Film Review: The Stoning of Soraya M.

posted at 7:00 am on September 12, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

The Stoning of Soraya M has not yet hit theaters, but believe me, this is one film that will not appear quietly and disappear without notice.  I attended a pre-release screening last night, and it reminded me of all the reasons I love film as an art form and as a medium of communication.  When it finally makes it to the theaters, people should line up to see this powerful, dramatic, and disturbing representation of a true story.

The film comes from a book of the same name, written by French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam, about the stoning execution of a young wife and mother for the crime of infidelity.  Sahebjam discovers this story by accident and had to wait until he gets out of Iran to tell it.   The regime in Tehran officially denies that any such executions take place, but at least one videotape of a stoning has been smuggled out of Iran, and many more people have testified to their occurrence.

Soraya’s husband Ali has tired of Soraya after having four children with her, and wants to marry the 14-year-old daughter of one of his prisoners.  He can’t afford two wives, so he demands a divorce from Soraya, who refuses for economic reasons.  Instead, Ali conspires with the local mullah — a fraud who has to keep Ali from exposing him — to frame Soraya for infidelity.  The “evidence” is laughably transparent, but as Soraya notes in the film, “voices of women do not matter here”.

Her aunt Zahra, played by Shohreh Aghdashloo, provides the central voice for the film.  It’s mostly told in flashback as she explains what happened to the journalist who only came to town because his car broke down.  Aghdashloo provides the voice of conscience and reason in a town gone mad, a village where Soraya’s own father calls her an unprintable name and where her sons join in the stoning.  Even with most of the film in subtitles, it is easy to follow and heartbreaking and enraging to watch.

The performances are universally excellent.  Aghdashloo, an Iranian ex-patriate herself, brings Zahra and her defiance and despair to life.  Mozhan Marno portrays Soraya beautifully, especially in the execution scene.  Jim Caveziel plays the journalist, and while he doesn’t get much screen time, he does well with what he has.  Navid Negahban provides a malevolent presence as Ali, while David Diaan’s Ebrahim winds up being perhaps the worst of the villains — a good man who refuses to stop an injustice he knows to be happening.

After the film, Aghdashloo and producer Stephen McEveety spoke for a while about their experiences making the film.  Ms. Aghdashloo was tremendously open and honest about her own experiences, speaking of her flight from Iran and her efforts to get her family out, and her thoughts on the current regime and their barbaric treatment of women.  I introduced myself to McEveety, who remembered that I wrote a review for his other film, An American Carol.  After I pried his hands off my neck — you laugh, but it’s true! — I told him what an amazing film this was.

I’d recommend you see both this fall.  An American Carol will entertain you and its success will send a message to Hollywood, but The Stoning of Soraya M will send a much more powerful message all around the world — and it will haunt you for a very long time, especially the execution sequence, which had most of the audience tonight in sobs.

If you want more information about stonings in Iran and elsewhere around the world, please visit the film website, www.thestoning.com.

Update: The director, Cyrus Nowrasteh, also stars in John Ziegler’s new film, Blocking the Path to 9/11.  Be sure to check Ziegler’s essay on that from yesterday.


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Poignantly similar to “Kite Runner”, only non-fiction. I can’t wait to see it.

lionheart on September 12, 2008 at 7:08 AM

Geez. I have to be the only human being on the planet that hated the Kite Runner (I read the book; I wasn’t inclined to see the movie after that).

Will this film be released in mainstream theaters, or will I have to go to an arty place?

S. Weasel on September 12, 2008 at 7:16 AM

This is exactly what the world should see,taking the veil
off Islam,in all its ugliness,brutality,and pure horror
that befalls,women,gays,and anything else that doesn’t
fit the Islamic religion!

It would be nice if HollyWood would do their duty,in so
much as Hollywood did during World War Two!

And what is needed, are a lot more movies, telling the truth
of Iran(Persia),even a movie depicting what would happen
if Islam conqured the world!

Maybe only then,people would understand how dangerous and
cult slaved the religion of peace really is!

canopfor on September 12, 2008 at 7:21 AM

The hyperlink is bad.
Use http://www.thestoning.com

Hochmeister on September 12, 2008 at 7:22 AM

If conservative bloggers pan An American Carol because it fails to live up to their exacting expectations, it may not be a commercial success.

That will send a fine message to David Zucker, the conservative actors and writers who stuck their necks out to make the movie, won’t it?

smagar on September 12, 2008 at 7:22 AM

So I’m supposed to lie?

It has some funny spots in it. It’s worth the ticket price to see it and send the message. It’s not Airplane, or even close to it. That’s what I wrote, and that’s what I saw.

Ed Morrissey on September 12, 2008 at 7:24 AM

Ed, a typo above…

“voices of women do noy matter here”.

And, I agree about your other review. Ya gotta say what you feel in that case!

Warner Todd Huston on September 12, 2008 at 7:47 AM

The link for thestoning.com takes you to “stoning.com, your lifestyle resource I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that’s probably not the right sight, Ed.

