A precocious and outspoken Iranian girl grows up during the Islamic Revolution.
In 1970s Iran, Marjane 'Marji' Satrapi watches events through her young eyes and her idealistic family of a long dream being fulfilled of the hated Shah's defeat in the Iranian Revolution of 1979. However as Marji grows up, she witnesses first hand how the new Iran, now ruled by Islamic fundamentalists, has become a repressive tyranny on its own. With Marji dangerously refusing to remain silent at this injustice, her parents send her abroad to Vienna to study for a better life. However, this change proves an equally difficult trial with the young woman finding herself in a different culture loaded with abrasive characters and profound disappointments that deeply trouble her. Even when she returns home, Marji finds that both she and homeland have changed too much and the young woman and her loving family must decide where she truly belongs.
- The film begins in an airport where Marjane Satrapi is unable to board a plane to Iran. Sitting down to smoke a cigarette, she remembers her life as a girl in 1978 at the age of 9. As a child, Marji is a young girl living in Tehran with dreams of being a prophet and an emulator of Bruce Lee. Juxtaposing her childhood ambitions is the general uprising against the US-backed Shah of Iran in Iran, with her middle-class family participating in rallies and protests with high hopes for a better society. Meanwhile, Marji attempts to identify with her generation's point of view, whether it is threatening the child of an unpopular government official, or competing for the greater childish prestige of having a relative who has been a political prisoner the longest time. Marji and a group of friends attempt to attack a young boy whose father killed Communists for fun, but they are stopped by her mother. That night, God appears before her to teach her about forgiveness, and about how she should not take justice into her own hands. One day Marji's Uncle Anoush arrives to have dinner with the family and catch with them after recently being released from prison. Anoush tells Marji his life on the run from the government for rebelling with his Communist ideologyhe also speaks of his time spent in prison to subtly warn Marjane of the consequences of standing up for innocents.
During this time all political enemies ceased fighting and elections for a new leading power commenced. Unfortunately, the hopes of the family are profoundly disappointed when Islamic Fundamentalists win the elections and force Iranian society into its own kind of repressive state. Soon there are new laws that make things worse for the Iranian people, such as forcing women to dress modestly (including wearing the Hijab) to rearresting and executing Anoush for his political beliefs. Profoundly disillusioned, Marji rejects her prophetic aspirations before God and tries with her family to fit into the reality of the intolerant regime. To make things worse, the Iran-Iraq war breaks out and Marji sees for herself the horrors or death and destruction; the Iranian government begins implementing blatant laws that create ridiculous injustices. Marji witnesses her father threatened by teenage government officials wielding machine-guns and watches her critically ill uncle die because an unqualified government-appointed hospital administrator refuses to let him go abroad for medical treatment. The family tries to find some solace in secret parties where they can enjoy simple pleasures the government has outlawed, such as alcohol. As she grows up, Marji refuses to stay out of trouble, secretly buying Western heavy metal music on the black market, wearing unorthodox clothing such as a denim jacket, celebrating punk rock and other Western music sensations like Michael Jackson, or openly rebutting a teacher's lies about the abuses of the government.
Fearing her arrest for her outspokenness, Marji's parents send her to a school in Vienna, Austria in 1983 where she could have safety and plenty. She is placed in a Christian boarding school when she arrives and soon finds herself on edge with the discriminatory and judgmental nuns that reside there. Marji does make new friends, but ultimately she feels intolerably isolated in a foreign land surrounded by annoyingly superficial people who take their freedoms for granted while making her feel ashamed of being Iranian. Her shame culminates in a passionate love affair with a debonair native that traumatically ends on her eighteenth birthday when she discovers him cheating on her. After going from place to place seeking residence, she is driven into homelessness where she nearly dies of bronchitis before she is rescued off the streets.
Marji eventually recovers and returns to Iran in 1993 with her family's permission and hopes that the conclusion of the war would mean an improved life there. After a while of spending her time in front of television for days on end, doing nothing to advance her life, Marji falls into a clinical depression over the state of affairs in Iran and the misery that has nearly ruined her family. In a dream God and the spirit of Karl Marx appear before her to remind her of what is important and encourage her to go on with living. She bounces back with renewed determination and begins enjoying life again: she attends university classes, goes to parties, and even enters a relationship with a fellow student. On the other hand, Marji also discovers that Iranian society is more tyrannized than ever with numerous atrocities occurring. Mass executions for political beliefs and petty religious absurdities and hypocrisies have become common in everyday life. While this makes living as both a student and a woman intolerable, Marji manages holds on to her rebellious attitude. She openly confronts the blatant sexist double standard in her university's forum on public morality that singles out women and tells off policemen who warn her for running to class because her "behind makes obscene gestures" when she does so. However, she starts resorting to personal survival tactics to protect herself, such as falsely accusing a man of making a pass at her to avoid being arrested for wearing make up and marrying her boyfriend to avoid scrutiny by the religious police. Her grandmother reminds Marji that both her grandfather and her uncle both died supporting freedom and innocent people, and she should never forsake them or her family by succumbing to the repressive environment of Iran.
Eventually her marriage falls apart and things come to a head when a party is raided by the police which results in a friend being killed trying to escape. After these incidents and her divorce, the family decides that Marji must leave the country again, and this time permanently, to avoid her being targeted by the authorities as a political dissident. Marji agrees, and her grandmother dies soon after her departure.
Back to present day, Marji once again is unable to return to Iran, and she takes a taxi from the airport. When the driver asks where she is from, she sighs, "Iran". Her final memory is of her grandmother telling her how she placed jasmine in her brassiere to allow her to smell lovely every day.