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Jim Caviezel Eschews Feel-Good Fare in The Stoning of Soraya M.

  • Christa Banister Contributing Writer
  • Updated Jun 30, 2009
Jim Caviezel Eschews Feel-Good Fare in <i>The Stoning of Soraya M.</i>

In true Hollywood tradition, this summer’s movie schedule has featured many of the usual suspects—superheroes, big-budget sequels, a smattering of romantic comedies and the requisite surprise hit of the summer, which this year, sadly belongs to The Hangover, a raunchy buddy comedy about a bachelor party gone seriously awry.

Those hoping for something decidedly more substantive typically have to wait until the more “serious” flicks are rolled out in September. But if actor Jim Caviezel (Frequency, The Passion of the Christ) has anything to say about it, that’s all about to change. In fact, Caviezel thinks now is actually the perfect time to shake things up at a theater near you with The Stoning of Soraya M., a disturbing and heart-wrenching film that’s ultimately the polar opposite of feel-good entertainment.

When Art Imitates Life

Based on a true story that happened in 1986, Caviezel plays the role of Freidoune Sahebjam, a French-Iranian journalist whose car unexpectedly breaks down in a remote village. While waiting on a local mechanic to fix the problem with the heater, Freidoune passes the time the way most reporters would, by engaging in conversation with the locals.

But light pleasantries aren’t exactly the order of the day when he comes across Zahra (Shorhreh Aghdashloo). After discovering that Friedoune is a journalist, Zahra begins describing an incident that’s almost too fantastical for Friedoune to take seriously. Giving her the benefit of the doubt because of her obvious anguish and persistence, however, Friedoune begins tape-recording the conversation so in Zahra’s words, “the world will know.” Listening in carefully as Zahra tells the story of Soraya M., a mother of four, Freidoune can’t help but be moved by what he’s hearing.

Turns out that after Soraya M. refuses to give her diabolical husband a divorce (because she couldn’t provide for their children on her own), thus preventing him from marrying the 14-year-old girl he’d rather be with, her husband, along with the Mayor of Kupayeh, devise a plan to have her convicted of adultery, which would eventually lead to death by stoning.

In this part of the world, women had little in the way of rights, but Zahra is clearly cut from a different cloth. Bold, impassioned and even willing to risk her safety to inspire change, Zahra sees Friedoune as a valuable voice for these voiceless victims. And for Caviezel, the universality of this story couldn’t help but connect with his own heart.

“It’s hard to believe that stoning still exists in the world. And while this story was still fairly recent, I found out there have been many instances just in the past year—and even the past month,” Caviezel says. “In fact, my director said, ‘You don’t have to go any further than YouTube to see this. Just put in 'stoning.’ It was a shock to say the least.”

Introduction to Injustice

And while Caviezel definitely agrees that stoning is an extreme example of injustice, making the movie was an all-too-pertinent reminder that “power in the wrong hands can be very dangerous, whether it’s in another part of the world or down the street.”

Drawn to the courage of the characters in Soraya M., particularly of the journalist he was asked to play, Caviezel hopes the movie will serve as an important reminder that suffering is very real—and happening all around the world. “When we first showed the movie to an audience, many people were angry because they didn’t realize what they were seeing,” Caviezel recounts. “But the anger was more about ‘How dare you show me that movie?’ than the fact this problem actually exists. I mean ‘How dare you make me feel like I have to do something? These are things I don’t like to look at. I like happy talk.’

“You don’t have to read any further than the Gospels and what happened 2,000 years ago or simply go outside where you live or the office you work at to see injustice happening all the time,” Caviezel continues. “And these injustices continue because people don’t want to get involved. But at some point, you have to say ‘You’re a coward’ if you don’t get involved. Films like this allow a trial run to occur. ‘Gee, I know what I am. I have to get right with this.’ We're all going to have our own trials, but what side are we going to choose? Good? Evil? The sin of commission or omission?”

As a person of faith, Caviezel says that being part of Soraya M. has once again reminded him that suffering isn’t always a bad thing—it’s an integral part of the journey as a believer. “Jesus knows there will always be suffering. That won’t change; it’s always been this way,” Caviezel shares. “But what separates his friends from those who walk without him is the grace that accompanies his followers. And that grace is peace, calm and especially love. These crosses that were carried in union with heaven benefit both the individual soul and the world. Viewed this way, the true way, the soul understands that suffering isn’t a bad thing. It’s a valuable thing to be exploited for heaven.”

The Truth Ain’t Pretty

In a culture where violence is ever-present in action movies and video games, not to mention the headlines of real-life news stories on a daily basis, the graphic ending of The Stoning of Soraya M. is still a shock to the system, even though you know what’s coming. Much like Jesus’ scourging and crucifixion scenes in The Passion of the Christ, there’s an inherent realism about the violence in Soraya M. that can’t help but stick with an audience, which is exactly what the filmmakers intended. It’s something that Caviezel credits to a great script and counts as a tribute to the cinematographer, director, producer—real filmmakers with goodness in their hearts and the desire to tell stories that change the world.

A champion of the movie from its inception, producer Stephen McEveety, who also played a significant role in raising the funds for the film to be made, says watching Soraya M. with an audience was a very revealing experience. “There are a lot of victims who are never heard, and when you watch this with people, you can see who’s been a victim,” McEveety says. “You can also spot the abusers, and they don’t like seeing themselves in this movie. It’s very layered, and I never dreamed it would come out the way it did. It has this haunting quality to it.”

After working with Caviezel on The Passion of the Christ, and now Soraya M., McEveety admits that a lighter project was probably the right next move for him, though. “As soon as I finished shooting, I longed to do a nice family film,” McEveety shares. “And that’s exactly what I just finished shooting,”

Even Caviezel confesses that after making a film like Soraya M., it would be nice to be cast in a comedy—if the right script ever turned up. “But somehow, people just don’t see me that way,” Caviezel says with a laugh. “So I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing. As an actor, I look for stuff that impacts me. And I've been in a position to do it, so I choose to make these kind of projects. I'd rather be in a position like this where I can make things I feel get people to look deep. I want to know how a story like this is resolved to prevent it from happening over and over again.”

Starring Shohreh Aghdashloo, Mozhan Marno , Shohreh Aghdashloo and Jim Caviezel, The Stoning of Soraya M. opens in limited release in theaters nationwide on Friday, June 26, 2009.  For more information, please visit the official site for The Stoning of Soraya M.