Is Soraya “torture porn”? Hardly

posted at 8:46 am on June 29, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

The New York Times offered a weird review of The Stoning of Soraya M, oddly juxtaposed with one from the same writer for also-excellent The Hurt LockerNewsbusters noticed it as well, as did Mitch Berg.  Stephen Holden calls the painful and realistic depiction of a stoning “lurid torture-porn,” missing the entire point:

“The Stoning of Soraya M.,” a true story of religiously sanctioned misogyny and mob violence in an Iranian village, thoroughly blurs the line between high-minded outrage and lurid torture-porn.

Not since “The Passion of the Christ” has a film depicted a public execution in such graphic detail. In the approximately 20 minutes during which the killing unfolds, the camera repeatedly returns to study the battered face and body of the title character (Mozhan Marno) as she is stoned to death. Buried up to her waist in a hole dug for the occasion, she is pelted with rocks and profanity by the male villagers, including her father, husband and two sons, until she dies.

To say this is an exaggeration is to put it mildly.  First, the stoning sequence lasts about eight minutes, not 20.  It starts at the 1:31:30 mark, it’s over by 1:40, and it’s intercut with at least one flashback sequence.

But what exactly do we see?  We see less actual violence in these eight minutes than we saw in the Academy Award-winning film Rocky, for instance, and certainly less than the climactic sequence of The Godfather.  The stoning sequence in Stoning is powerful because it’s portrayed realistically, and it challenges the audience to to feel something after seeing it.

In fact, though, actual executions by stoning take a lot longer than eight minutes, or even 20 — they often take between an hour and an hour and a half.  This wasn’t exploitive; it was an honest depiction of what happens far too often in this world.  It is “didactic” in that sense, another Holden accusation, as it instructs people why this barbaric practice should be stopped.

Contrast this review to one that appeared the same day for The Hurt Locker in the NYT, written by A.O. Scott:

If “The Hurt Locker” is not the best action movie of the summer, I’ll blow up my car. The movie is a viscerally exciting, adrenaline-soaked tour de force of suspense and surprise, full of explosions and hectic scenes of combat, but it blows a hole in the condescending assumption that such effects are just empty spectacle or mindless noise.

I agree with Scott in this.  The violence in The Hurt Locker is also realistic and “full of explosions,” but it’s a lot more, too.  It’s a good thing that Holden didn’t review it, because he would have called it war porn.

The Stoning of Soraya M got off to a good art-house start this weekend, taking in more than $4300 per screen.  That will hopefully get the film wider distribution in the next couple of weeks.  Be sure to see it if you have not yet done so.

Addendum: For another look at Holden’s oeuvre, check out the review he wrote for 9 Songs, a controversial film that included explicit sexual intercourse, complete with insertions.  He never uses the word “porn” as a description of 9 Songs, despite the rather obvious application — one that didn’t escape the commenters on that article.  I’d guess that 9 Songs didn’t trip his political biases.

Update: Tommy Christopher has a good point-by-point takedown of the Holden review, and notes that his prediction came true.


Related Posts:

Breaking on Hot Air

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

It violates one of the major Liberal Commandments:

Thou Shalt Not Criticize The Other.

Techie on June 29, 2009 at 8:49 AM

Was “Boys Don’t Cry” torture porn. To hell with these left-wing, fascist excusing lackeys in the media.

RobCon on June 29, 2009 at 8:55 AM

The film has some superficial things in common with “The Passion of the Christ,” such as the same production company (MPower Films), star (Jim Caviezel), and a graphic crucifixion. This was also prior to the Iranian election, so that made a difference, too. Now. the film carries extra resonance, as the death of young Neda echoes through it.

Uh oh. Look for Hollywood and the drive-bys to completely ignore this movie no matter how well it does.

Doughboy on June 29, 2009 at 8:59 AM

If it were US soldiers doing the stoning it would be
“a credible and devestating indictment of the brutality of American power”.
Here’s a news flash for the NYT…they are lefty hacks feeding their drivel to Upper West Side morons lapping their lattes while listening to National Prententious Radio.
I have a bottle of champagne at the ready to uncork on the day the NY Times closes their doors.

RobCon on June 29, 2009 at 9:02 AM

For some early morning hilarity one should read that review Holden wrote for “9 Songs”. Why would a man write that?

bloggless on June 29, 2009 at 9:08 AM

count this as proof there are people in the MSM/Hollywood axis of evil who are committed to supressing this film.

jp on June 29, 2009 at 9:16 AM

Perhaps the NY Times review would have been more favorable if the movie was about raping conservative women or their children.

