Picture this, your hands are tied behind your back. You are placed in a hole and buried up to your waist or even higher. A crowd of people, maybe some are your relatives, are standing in front on you screaming horrible things at you. Off to the side is a large pile of rocks, some big, some small, some with knife-like points sticking out. Then the barbaric act begins to the delight of the crowd!
Possibly one or two people begin throwing rocks at you as hard as they can. After they are satisfied with the pain they have inflicted on you, everyone in the crowd picks up a rock or two and waits eagerly for the signal. When they get it, everyone begins throwing rocks at you until you are dead.
In 1986, this is what happened to 35-year old Soraya M., a mother, a wife, a truly good person, in a tiny village in southwestern Iran. The world would have never known if not for the bravery of two people, Zahra Khanum (Soraya’s aunt) and journalist Freidoune Sahebjam, who in 1994 released a book with the same title about this terrible event that went on to become an international bestseller.
Stoning people to death can be traced back as far as biblical times. While most of the world has outlawed this despicable act, there are still places around the world, mostly Muslim nations, that still believe in it.
The Stoning of Soraya M., directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh and written by Cyrus and Betsy Giffen Nowrasteh, is based on Sahebjam’s book.
Soraya (Mozhan Marno, Traitor) is married to a tyrant of a man named Ali (Navid Negahban, Brothers). He beats her, cheats on her with prostitutes, turned her two sons against her and now he wants to divorce her so he can marry a 14-year old. Ali is willing to leave Soraya their house, their land and their two daughters, but he does not want to pay her any support. Soraya refuses Ali’s “offer”.
Enraged, Ali blackmails the village mullah (Ali Pourtash), a religious leader, into helping him find a way to get rid of Soraya. Shortly there after, Soraya agrees to help a village man named Hashem (Parviz Sayyad) around his home after his wife has died. Ali sees this as his chance to break free from Soraya and he quickly takes action. He accuses Soraya of committing adultery with Hashem. After a quick trial, with little evidence, lead by the village’s weakling of a mayor (David Diaan), Soraya is found guilty and sentenced to death by stoning.
Zahra (Shohreh Aghdashloo, The Lake House) pleads and tries to save her niece’s life, but in a country where men have all the rights and women have none, she is powerless to stop this heinous form of punishment.
The next day, when Zahra learns that a journalist (James Caviezel, The Passion of the Christ) is in the village having his car repaired, she sees this as her opportunity to let the world know what awful event took place there. She quietly sets up a secret meeting with Freidoune, the journalist, and tells him Soraya’s dreadful story.
The Stoning of Soraya M. has some outstanding performances by its cast. Your heart breaks for Soraya because she is the innocent victim of this vile atrocity and that heartache is due to Mozhan Marno’s terrific acting. She is so real and natural.
The mullah and Ali are two of the most heartless characters you will see in cinema. Their total disregard for others will make you loath them. Navid Negahban and Ali Pourtash are superb.
Shohreh Aghdashloo, an Oscar nominee for her supporting role in 2003’s House of Sand and Fog, is excellent. She blends strength and weakness wonderfully. She effortlessly draws you into this horrifying story as if you’re the journalist and Freidoune is not.
When Soraya is stoned to death, this scene is very difficult to watch. As you watch Soraya be hit by one or two stones then eventually she is bombarded by many, many stones at one time, your stomach will start to turn. The scene stretches on and on to the point that you’ll just want Soraya to die, so you don’t have to witness anymore of this senseless violence. It makes you feel the misery that Soraya must have felt as she died a slow, agonizing death.
Cyrus Nowrasteh does an excellent job of capturing the repulsive brutality of this form of punishment. The Stoning of Soraya M. is an extremely powerful piece of cinema that demonstrates that the world is in need of serious change.
The Stoning of Soraya M. is currently available on DVD. Click on the movie screen below to see its trailer.