NightmareOnKStreet on September 12, 2008 at 8:04 AM

You won’t see this movie advertised anywhere. The idea that one or more religions practice stoning to please their God would send the wrong message to the infidels, and most likely make the practiioners of the ghastly act feel bad.

Unless a way to blame stoning on GWB or Cheney can be found, this movie goes straight to DVD.

BobMbx on September 12, 2008 at 8:07 AM

O/T: Geraldo is perched on a seawall in Galveston waiting to become the story again. Fingers crossed that he FINALLY succeeds & gets swept out to sea, wakes up without the ability to spit in the arms of Hugo Chavez.

NightmareOnKStreet on September 12, 2008 at 8:09 AM

wakes up without the ability to spit in the arms of Hugo Chavez.

NightmareOnKStreet on September 12, 2008 at 8:09 AM

Ew, stop giving me nightmares!

Frozen Tex on September 12, 2008 at 8:37 AM

canopfor on September 12, 2008 at 7:21 AM

C’mon. You’re not allowed to mock religion. Unless it’s Christian. Then you can mock until your throat is dry.

Rogue Traveler on September 12, 2008 at 8:51 AM

The trailer to the movie is pretty powerful. I’ll be going opening night.

Rogue Traveler on September 12, 2008 at 8:54 AM

Call me a coward, because I am, but I don’t think I can see this film. I’m crying right now, just reading about it. I thank God that I live in the United States of America, more right now than usual, and I’m always grateful for it. I will buy tickets, though, to support the movie makers and message. /admitting cowardice.

I saw the commercial for An American Carol. I look forward to supporting that one. These days, it doesn’t take a lot to satisfy my comedy needs, since most of the crap Hollywood puts out as funny isn’t at all. Low expectations prevent high levels of disappointment.

pannw on September 12, 2008 at 8:56 AM

And feminist in western countries think they are deeply oppressed by Christianity because they can’t have abortion on demand.

Maxx on September 12, 2008 at 9:40 AM

Yeah, I get it, I don’t think I need to see this film.

moc23 on September 12, 2008 at 10:11 AM

The religion of perpetual outrage.

Johan Klaus on September 12, 2008 at 10:28 AM

This is exactly the kind of film I don’t watch, because of the danger of doing inadvertent property damage.
Ever see the old “B” movie “Nightfall”? There is a seen where a woman has her eyes ceremonially plucked out by two birds of prey. I came this close to breaking the arm off chair I was sitting in.

Count to 10 on September 12, 2008 at 10:42 AM

Kudos for your bravery, Ed. I couldn’t sit through that film. I know I couldn’t. I had serious trouble making through the history channel 9/11 special last night.

I can handle Iraq or Afghanistan with a weapon nearby. But I’m not sure I can handle a movie like this. Or want to try.

I know their barbarism. As much as I need to. But I appreciate you taking a bullet for me.

Professor Blather on September 12, 2008 at 11:24 AM

Islam is hijacked —- by liberal Muslims.
In this PC world, it is very hard to speak the obvious.
While the intelligensia continue to smear Christian fundamentalists, they have their tails in between their legs when describing Islamic fascists.

maynila on September 12, 2008 at 11:43 AM

I watched the trailer. This makes me very, very sad

Hunt035 on September 12, 2008 at 12:22 PM

Stonings are also available on LiveLeak. I watched a stoning video and it left a mark. Besides the false charges and terror it induces on its potential victims, it is simply a massively brutal way of killing. It is specifically designed to create a mob mentality, prolong suffering and dehumanize the victim (wrapped in a sheet so their face is unseen) and immobilized as they are buried up to their waste. The rocks are large enough to break bones but not so large as to kill outright.

It is sort of like a beheading video. The most ghastly thing you’ve ever seen and communicates on a visceral level the inhumanity and savagery of the people who are able to engage in this sort of horrific behavior.

We should applaud any effort that can be brought to shine on this barbarity. Thanks Ed for doing your part to up the wattage.

moxie_neanderthal on September 12, 2008 at 1:21 PM

Poignantly similar to “Kite Runner”, only non-fiction. I can’t wait to see it.

lionheart on September 12, 2008 at 7:08 AM

Kite Runner was excellent and I found it extremely moving (especially the last half dozen or so words). This film however reminds me more of the equally excellent Osama: the first Afghan film made after the Taliban’s fall, about a little girl who has to dress up as a boy, calling herself Osama, so that she can go out and work for her widowed mother and grandmother. She (“he”) is then rounded up and put into a training-camp for junior jidhadists, trying to keep secret the fact that she’s a girl during the regime of a misogynistic theocracy. Highly recommended; watch the trailer and put it on your shortlist!

Tzetzes on September 12, 2008 at 2:18 PM

P.S. On a lighter note, Offside looks quite good, about Persian women who try to sneak into an international soccer match. I’ve just checked it out from the library, so can’t give a verdict yet, but you can see the trailer here.

Tzetzes on September 12, 2008 at 2:26 PM