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June 21, 2009

‘Stoning’ is devastating, triumphant

By Sister Helena Burns, FSP


The Stoning of Soraya M” is a disturbing, devastating, yet triumphant film. The truth got out. The book was written, and now the film was made.

Soraya M. was a real woman living in Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran. Her husband, Ali (Navid Negahban), wanted to marry another woman and so had Soraya falsely accused of adultery and stoned to death. Stoning is a hideous way to die. You don’t die right away. There’s lots of blood.

People left my screening theater saying, “It’s like ‘The Passion of the Christ.’” Indeed, some of the same filmmakers who made “The Passion” worked on “The Stoning.”

The stoning is like an agonizing ballet. (The movie is rated R.) Soraya (Mozhan Marno) is in the prime of her life. Soraya’s doleful eyes, long brown-red ringlet hair and white bridal-like dress become matted with more and more innocent blood as the stoning progresses.

We endure her passion with her. The stoning never really becomes a blood sport. That would have been easy. It gets off to a halting start, there are pauses, Soraya is still very much alive. You just won’t be able to watch at a certain point.

The actual stoning is at the end of the film — not sensational, but prolonged. Personal. At one point, it’s the camera that’s being stoned, so you can almost feel the rocks hail down on you.

By this time in the film, we’ve gotten to know Soraya. We know that she is a kind woman, a good mother and as good a wife as she can be to an abusive, philandering husband. Her crime? She won’t go along with the divorce because she and her children would starve.

It’s easy to push those who die in violent, heinous, unjust ways into some fateful, unreal realm. But we are forced to watch this travesty unfold incrementally. We feel how completely trapped she is. We are forced to admit that this is a real person, as real as us.

This was a story that had to be told in the name of everything decent under heaven. Soraya’s aunt, Zarah, (Shohreh Aghdashloo) describes the event to an Iranian journalist (Jim Caviezel) passing through the town right after the stoning. The real-life journalist, Freidoune Sahebjam, died in 2008, and didn’t get to see the film released.

Thank you to everyone (especially the men) who made this film possible. Thank you for caring about this beautiful, ordinary woman and her brave aunt who spoke out for women everywhere.

Unfortunately, Soraya’s stoning was not an isolated event. It’s estimated that 1,000 women in the Middle East and North Africa were put to death by stoning last year.

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