Loxodonta on June 29, 2009 at 9:21 AM

PHX area readers:
http://www.thestoning.com/theaters/
7/10/09 Scottsdale

jgapinoy on June 29, 2009 at 9:22 AM

Perhaps the NY Times review would have been more favorable if the movie was about raping conservative women or their children.

Loxodonta on June 29, 2009 at 9:21 AM

Indeed.

jgapinoy on June 29, 2009 at 9:23 AM

What’s the point of this thread? The New York Times is a rotting corpse that no one cares about anyhow. The NYT supports terrorists,why wouldn’t they attack a movie that depicts their side doing something horrible.

Jeff from WI on June 29, 2009 at 9:24 AM

“Porn” is a grand thing in the eyes of the lunatic left, but not when it makes the current clown occupying the White House, look like the gelded, corrupt incompetent thatt he is.

Not “meddle” in Iran.

How about you stop “meddling” in the US, Barry?

NoDonkey on June 29, 2009 at 9:26 AM

The stoning sequence in Stoning is powerful because it’s portrayed realistically, and it challenges the audience to to feel something after seeing it.

I felt the exact same way about the Omaha Beach landing scene from “Saving Private Ryan”. An hours long struggle was condensed into twenty minutes of savage slaughter, but I was profoundly affected by it which I believe was the intent of the director.

Besides, I don’t listen to any “professional” movie reviewers, I look for average audience member reactions.

Bishop on June 29, 2009 at 9:30 AM

He never uses the word “porn” as a description of 9 Songs, despite the rather obvious application — one that didn’t escape the commenters on that article.

He may never directly call the movie “porn”, he clearly says this movie is a type of pornography — an extension of what started with films like “Deep Throat.”

With sexually explicit love scenes that depict the arc of their relationship in encounters that grow increasingly complicated and emotionally tricky, this brave, melancholy, unabashedly romantic movie would like to be the film many had hoped to see in the post-”Deep Throat” era. Three decades ago, when pornographic movie houses proliferated, and a love scene between Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland in Nicolas Roeg’s “Don’t Look Now” strongly suggested that actual sex was being filmed, the prospect of the final barrier’s being breached seemed imminent. But somehow it never happened. And then came the AIDS epidemic.

But the key when talking about “pornography” is whether or not a film has a reason to exist outside of showing the actions it depicts.

Now, I haven’t seen Stoning, so I’m obviously not able to accurate comment on what’s in the film, but my guess is — from reading reviews of it — that the film has no point aside from saying “stoning, and a system that uses it is bad.” As the subject of an “artistic” work, that’s pretty lean. “Art” inherently is a deeper study of life. There doesn’t seem to be much “deep” study going on Stoning.

If someone made a movie about Jeffrey Dahmer which had nothing to say other than “what he did was bad” and ended with 10 minute scene explicitly showing him murdering, then eating a victim, I’m willing to bet it would be derided as exploitative and might be compared to pornography.

Tom_Shipley on June 29, 2009 at 9:30 AM

Now, I haven’t seen Stoning, so I’m obviously not able to accurate comment on what’s in the film, but my guess is — from reading reviews of it — that the film has no point aside from saying “stoning, and a system that uses it is bad.”

Tom_Shipley on June 29, 2009 at 9:30 AM

So who cares, right? Message movies are only good if the message is leftist.

Jim Treacher on June 29, 2009 at 9:35 AM

Besides, I don’t listen to any “professional” movie reviewers, I look for average audience member reactions.

Bishop on June 29, 2009 at 9:30 AM

I’m with you, Bishop…

ladyingray on June 29, 2009 at 9:39 AM

I felt the exact same way about the Omaha Beach landing scene from “Saving Private Ryan”.

Bishop on June 29, 2009 at 9:30 AM

Don’t you mean “Obama Beach”?

Doughboy on June 29, 2009 at 9:41 AM

Tom_Shipley on June 29, 2009 at 9:30 AM

Here is a novel idea: See the movie and decide for yourself instead of having others make the decision for you.

Careful though, you might discover you like the idea of having control over your own life and then find yourself becoming a conservative.

Bishop on June 29, 2009 at 9:42 AM

So, I guess in the minds of liberals, waterboarding is torture-porn too? What is wrong with these people? Oh, nevermind.

moonsbreath on June 29, 2009 at 9:45 AM

Don’t you mean “Obama Beach”?
Doughboy on June 29, 2009 at 9:41 AM

Yes…yes…that is what I meant. Go**amit, now I have to do another reeducation session. I hate those, the bruises take so long to heal.

