“The Stoning of Soraya M”–Let He Who Is Without Sin….

“The Stoning of Soraya M. (2009) cuts into the soul with its fierce, unflinching narrative of Soraya Manutchehri, a 35-year-old woman stoned to death in a small Iranian village in 1986 after being convicted of adultery. Her death was the subject of Freidoune Sahebjam’s 2009 novel, La Femme Lapidée, a book banned in Iran.

This award-winning indie film lovingly caresses the beautiful, wounded face of Aunt Zahra (breathtakingly played by the luminous Shohreh Aghdashloo) who is devastated by the stoning of her niece Soraya (perfectly portrayed by Mozhan Marno).  Zahra pleads with a journalist (James Caviezel as Sahebjam)) to tell the world about the outrage which had just taken place the day before. Sahebjam, stranded in the tiny Iranian village where his car is being repaired, does not know what to expect.

Still raw from Soraya’s ignominious end, Zahra unravels the tragedy. Ali, Soraya’s abusive husband, was eager to get rid of his wife so he could marry a fourteen-year old girl.  Wishing to avoid child support for their two young daughters while taking the two young sons with him, Ali concocts a plot to charge Soraya with adultery, punishable by death by stoning.  Blackmailing village leaders to spread false rumors, Ali threatens “witnesses” to testify against her.

Stoning is execution by torture. At various periods throughout history ancient Greeks, Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Japanese (among others) practiced stoning. But some of the most disturbing moral issues in “The Stoning of Soraya M” raise fundamental questions of courage in the face of family sacrifice:  how willing are we to come forth and be the bearers of truth in the face of threats to our own loved ones, even when the victim of lies is a close friend? And what happens to the larger community who witnesses and tolerates violence?  Or, to the children who will model  their parents’ behavior and that of other adults in the community?

Soraya M’s situation places the viewer on the receiving end –of a visceral, unnerving experience of stoning, — rather than in a more passive, analytical, removed position.  The astonishing, grisly climax doomed the film’s chances for traditional distribution in the U.S., but the filmmakers insisted realism was essential to call attention to the horror of stoning. I don’t think everyone could watch the camera lingering on the bloody sequence in slow motion. I have never seen such realistic cinematography of an execution, and still can’t figure out how that sequence was filmed. The anger, rage, and frustration at such injustice are a silent scream, palpable in the filmmakers’ voice. If you are not faint of heart, “The Stoning of Soraya M” will remain an unforgettable film that raises uncomfortable, but necessary ethical questions.

 

3 comments on ““The Stoning of Soraya M”–Let He Who Is Without Sin….

  1. Diana
    I liked the Scottsboro piece! I have the perfect spot for the first paragraph in my book. In the chapter on Critical Race Theory I discuss the fact that inequality and injustice have existed right alongside liberal ideals and values. As a result liberal values have been distorted. Hence, what happens in the Scottsboro case simply looked to people like what whites can get away with and what blacks (and other minorities) had to endure. That is the problem with focusing solely on ideals and values.

    Okay, Okay, I guess I’ll have to site your blog.

    I am looking forward to going back and reviewing the films you have reviewed for things I can use in my Philosophy and Film course. I will be teaching it in the Spring.

    best
    jb

  2. Although your comment is primarily on my post “Scottsboro–The Inexcusable”, many of your comments apply to social injustice globally. I look forward to reading your book!

  3. Diana:
    I ordered the CD on “Stoning of Soraya M” and saw it recently and was completely shocked, shaken, and outraged by this act of stoning. It was all one can do to be enraged by the unfairness of an innocent mother being accused, but to carry it into hysteria by the community men and do such an evil thing! It’s one thing to read about stoning but to see the graphic enactment, so realistically filmed and portrayed, left one an emotional wreck. Then to hear afterwards that the male leaders would not allow her body to be buried, so when they saw it the next day, it was ravaged by wild animals. What kind of a sick society do we have that allows this to occur? What evil world do we live in?
    This act of stoning must be abolished from the face of this world!!!

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