The Stoning of Soraya M. is a 2008 American Persian-language drama directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh. The film is an adaptation of French journalist Freidoune Sahebjam's best-selling novel "La Femme Lapidée" (1990) which in turn was Based on a True Story.
Stranded in a remote Iranian village, a French journalist is approached by Zahra, a woman who has a harrowing tale to tell about her niece, Soraya, and the bloody circumstances of her death the day before.
As the journalist turns on his tape recorder, Zahra takes us back to the beginning of her story which involves Soraya’s husband, the local phony mullah, and a town all too easily led down a path of deceit, coercion, and hysteria. The women, stripped of all rights and without recourse, nobly confront the overwhelming desires of corrupt men who use and abuse their authority to condemn Soraya, an innocent but inconvenient wife, to an unjust and torturous death.
This film provides examples of:
- Arranged Marriage: The way Ali planned to marry his next wife, a fourteen year old girl.
- As You Know: The town mayor Ebrahim informs Soraya about the law that women, if accused of adultery, have to prove their innocence while men have to be proven guilty. It can be safely assumed that she would know this already and the lines are an Info Dump for the audience instead.
- Bittersweet Ending: Though the titular character gets stoned to death, her story gets out into the world, which may help to raise awareness about the cruel stoning practice.
- Black-and-White Morality: There are only two minor characters with shades of grey in their moral compass, Hashem and Soraya's youngest son. All other notable characters are either pure good or evil.
- Blackmail: The town's mullah blackmailed by Ali for his child molesting incident. Hashem is threatened to lose his son so he would testify against Soraya.
- The Cassandra: Zahra, when she tries to warn Soraya of the plotting. Her voice remains unheard.
- City with No Name: The village's name is never mentioned.
- Comforting the Widow: Subverted. The smart husband uses this as an opportunity to build false testimony that lewd interactions had taken place between Hashem and Soraya.
- Disproportionate Retribution: The practice of stoning as a form punishment for adultery seems way out of place.
- Disturbed Doves: The same scene of disturbed doves is shown twice in the movie. First when Soraya is with her daughters in a flowery meadow and later when she dies from the stoning.
- Domestic Abuse: Ali is seen beating his wife badly, leaving bruises all over her body.
- Double Standard: Major theme. The film portrays a patriarchal culture with extreme gender inequality.
- Due to the Dead: Averted as the council wouldn't let the women bury Soraya. So her body was dropped by the banks of the river, where the dogs got the best of her. Played straight when Zahra buried the bones the next day.
- Flyaway Shot: The zoom-out shot at the end from Zahra giving an aerial view of the setting.
- Foregone Conclusion: The first scene of Zahra burying the bones in combination with the Spoiler Title leaves no doubt about the fate of the titular character.
- Framing Device: The present day frames the bulk of the story which consist of events that happened the day before, narrated by Zahra.
- Gorn: The shots of the stoning are extremely graphic. Makes sense, considering the same producer (Stephen McEveety) also worked on The Passion of the Christ.
- Go Through Me: Zahra blocking the view so the journalist could escape in his car.
- Honor-Related Abuse: Invoked. The husband wants to spend more time with his mistress and avoid the cost of a divorce, so he first sends Soraya to do household chores for a male widow and then accuses her of adultery which results in her gruesome stoning.
- Hope Spot: When Soraya's father fails to hit her with three of his stones, one woman takes this as a sign from god and demands the stoning to cease. The mob wouldn't listen.
- I Have No Son!: Right before throwing his stone, Soraya's father proclaims that he doesn't have a daughter anymore.
- Imagine Spot: Soraya has one during the painful stoning procedure where she imagines herself away with her daughters in the flowery meadow.
- Kangaroo Court: The trial against Soraya is a farce where the outcome was essentially decided in advance by a corrupt council using a forced testimony.
- Karma Houdini: It is not clear by the end of the movie whether anybody involved in the murder scheme will be brought to justice.
- Killed to Uphold the Masquerade: Played with. The mullah and Ali don't want any evidence of the plotted murder to leave the town and nobody knows what they would have done to the journalist if Zahra hadn't performed her Go Through Me.
- Lonely Piano Piece: Piano tune playing when Soraya's two sons are about to throw their stones.
- Murder Is the Best Solution: Ali didn't want to support two families, and did not desire to return his wife's dowry. How to rid himself of his "old" wife? Accuse her of infidelity and have her stoned.
- My Car Hates Me: At the end, when the journalist tries to flee the village, his car breaks down in the middle of the road. He managers to restart it Just in Time before the mob arrives.
- One-Woman Wail: Can be heard at one point during the stoning procedure.
- Pædo Hunt: The local mullah had been imprisoned for child molesting.
- Shaming the Mob: Soraya gets to have a Final Speech in which she accuses her fellow villagers of coldheartedness.
- Spoiler Title: Soraya gets stoned indeed.
- Town with a Dark Secret: The schemed murder of Soraya - The village turns into one after the scheme.
- Vertigo Effect: In a the scene where two men finish digging the hole for the stoning.
- White Shirt of Death: Possibly justified by local customs. Soraya puts on a white dress for her stoning.
- The X of Y: The Stoning of Soraya M.