Stoning of Soraya M., The (2009)

Rated: R for a disturbing sequence of cruel and brutal violence, and brief strong language.
Length: 114 minutes
Grade: CDBC=C+
Budget: Perhaps $2 million?
Box Office: $1 million (637,000 U.S., 449,000 Intl.)

Written and Directed by: Cyrus Nowrasteh (First major movie), cowritten by Betsy Giffen Nowrasteh (First script), based on the book by Freidoune Sahebjam
Starring: Shohreh Aghdashloo, Mozran Marno, and Jim Caviezel
With: Navid Negahban, Ali Pourtash, and David Diaan.

A French journalist travelling in Iran is stranded in a remote village by his car breaking down. While there, a woman tells him the story of Saroya M., a young mother who just the previous day was falsely charged with adultery and stoned to death.

Entertainment Value: C
It’s difficult to assess this movie as entertainment, because as such it really isn’t. It’s very unpleasant to watch and the fact that the ending is known in advance removes any of the dramatic tension you might normally have. The story itself is based on a real account which a French-Iranian journalist published in 1998 in an effort to reveal the life of Iranians since the fall of the Shah, particularly with regards to the oppression of women. The script, acting, and direction are all good. I just can’t describe it as entertaining.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sex/Nudity A, Violence D-, Language C
Almost all of the movie is in subtitles, so the language, such as it is, is read not heard. The subject matter is allegations of adultery, but there is no sex or nudity at all. In fact, you hardly see anything but women’s faces or hair. The real issue is violence, which involves a woman showing bruises, being slapped, and ultimately an extended scene of her being stoned to death. This scene will remind you of the imagery in Passion of the Christ, which isn’t a big surprise with Caviezel’s presence and one of the Producers having produced that movie as well. It’s hard for me to tell you what age this is appropriate for, since it depends on whether you think children should be shown injustices such as the Holocaust. But the violence and occasional strong language certainly justify the R rating.

Significant Content: B
The entire point of the movie is to show what injustice looks like and how it happens in corrupt societies. In a world where women have no standing and men are subject to being manipulated and deceived, especially where the justice system is not transparent, grave evils can be done in the name of moral purity. The other lesson is about the importance of being loyal to both the truth and to decent people who are threatened by evil. Unholy men pretending to work under the authority of God (Allah) do unspeakable things.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
From the point of view of producing a horrified reaction, this is good art. But in the “what can I do with this” point of view, there’s really no answer anywhere on the horizon. “Just know it happens,” doesn’t seem to be a very useful response. Perhaps we can put ourselves in the various shoes of this movie and ask how we might behave differently, but the setting is so remote that it’s hard to make that cognitive leap.

Discussion Questions:
~What features of American society do you take for granted that in this movie are missing? What features of our justice system might have averted this end result?
~Does this movie seem more to be saying how awful repressive regimes are or how capable of evil ordinary people are? How much of the injustice of this movie is attributable to Iran’s Islamic status and how much to mere individual evil and manipulation?
~What messages does this movie have about gender oppression and the importance of men not having sole authority over women?
~Adultery is a capital offense in the Old Testament. Do you think adultery should be punishable at all today? What sort of issues about such crimes does this movie raise?
~Looking at each of the characters in this movie, if you had advice to give them, what would you say? How would you behave differently? How might being a Christian have changed any of them?
~The mayor seems at two different times to be on the verge of interceding because of possible signs from God. Have you ever failed to heed that sort of a warning from Him?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~The opening scene, when Ebrahim doesn’t want to work on the car because he’s tired. How does Caviezel pressing money into his hands strike you in retrospect?
~The stoning, especially with the boys.
Overall Grade: C+
I don’t think I can really recommend this movie, but I will say that if you want to get a behind-the-scenes sense of frustration and injustice in an Islamic state, especially concerning the mistreatment of women, this will do.

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