Bishop on June 29, 2009 at 9:46 AM

complete with insertions

Those things people put in their shoes?

whitetop on June 29, 2009 at 9:48 AM

“…from reading reviews of it — that the film has no point aside from saying “stoning, and a system that uses it is bad.”

You’re a piece of work.

moonsbreath on June 29, 2009 at 9:49 AM

Tom_Shipley on June 29, 2009 at 9:30 AM

Forgot to give credit because I couldn’t believe someone could be so foolish as to make that comment.

moonsbreath on June 29, 2009 at 9:50 AM

I saw an interview with the girl that plays the aunt or sister of the girl who got stoned. It was last week on BBC America. The interview was fantastic. The actress was smart, well spoken, and poised.

I think that lady should be famous. She started the interview with the premise that ‘everyone should condemn stoning’. And the anchor lady wanted to try to point out that pretty much everyone agrees. The girl being interviewed pointed out how even the ‘moderate’ voices in Iran and elsewhere supported the concept. Even many women.

The interview was excellent. I wish I remembered her name. She was pretty, but that’s beside the point. The message was amazing and she delivered it powerfully and perfectly in the interview. I recommend booking her for interviews to shed light on this horrible chapter in human life.

ThackerAgency on June 29, 2009 at 9:54 AM

The Islamic version of “The Passion” with the same impact. The crime being a women with a voice, the punishment barbaric.

But being male dominated, with little regard for women (except to procreate more males and target practice) one understands how the Muslim culture is destined to remain in the 7th century and with little regard for human life at all.

Someone forgot to tell the Mullahs women move men to create a better life for their family, community, country, and world.

MSGTAS on June 29, 2009 at 9:59 AM

Tom_Shipley on June 29, 2009 at 9:30 AM

~ I haven’t seen the movie yet but I know it’s bad because it might hurt Dear Leader’s chances of appeasing our allies, Iran’s anti-American, anti-Israeli, misogynistic, and tyrannical mullahs. But I could never post that, so I’ll have to demean the movie’s artistic merit and compare the plot to something everybody hates. Hitler! No, that won’t work. Not sexy enough. Jeffrey Dahmer! Yes! ~

Loxodonta on June 29, 2009 at 10:01 AM

I consider the new batch of horror movies, like the Saw franchise to be “torture porn” and I do not watch them anymore.

Actully I think the whole new horror genre was coined “torture porn” in a Newsweek or Time article a couple of years back. It was actually a good article.

But movie reviewers with a political bent are enjoying using it to describe any movie that conservatives seem to be interested in viewing.

myrenovations on June 29, 2009 at 10:01 AM

Tom, the word “pornographic” is not used as a descriptor of the film at all. Your excerpt shows that. Holden never once uses that adjective or any of its variants in connection to the movie.

Also, Holden’s analogy in that review is entire inapt. Bernardo Bertolucci did not show insertion scenes in Last Tango, which was a very good film, although terribly dated now.

Ed Morrissey on June 29, 2009 at 10:13 AM

“The Stoning of Soraya M.,” a true story of religiously sanctioned misogyny and mob violence in an Iranian village,

That is hardly respectful of Islam.

Was she only buried to her waist? What a faux pas. Women are buried so their breasts are buried. (you would not want a sexual overtone with men throwing rocks at their breasts) Men are buried to their waist. Did you know that if you can get out of the hole your in, you can beat the penalty? Some men escape, no women can.

I hope I was respectful of Islam with my words.

BL@KBIRD on June 29, 2009 at 10:15 AM

Now, I haven’t seen Stoning, so I’m obviously not able to accurate comment on what’s in the film, but my guess is — from reading reviews of it — that the film has no point aside from saying “stoning, and a system that uses it is bad.” As the subject of an “artistic” work, that’s pretty lean. “Art” inherently is a deeper study of life. There doesn’t seem to be much “deep” study going on Stoning.

Maybe you should see my review. There’s a lot more going on in this movie than “stoning is bad” — group psychology, the outcomes of power disparities, and the corrosive influence of corruption, and more. And how can you make that statement without having seen it?

Ed Morrissey on June 29, 2009 at 10:17 AM

You can always tell when a Leftist ideologue sees something that disconfirms his comfortable gated-community ideology.

He always falls back on his primitive fetishes and treats them as intellectual categories that he mistakenly thinks everybody thinks in terms of.

