After reading the review on MMW
about the movie “The Stoning of Soraya M.” I decided to give it a bash, it’s been a while since I’ve watched something worth the reel its embedded on.
[This post contains spoilers, although the title of the movie is a spoiler in itself]
((Please excuse the untidy layout of this entire post. I have tried to fix it a number of times but it won’t budge))
The movie is based on a book by the French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjami
, who stumbles upon a small village in Iran in 1979, shortly after the Revolution. His car breaks down and whilst waiting for repairs Zahra notices he has a tape recorder and recognises him to be a journalist. She beckons him to her home to narrate the incidents which occured only the day before in the village.
And this is where the movie begins. A true life account of Soraya Manutchehri,
35 year old woman married at the age of 13, a mother of 6 children with a husband who actively works at turning their sons against her and is physically, emotionally and sexually abusive with a hankering for prostitutes. Her husband, Gorban-Ali, wishes to marry a younger girl of 14, the daughter of a doctor who is on death row at the prison where he works as a prison guard. However Gorban-Ali cannot afford to keep 2 wives and wants to avoid paying Soraya her dowry if he divorces her so wants her to divorce him.
Soraya on the other hand doesn’t want to divorce Gorban-Ali since she would not be able to provide for her children without his financial contribution and would be prone to being harrassed or propositioned, as does the mullah who visits her on saying of Gorban-Ali, to propose she, over time, become his sigheh – temporary wife, or as Zahra, Soraya’s aunt, calls it “his holy whore”.
Zahra is an outspoken woman who see’s the religious mullah for what he is; selfish and corrupt and drives him out of Soraya’s home with a good earful of insults. Gorban-Ali knows the Mullah from his days as an inmate, where he was detained for child molestation charges. Zahra is Soraya’s confidante and her well-wisher.
When Gorban-Ali’s cousin, Hashem, mourns the passing of his wife, Zahra see’s this as an opportunity for Soraya to generate some income in order to feed her daughters, as her husband refuses to provide any further financial support unless she divorces him. So Soraya goes to Hashems house and does the cleaning and cooking. This is where the trouble begins and the plot her husband spins starts. Her husband, with the support of the Mullah, begin to accuse Soraya of adultery and with abit of co-ercion and threats of causing harm to Hashem’s son, he contributes to the web of lies and soon enough the village comes to hear the rumours.
The Mayor of the village, who propositioned Zahra for marriage once but she refused, is advised of the moral crime and holds a tribunal, the panel of which consisted of Soraya’s father, the mullah, her husband and 2 sons. They find Soraya guilty of adultery and put her to death by stoning. Zahra tries to escape with Soraya, but they are trapped in her home as guards have been placed outside to prevent her from absconding.
The final scene plays out the long stoning scene, Soraya is put waist high into a pit and then the stoning begins. The first stone is cast by her father, the second by her husband, then Hashem and her sons – after which the rest of the villagers join in. She lies there, after what seems like an eternity of pelting stones at her, bent over in a pool of her own blood. Zahra takes the Soraya’s body but is refused permission to bury her.
The stoning scene is long and drawn out, harrowing and disturbing. I personally couldn’t watch the stoning, so decided to just listen attentively to that portion of the movie.
There is a strong sense of injustice as Soraya is being stoned, despite being an innocent woman – a woman who was told to prove her innocent and to disprove her guilt, the onus being on her despite the accusations coming from her husband who was known to be a philanderer and of dubious character. Some of the characters are typical, such as the husband – he personifies evil, but Soraya is not the meek quiet woman despite giving off such airs when being taken to the freshly dug pit. You do wish however that she had tried harder to protest her innocence, though would probably have made little difference to such an unforgiving crowd.
I noticed a few discrepancies which to me quite jarring. They were:
- In the book Soraya has 6 children, mostly in their late teens. In the movie Soraya has 4 children, 2 girls and 2 boys – all young, the oldest being 12.
- Zahra – an ignorant village woman, who speaks perfect English to the journalist. Why, since the journalist spoke Farsi anyway?
- The undubious character of Soraya’s husband – why no-one spoke out about his infidelity and sleeping around when he accused Soraya of adultery?
- The calibre of witnesses and their reputation – surely if witnesses are known to be of shady characte thenr their accusations or testimonies would be put to scrutiny even more so? This wasn’t the case in this movie.
- The application of punishment – the villagers were seen picking up stones from all over the village. They are only meant to use those available in the vicinity of are where punishment is to be carried out
- The un-veiling of the woman before stoning – they removed her burka and she is dressed all in white, as one is for burial.
- Refusing to bury the body – you bury the body regardless of what they died of or for.
- Her being stoned for adultery when she, in the end, was accused of trying to seduce Hashem. In this case, as far as I’m aware, it would be lashings not stoning.
I personally don’t think the movie was remotely about the application of Islamic law with regards to stoning, it wasn’t a critique of it, nor was it about showing how barbaric stoning can be. The stoning was simply a medium for darker, sadistic intentions. The movie was about the abuse of power and position by those with vested interests (the mullah), the selfish motives of the husband and how a desire can result in destruction. The main message imparted was about patriarchial and mysogynistic attitudes, how the voice of some (the women in this video) is not always loud enough against those who know how to twist the system.