Ed Driscoll

The Stoning of Soraya M: Putting A Face On The Middle East

John Nolte, the independent director/blogger/critic who edits Andrew Breitbart’s Big Hollywood, has a lengthy review of The Stoning of Soraya M. Read the whole thing, but here’s a key excerpt:

Because of the violence, setting, and presence of Caviezel, comparisons to “The Passion of the Christ” are inevitable, but these are two very different films. “The Passion” was about helping the faithful to better understand the suffering of our Lord. “Soraya” isn’t about suffering. Instead it serves as a compassionate and at times visceral reminder that monsters, shielded by monstrous laws, international indifference and those selfishly comforted by the stability of dictators, walk among us; that even today, societies exist where an ideological poison breeds men capable of such wicked and inhuman acts.

But on the flip side, Nowrasteh does something equally important, does something not a single one of these dozen or so anti-war films has dared: he puts a real, human and accessible face on the people of the Middle East. Leftist bigots refuse to do this. It works in opposition to their depraved need to embarrass Bush and America by abandoning millions of Middle Eastern and Muslim innocents to terrorists and death squads. Certainly Nowrasteh shines a light on monsters, but he also sees Soraya and Zahra and Freidoune and children and two somewhat sympathetic but weak and conflicted men caught in a tide of something evil and impossible. “Soraya” is a first in many years, a film that introduces us to the good people of this region and reminds us of our common humanity.

For contrast, flashback to Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center. As Cliff May wrote in 2006:

The WSJ’s Brian Carney disagrees with KLo, me and several others writing in this space regarding Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center.He argues that it “is the story of 9/11 as experienced by the men on the ground as it occurred. As far as it goes, it does ample justice to the rescue and emergency workers who were present on that day. They did not know, could not know, who brought down the towers or why. The question is whether ‘World Trade Center’ goes far enough when it comes to shaping our understanding of what happened.”

It does not, Carney believes, because “there are no villains in Mr. Stone’s movie. Nicolas Cage’s John McLoughlin and Michael Pena’s Will Jimeno could have been trapped by an earthquake or an accident. … ‘World Trade Center’ tells a powerful story about the basic goodness so many people felt and acted on in the wake of a heinous act. But to the extent that it omits any direct reference to the crimes that made those good deeds necessary, its version of the truth is incomplete.”

Here’s where we differ: Stone’s film does contain reference to those villains and those crimes. The references are few and they are subtle but they are there. And they struck me as powerful and persuasive

There is the fireman in Wisconsin who makes clear that what happened was not an earthquake or other natural disaster but the work of “bastards.” Another character says that this crime must be “avenged.” (Not understood, not prevented from happening again but “avenged.” You don’t avenge a typhoon.)

And finally there is the marvelous character of David Karnes. When he hears about what has happened in lower Manhattan, he puts on his old Marine uniform. His first mission is to rescue those still trapped in the rubble. After that, he will take up arms. He knows a war has begun and that he has a duty to fight it. The audience now knows this, too.

At the end of the film, we learn that Karnes went on to serve two tours in Iraq.

Does that tell us all we need to know about the enemy? Of course not. But it’s a good start – without any misguided attempt to “humanize” the barbarians, without any self-flagellation about why they hate us.

No, the film doesn’t tell us much about this enemy, who he is, how he thinks, what we wants and what will be necessary if we seriously intend to defend ourselves from him.

But then, this technique is nothing new, as James Bowman wrote in 2001 about a much older movie otherwise set, as World Trade Center was, in the frontlines of a war zone:

[In Apocalypse Now, we] never meet a single Vietnamese, for instance, who is not a victim of the Americans. Whom does [Coppola] suppose was shooting back? He keeps the enemy out of sight in order to make the American military effort—which seems to consist mainly of blazing away at the forest or the tall reeds along the banks of the river, or else innocent civilians—look not only futile but crazy. Like the phantasmagoria of the trip upriver, like everything else in the movie, the phantom enemy is designed to show us the futility, the insanity of the war. The enemy is everywhere and nowhere. It is insane to try to fight him.

Kudos to Nowrasteh for interrupting this surprisingly longstanding Hollywood tradition.