This is so important because even though the execution of her actions weren’t the best, she still was patriotic which is something you usually only see portrayed on men. Her husband also leaves to join the army as it’s annual mandatory enrollment forces him to. We then see how much women also go through when they’re left with their families during war. The man may be protecting his country, but the woman needs to protect her children alone now.

Another important aspect of womanhood that was highlighted in this movie was female friendships. When Shideh comes home from her rejection into the college, she picks up Dorsa from a neighbor. This neighbor was an older woman who offered solace to Shideh more than once. Not only could Shideh entrust her with her daughter, but she could also talk to her when she felt scared in their apartment. When another air raid siren goes off and everyone is forced into the basement, you see this older motherly figure stand with Shideh and comfort her while Dorsa talks to the kids of the other families. When the grandfather of the Ebrahimi family gets a heart attack from the missile landing in front of him, the family goes to Shideh asking for her help since she had some medical knowledge. When Shideh fails to save him and they’re all sitting outside as they wait for police, medics and bomb agents to clean up the place, that neighbor comforts Shideh by telling her she tried her best and there was nothing more she could do. Overall, having that relationship with someone is probably one of the reasons why Shideh stayed so strong through everything and that is why female friendship is important.

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