Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Everybody Must Get Stoned

Ah, women. Can't live with 'em. Can't beat 'em to death with rocks.

Oh. Wait a tick.

It's Iran! And the movie is The Stoning of Soraya M., based on the 1986 true story of an Iranian man who uses Sharia law to handle his marital issues in a creative manner. That is to say, he conspires to have her convicted of committing adultery.

I sort of have to be a little flip here because this is a grim story of an unfortunately common experience in Iran and other Muslim strongholds, and you know from the get-go pretty much how it's going to come out.

The build-up felt slow to The Boy but this is a story I think is done well, and reflects one of my favorite narrative flourishes: Even with the outcome being known in advance, a good storyteller creates suspense and a desire to see a different outcome in the audience. (I'm not a Stephen King fan, but he does a good job of this in Carrie. And, of course, that Shakespeare guy.)

There isn't really a lot to talk about, movie-wise. The acting is quite good. You'll probably recognize Shoreh Aghdashloo who is (in essence) the narrator, and Soraya's Aunt. You might recognize Mozhan MarnĂ² from her work in Traitor or from the refugee camp scenes in Charlie Wilson's War. And so on. (American movies about foreign cultures tend to have the same A-List actors from that culture, so it's practically shocking that I didn't recognize anything from Kite Runner.)

There are a few directorial flourishes, and a little music, but mostly this is a spare tale, plainly told.

And, frankly, it pissed me off. I mean, when the opening scene has Aghdashloo running to the river in a black burka, it reminded me so much of The Life of Brian, I had to smile. The Life of Brian also has the greatest stoning scene ever.

And it made me think of what I was saying in my last MMA post. There is a fate worse than death, and the Irianians opted for it 30 years ago. I mean, come on! The stunning similarity between life in Iran in 1986 to (an admittedly faked) portrayal of life in the year 1 reminds one that, in the year 1, the Persians were probably ahead of where they were in 1986.

I was actually sort of jarred by the presence of an automobile. Occasionally there are shots of men in modern-ish clothes. And a radio. Otherwise, this story could've taken place centuries ago.

I mentioned it pissed me off? It did. Big time. The men in this movie are evil, weak, cowardly and stupid. There are bookends with Jim Caviezel (of Jesus fame) who is the only male in the movie approaching heroic. It would make me ashamed to be Persian.

The women are more varied. Some are happy enough to be tools of a genuine patriarchy (not like the one we allegedly have here), and most are convinced of their own helplessness. Zahra (Agdashloo), though more acclimated than the other women to freedom, also seems to know Sharia better than they do, and how and when to push against the order.

The visceral reaction I felt at times was rather unusual for me. Soraya's husband was a good example of a guy who "just needed killin'", as they say in Texas. And I kept thinking that women should be champions of the second amendment. Also, I kept hoping someone would stick a knife into that guy.

When a bus rolls in at the climactic scene, I wanted it to plow through these worthless men.

It's not that kind of movie, obviously, but it would make a great primer for a Persian Death Wish or Rambo. A more transparent and gross miscarriage of justice would scarcely be possible.

In my more phlegmatic moments I reminded myself that there are similar stories in the Western world. I don't know of any wholesale "get out of marriage free"-type situations like those set-up by Sharia but Ancient Greek culture had some interesting oddities in that regard. Still, that's a long time and a lot of apocalypses ago.

But this goes on today! Needless to say, there's an awful stoning in this picture. A true, horrible depiction. Where Kite Runner gave us a scene of wide-scale social insanity, an impersonal lynching by a huge mob in a massive modern arena, Stoning gives us an intimate, awful, close-up look at an innocent woman being killed by her family and friends.

The framing story actually pissed me off more for reasons I can't say without a spoiler. Nonetheless, a good movie about an awful story.


  1. Don't you mean, "an Iranian man who uses Sharia law …"? Up at the top. You can fix that and then delete this.

  2. Thanks, Hector. I'll live with my shame, though. Heh.

  3. Thanks for this review, Blake. I don't think I'll watch it. It's one of those movies I know will haunt me and I probably can't take it. But I still want to know it exists.

  4. You know that Persians really don't know how to get their rocks off.

  5. I don't think I'll watch it. It's one of those movies I know will haunt me and I probably can't take it. But I still want to know it exists.

    Yeah, too harsh for me, too, Darcy. But it's not people like us who need to watch it. It's the people who don't believe we have much to fear from Radical Islam, and that the threat is exaggerated.

    That's how I felt about the beheading videos, too. I pretty much figured, "Actually watching this can't make me any more outraged by their behavior, so I'll spare myself the nightmares."

  6. It's remarkably brutal. And what's interesting is that up to that point, it's all very banal, low-key maneuvering. Only Aghdashloo (and, of course, the audience) sees the horror that's coming and believes it can happen.

    Brutal and degraded. And really, really stupid. And evil.

    It doesn't make me more outraged. And, no, I wouldn't recommend it without that caveat.

    It's kind of like 4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days, in that if you need a graphic depiction of how awful totalitarianism is, that's your movie. (Or this is.)

  7. At least it's nice to know that traditional marriages are respected somewhere.

  8. if you need a graphic depiction of how awful totalitarianism is, that's your movie.

    After seeing Lives of Others I thought it should be required viewing for all US High Schools. Seriously, if I had seen that as a teen, it would have been a revelation: "Oh, this is why everyone's so worked up about the USSR." I knew they were supposed to be "bad" in a vague sense, but I had no idea what that meant for the lives of their very own citizens.

    Everyone assumes that the horrors of totalitarianism are just sort of intuitively understood. They're not!! Which is exactly why we're in the situation we're in today.


Grab an umbrella. Unleash hell. Your mileage may vary. Results not typical. If swelling continues past four hours, consult a physician.