The usual preoccupations are homoeroticism, sadism, and pornography because, unfortunately, libs have been conditioned to believe these are the uncaused causes of all else in human nature. Libs are pretty gullible that way.

So, this style of critique refers at best to an adolescent mindset. Primitive, self-centered, and terrified of truth.

jeff_from_mpls on June 29, 2009 at 10:18 AM

“The Stoning of Soraya M.,” a true story of religiously sanctioned misogyny and mob violence in an Iranian village, thoroughly blurs the line between high-minded outrage and lurid torture-porn.
Not since “The Passion of the Christ” has a film depicted a public execution in such graphic detail.

Hmmm – what do these two films have in common, that a liberal would want to trash them?

Vashta.Nerada on June 29, 2009 at 10:19 AM

What did this reviewer say about Gibson’s “Passion of Christ”?

amkun on June 29, 2009 at 10:19 AM

the point behind the movie is that there are many cultures in this world that don’t necessarily believe ‘stoning is bad’.

There are Iranian ‘women’s rights’ activists who will nuance an answer when asked whether or not stoning should be allowed in Iran for adultery.

Again, I can’t explain it as well as that actress could. She cited many many examples when where challenged, the ability to stone women was encouraged in the Islamic world. It is like ‘honor killings’ and ‘vaginal mutilation’. People in the west think that it isn’t common and is widely condemned. . . but it is not.

Stoning is horrible. Stoning of women is even worse.

ThackerAgency on June 29, 2009 at 10:28 AM

There are Iranian ‘women’s rights’ activists who will nuance an answer when asked whether or not stoning should be allowed in Iran for adultery.

Again, I can’t explain it as well as that actress could. She cited many many examples when where challenged, the ability to stone women was encouraged in the Islamic world. It is like ‘honor killings’ and ‘vaginal mutilation’. People in the west think that it isn’t common and is widely condemned. . . but it is not.

Stoning is horrible. Stoning of women is even worse.

ThackerAgency on June 29, 2009 at 10:31 AM

why aren’t my posts being displayed?

ThackerAgency on June 29, 2009 at 10:31 AM

There are many cultures in this world that don’t necessarily believe ‘stoning is bad’.

There are Iranian ‘women’s rights’ activists who will nuance an answer when asked whether or not stoning should be allowed in Iran for adultery.

Again, I can’t explain it as well as that actress could. She cited many many examples when where challenged, the ability to stone women was encouraged in the Islamic world. It is like ‘honor killings’. People in the west think that it isn’t common and is widely condemned. . . but it is not.

Stoning is horrible. Stoning of women is even worse.

ThackerAgency on June 29, 2009 at 10:32 AM

So vagin** Mutil***** is not allowed to be posted here? It’s an automatic filter? Well I’m glad they allow us to say ‘women stoned’. . . that’s much better.

ThackerAgency on June 29, 2009 at 10:33 AM

Let’s face it, had this film depicted the torture of a woman by some totally imaginary Christian fanatic the reviewers would be hailing its artistic genius.

Disturb the Universe on June 29, 2009 at 10:39 AM

why aren’t my posts being displayed?

ThackerAgency on June 29, 2009 at 10:31 AM

Well, Thacker, I briefly seized control over the system. See, I have some concerns about your opinions and I wanted to run them past a few people before I let them go through.

But we’re still good, right, you and me?

jeff_from_mpls on June 29, 2009 at 10:41 AM

This is what Hollywood has come to:

It’s cool to show mind-warping, gratuitous violence in films with no social merit or reality(SAW), but to show a realistic depiction of the kind of torture that is common-place in much of the world is controversial.

Disturb the Universe on June 29, 2009 at 10:44 AM


Shohreh Aghdashloo

Hmmmmmm…..

Loxodonta on June 29, 2009 at 10:44 AM

jeff_from_mpls on June 29, 2009 at 10:41 AM

haha, funny. no, it’s ‘vagi**l mutilation’ that is filtered here.

ThackerAgency on June 29, 2009 at 10:58 AM

yeah Lox, that’s her. She gives a GREAT interview about the film! Any wonder I can’t remember her name? It’s not like ‘Amy’ or something.

ThackerAgency on June 29, 2009 at 10:59 AM

One man’s pornography is another man’s politics.

The Church of Liberalism recognizes only one Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Judge.

It’s a warped and twisted theology. The only thing liberals ever feel is wrong… is feeling that something is wrong. This creates a closed circle of intolerance toward any sort of societal norms, with no fear of ever being held personally responsible for anything liberals ever do or say.

