the stoning of soraya m

I saw an advance screening of The Stoning of Soraya M in Minneapolis several weeks ago. I have a friend at Mpower Pictures, the production company who is distributing.

I think it’s a tough sell.

Great performance by Shohreh Aghdashloo, although there are some unanswered questions about how her character came to be the maverick she is.

The stoning is as graphic as the scourging scene in the Passion (Steve McEveety producing on both), but to less purpose here, I think. Watching Jesus suffer is meaningful for a believer. Watching Soraya get bloodied to a pulp is less meaningful as spectacle. Don’t see the point in having the camera linger on it. I would definitely not classify this as a family film.

No epiphanies really — it has a moral (treating women badly is bad) but no theme … nothing to be argued.

And I don’t know what they want the audience to come away with — except some general sense that the culture depicted needs to be deconstructed / exposed… but it raises all kinds of questions: Are ALL Muslims like this? Are all the abusive men one-dimensional and unsympathetic like the husband in this film? It’s a morality play of sorts, I suppose.

For a vigorous discussion of story as epiphany, heroes in cinema storytelling, how dark is too dark, etc., visit the podcast site for last October’s Act One Story Symposium.

Panel discussions include Hollywood writers, producers, and the winsome Dr. Peter Kreeft.

4 thoughts on “the stoning of soraya m

  1. I just recently saw this powerful film, and having read this review, 3 things come to mind. 1. I was bothered by the lingering close-ups of the stoning too. No one would ever see it that way, if they really do have to stay behind a line drawn in the dirt. Makes it hard to recommend to everyone. 2. Regarding what the filmmakers want the audience to take away from the film: We (Americans, Christians, etc…)know that stoning is still going on in the world, and yet we do nothing about it. This collective silence makes me feel that somehow we are all responsible for allowing it to continue. The filmmakers want to wake us up. 3. About your question– Are all the abusive men one-dimentional and unsympathetic like the husband in this film?– I didn’t see this character (Ali) that way. Besides being ridiculously abusive toward Soraya, he was also loving toward his boys and excited about living in the city with a new wife. There are many shades of abusive behavior, his was extremely dark, which is how one would have to be to go through with such a wicked plot. The actor did an excellent job– I hated him. But why would we assume that all abusive Muslim men are like this? Or men of any religion? More importantly, why would any intellectual, rationally thinking person assume from watching one film that all Muslim men are like this?!!

  2. Clayton, I wish movie critics would write this way more often.

    Perhaps you could furnish me with some of your other writing on film?


  3. Hi Lynn,

    One of my criticisms of the movie is that the messages it embraces are simply refrains — the abuse of women is bad, stoning is brutal and inhumane and endemic in some cultures — rather than insights that can transform me as a viewer. These are messages that could be communicated in other ways, and don’t require the vehicle of cinema.

    I’m not disagreeing with the truisms, but at the same time, simply demonstrating them — in more and more graphic ways — doesn’t really ignite the first spark of conversion or transformation in me.

    The husband here is unspeakably dark and depraved, and I don’t relate to him for this reason. I experience in my life an attraction to the good, and also, at every step, mixed and impure motives. I didn’t see this in his character, and so it was difficult to connect with his humanity… it didn’t ring true for me.

    Depicting depraved characters who I don’t relate to might very well cause me to leave the theater feeling as smug as a Pharisee, ready to go out to the streetcorners and pray loud in thanksgiving that I am not like the rest of men. I don’t like that impulse. I don’t want movies that will confirm me in complacency, that will let me get away with pointing the finger at everyone else… it’s leads to a counterfeit experience of redemption. What is needed is a theme that will get under my skin, like a parable, to throw a light into the unredeemed corners of my soul… that will reveal how I am more afraid of grace than I am of sin… that will disturb me.

    For me, one of the shortcomings of The Stoning of Soraya M is that it doesn’t challenge me to be better than I am. It may give me some righteous thoughts, but doesn’t penetrate to the core of my own predicament of sin. Not every movie has to do this, I suppose, but the movies that remain with me, that I will bother to watch a second time, do.

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