An Understated Stoning
Posted: 27 Jun 2009 07:45 PM PDT BY SULTAN
The reviews of “The Stoning of Soraya M.", a movie that tells the true story of a woman being stoned to death in fundamentalist Iran, are in... and the critics seem to have a common complaint, that the movie is just too outraged by the whole stoning business.
At the Boston Globe, critic Wesley Morris complains that “The Stoning of Soraya M." is "less a movie than a blunt instrument, a bit of political parable, a bit more outrage, and nary a scrap of real drama or finesse."
In other words there just isn't enough finesse to the whole blunt stoning business. It lacks the kind of nuance that a John Kerry or Barack Obama could bring to the story of a woman being stoned to death.
At Slant Magazine, Nick Schager posits that the movie, "...requires a defter hand than that shown by Nowrasteh, who—aside from a nicely surrealistic aside involving a travelling carnival troupe—resorts to such overblown histrionics (wailing music, kneeling characters beseeching the heavens, Saturday Morning serial-evil villains, an embarrassing "triumphant" coda)"
Yes sadly there just aren't enough surrealistic asides, instead there are evil villains, regional music and kneeling characters praying. Which continues the theme of "there's just not enough nuance".
At the Village Voice, Vadim Rizov dismisses it as a movie for those people "ambivalent about whether stoning women to death is a cruel punishment or not... self-congratulatory fare for people who feel more 'politically conscious' when reminded that women in the Islamic world can have it rough". Because naturally the only justification for a movie dealing with the consequence of Islamic fundamentalism in Iran is for people who are "ambivalent" about it. Meanwhile good progressives who are already know about it and have dismissed the issue in favor of more vital stuff, like agitating for Leonard Peltier, can sneer at anyone who still cares about it for not being truly "politically conscious" like them.
Scott Tobias at the Onion A.V. Club however discards with all the ducking and weaving of the previous reviews to say what they really mean;
It takes zero political courage to speak out against the obvious barbarism of public stonings or the oppressive patriarchy of sharia law , but the film whips out the megaphone anyway, eager to extrapolate the martyrdom of an innocent woman into a broader condemnation of the Muslim world.
Get that? It takes zero political courage to speak out against Sharia law. Which the growing death toll in Tehran testifies to. Now though it takes zero political courage for Hollywood to attack the War on Terror, the Onion A.V. Club praised "In The Valley of Elah", Uncovered: The War on Iraq, War. Inc, Body of War, Stop Loss and just about any half-assed rant against the Bush Administration hammering the same message into the ground. By contrast with Phil Donahue's propaganda piece or an MTV movie against the war, “The Stoning of Soraya M." clearly lacks "political courage."
Except of course the slams from left wing movie critics demonstrate the exact opposite, that it takes far more political courage to create a movie condemning the murder of countless women in Iran... than it does to trot out another self-congratulatory Hollywood movie or documentary based on a mostly fictional article in a trendy magazine some producer read while waiting for his dentist's appointment.
The arrogance of a white liberal film critic condemning an Iranian-American filmmaker for lacking political courage by making a movie protesting against the abuse of women in Iran is truly stunning. So stunning that I suspect Tobias would never get it. In his narrow leftist little world the only Iranians who have political courage are those who denounce George W. Bush.
Tobias complains that the movie extrapolates this to the entire Muslim world, which of course naturally takes even less political courage, what with criticizing Islam being a criminal offense in much of the Muslim world. He follows this up with a series of by the book leftist smears that remind you that the progressive left so often trades in dogmatic ideological condemnations for actual original thought, that no content remains.
"The Stoning Of Soraya M. has a neocon’s sense of good and evil, which could politely be called “moral clarity,” but is more accurately described as narrow, tone-deaf, and thoroughly banal."
This is a variation on the complaint that "The Stoning of Soraya M." isn't nuanced or subtle enough, it has a sense of good and evil, rather than being broadminded and sophisticated enough about stoning women to death.
How would one go about making a broadminded and sophisticated take on stoning a woman to death. I suspect that it would involve her husband working for the CIA and the oil companies, and the entire movie turning on the revelation that it was American colonialist involvement in the region that was responsible for her suffering. Plug in a guest starring role for George Clooney as a slimy oil executive and CIA agent, it would be a lock for next year's Oscars.
Now that would be true "political courage".
With a more shrill outlet at his disposal, Tobias takes the offensive with a preemptive attack of "neo-con", which follows up his earlier claim that the movie is an attack on the entire Muslim world. Which of course means that supporting it makes you a genocidal warmonger just like George W. Bush.
Tobias finishes this off with, "There’s no denying the dramatic force of the killing—just as no right-thinking person would endorse the odious practice, or the outrageous miscarriage of justice that leads to it. But Nowrasteh constantly overplays his hand, not realizing that some horrors speak for themselves."
But of course how exactly do horrors speak for themselves anyway? And isn't "some horrors speak for themselves" really just a subtle way of saying, "shut the hell up about those horrors already, because these aren't the horrors we're interested in."
All this call for nuance, for an understated stoning, was absent when it came to the shrillest anti-war movies and documentaries. Which was par for the course when it came to lambasting the Bush Administration. But when it comes to “The Stoning of Soraya M.", it's suddenly a time for nuance, for subtlety, for being broadminded and sophisticated about it. It's not a time to be blunt about what happens to women like her under Islamic law.
Tobias claims that "no right-thinking person would endorse the practice" and yet by attacking a movie on the subject matter alone, as Tobias, Morris and Rizov do... that is exactly the message being sent. They may not endorse stoning a woman to death, but they endorse a politically enforced silence on the topic, a whitewashing by default.
It isn't murder, it isn't an outrage, it's "the practice." What better way to render a gruesome act into neutral colors than to describe it as "the practice."
And it is of course precisely reactions like this that justify The Stoning of Soraya M's so called heavy-handedness, and its forcible outrage. Because the truth of the matter is not nuanced or sophisticated or deft. It isn't sipped over cocktails or reduced to a neutral formula. It isn't "the practice", it's blood, bone and flesh being spilled, broken and torn.
It's a good rule of thumb that people want to see blunt depictions and and an uncompromising stand on the things that outrage them, and want to see finesse, nuance and deftness on the things whose blunt depiction make them too uncomfortable and conflict with their politics.
It's why progressives wallow in endless depictions of Bush's decision making and the hunt for WMD's, because it diverts them from having to deal with the reality of Saddam's brutality and the extent to which their anti-war activism was complicit in it. And remains complicit in dictatorships all over the world.
It's why the reality of Islamic law is such an uncomfortable subject that it has to be finessed by claiming that only the naive and the unsophisticated need to see a movie about it. The progressives have condemned it. Finished, now let's move on. But no, the killing continues and we can't move on.
So if “The Stoning of Soraya M." can remind morally deadened progressives of the blunt reality of the "practice" they would rather deftly finesse, so much the better.