And anything that breaks that circle; anything that shows liberals that some things are unequivocally wrong, and must be opposed instead of simply whined about; is anethema.

This movie forced the reviewer to realize that he should care about something other than his own ego for eight minutes in a row.

And to a liberal, eight minutes of self-examination is eight minutes in Hell.

logis on June 29, 2009 at 11:19 AM

Yes, it’s that liberal non-judgmental thing.

Of course, that is reserved for use against foreign tyrants only. Republicans, they’re Satan!

PattyJ on June 29, 2009 at 11:24 AM

Yes, it’s that liberal non-judgmental thing. Of course, that is reserved for use against foreign tyrants only. Republicans, they’re Satan!
PattyJ on June 29, 2009 at 11:24 AM

Liberals love terrorists and dictators for the same reason that teenagers like rock stars — because of their “stick it to the man” attitide.

Liberalism is the cult of the ego. It makes them feel good about themselves to beatifically excuse acts of horrific barbarism. In fact, that’s their biggest thrill — it’s like being God, except without any of the concomitant responsibility.

The only people liberals ever hate are the ones who make them feel guilty. Nothing kills the buzz of hubris quicker than that. And when it comes time to judge American conservatives, liberals always turn from self-congratulatory libertines into 16th-century Quakers at the drop of a hat.

logis on June 29, 2009 at 11:57 AM

Isn’t it amusing to watch liberals go out of their way to defend, or at least protect, honest to goodness misogynistic patriarchy?

18-1 on June 29, 2009 at 12:26 PM

Tom Shipley,

The one-or-two-in-six-billion sub rosa gay urban cannibal problem doesn’t require the same “consciousness raising” as the state or community sanctioned public practice of stoning in some muslim countries. Political awareness and pressure can actually do something about the latter. Or is “consciousness raising” no longer fashionable in your set?

This review is reminiscent of the left’s dumping all over Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Her genitals were mutilated apparently in the name of Islam, but lefties were upset with her talking about it not with those who did it to her and wanted her to shut up about it. They suppressed her by giving her well written autobiography crappy reviews. Why the left didn’t side with Ayaan — a black, female, sexually liberated, intelligent, atheist, intellectual refugee from religious oppression — and instead sided with her theocratic oppressors is a mystery. Ayaan had all the characteristics that should place her in a protected category and her oppressors had all the characteristics that should make liberals anathematize them, yet liberals somehow reversed the polarity on that and were quite comfortable with allowing their hypocrisy to bend the fabric of space-time if that’s what their narratives needed in the short term.

The movie, whatever its merits, wants to agitate people to be aware of this problem and do something about it. To call it “agitprop” might be a fair take — but to call it “porn”? And as someone else pointed out, lefties supported the message of Boys Don’t Cry which had the same message as Soraya (“The community must put a stop to this!”) but had to construct a straw man to do it. When confronted with the real thing of modern day stoning, all the talk shifts from theme to aesthetics.

Liberals regularly taunt their fellow citizens in the West with whom disagree they as “knuckle-dragging neanderthals,” but when confronted with a barbaric practice that is going on today in the Third World, they don’t feel like being outraged and instead get all nuancy. Want lower taxes? Outrage! Stoning a woman to death? Well, who was doing it and was he wearing a dish-dash while doing it?

Maybe it’s not that great a movie — I’ll see it this week — but the left’s ideological discomfort is already apparent in their reaction to it.

shazbat on June 29, 2009 at 12:56 PM

I saw the film on Saturday in New York City at the Landmark Sunshine theater. Very powerful and disturbing. Jim Caviezel was particularly good.

Hilts on June 29, 2009 at 1:04 PM

exactly the way the Left tried to marginalize”The Passion of the Christ”. It’s porn to them if it has a moral content,any aberrant behavior viewed on the Plasma in the privacy of their loft is entertainment.

JohnBissell on June 29, 2009 at 4:06 PM

If someone made a movie about Jeffrey Dahmer which had nothing to say other than “what he did was bad” and ended with 10 minute scene explicitly showing him murdering, then eating a victim, I’m willing to bet it would be derided as exploitative and might be compared to pornography.

Tom_Shipley on June 29, 2009 at 9:30 AM

OK, movies like Soraya and Gibson’s Passion are denounced for their graphic violence; but movies like Reservoir Dogs are not. I guess violence is acceptable in movies only if it has a nihilistic tinge.

ddrintn on June 29, 2009 at 5:46 PM

Leave it to a leftist to even come up with the term torture-porn. Gah… what a sicko.

Joy on June 29, 2009 at 7:54 PM