Historically, comedians have been dismissed as to the entertainment purpose to make the audience laugh. While this may hold true for some comics that has always been a subset with a far more vital purpose, one critical to the society they live in. These comedians specialize in what we now call political humor. Woven within their jokes are barbs of truth revealing the foibles of the rich, influential and those wielding political power. In many of the works of Shakespeare there’s a character inevitably listed as ‘The Fool’, who uses his position as entertainer or court jester to provide a reality check to the leaders and population that no one would dare plainly state. For this generation there were quite a few people readily filling this crucial position. Many people feel that getting the news from ‘Comedy Central ‘rather than a politically influenced source of cable news, a better informed about national and global events. There is one man who stands out in this field and is certain to be placed in the same level as Mark Twain and Will Rodgers; Jon Stewart.
Since December 1998 when Mr. Stewart took over not only the on camera persona but much of the behind the scenes production of Comedy Central’s ‘The Daily Show’. Despite the façade as pure humor, Emmy award-winning series has placed numerous serious issues directly in their crosshairs. They have effectively stirred up controversy not only with the news events themselves politically biased news networks. In particular the ultraconservative ‘Fox News’, have been directly targeted. Many times the pundits of Fox News have challenge Mr. Stewart to a one-on-one confrontation. Not only have they always lost, the defeat was always a significant one. Mr. Stewart is a well-educated, extremely well spoken man who has a phenomenal acumen regarding current events in the historical basis for the world to the world as it exists today. He also has a small army of interns with very fast Internet tasked to document and record statements made by today’s leaders that completely contradict the publicly stated standpoint on today’s issues. As a longtime fan of this man I was truly excited to hear that he was to direct and co-author screenplay depicting a real story of a journalist who is held in captivity and tortured. It should be noted that his co-author for the screenplay was in fact the journalists who experienced this heinous treatment.
Here in the United States, First Amendment Right to Free Speech, in grade school civics class. Later on in the course of our education might be told that the Founding Fathers that amendment to our Constitution making it the first Of the Bill Of Rights because it was commonplace or a government right control or suppress journalist report comment on subjects that may be derogatory to the government. They are valuable lessons learned usually are so distant to our everyday experience and concerns don’t think much about. Any First Amendment rights as something that is cited on a TV series or movie when a judge the master journalist revealed the source of their information. The worst thing that happens to journalists the integrity of his rights is being thrown in a jail cell for contempt of court. This is so far away from the real world as to be ludicrous to depict except perhaps to demonstrate a level of freedom and enjoy. This was certainly not the case Canadian journalists Maziar Bahiri. He was born in Tehran, Iran but at 21 moved to Canada was education and remain there as a journalist. Focus much of his work was discrimination and flagrant violation of human rights by governments and other groups. One line of research that consumed him was the overwhelming anti-Semitism in the 20th century. Not only did he examine obvious history heinous offenses committed by Germany but also scrutinized treatments of Jews in North America. He later became the Iranian correspondence Newsweek Magazine.
On June 21, 2009, Mr. Bahiri was covering the Iranian election protests and staying in his family’s home in Tehran. He was summarily arrested and incarcerated in Evin Prison, infamous for his treatment of political prisoners. While there released televised statements by Mr. Bahiri who confessed that Western journalists working as spies their governments and he was there covering the ‘illegal demonstrations and gatherings’. It was further stated that he was intent on inciting a ‘color revolution’. Both reported by his captors to be a freely given statement old his family, colleagues and, global human rights, Reporters without Borders’, denounced the veracity of the statements openly stating that they must of been made under extreme duress. This incited many human rights groups and individuals to actively protest his incarceration and the man is immediate release. He was eventually charged with 11 counts of espionage and after hundred and 118 days on a $300,000 bail. He was also told by the government that he would be expected to spy on other ‘anti-revolutionary elements’, a promise he made but never intended to fulfill. It is believed that one of the inciting factors that led to his imprisonment was video evidence of the antigovernment protest be provided to the BBC. The title of the film comes from his impression of one of his main interrogators had the odor of Rosewater, portrayed in this movie by Kim Bodnia.
What drew Mr. Bahiri (Tehran) to Tehran, leaving his pregnant) Fiancée; Paola (Claire Foy) at home was the 2009 national elections, specifically suspicions of gross abuse of power, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. A major factor that allows this film to excel over similar cinematic accounts of imprisonment and torture is that great care was observed to give the audience a glimpse and some understanding of what life in that city is like. This may seem like a simple aspect of the story is quite profound in its impact on the audience. It shows Bahiri as a regular sort of man dedicated to doing his job properly. He happens to be a journalist in a foreign country full of turmoil but by depicting him in mundane settings the audience is quite readily able to identify with him on an emotional level. This serves to make the brutality of his capture in the subsequent treatment by his interrogator, Rosewater, and the storage felt viscerally by those watching. So many people in the audience have been desensitized to such horrific treatment of a person not only by films of a similar nature, but more regrettably by the proliferation and widespread acceptance of such torture porn horror movies as the ‘Saw’ and ‘Hostel’ franchises. Movies of that nature represent the systematic infliction of pain to a degree that is so outlandish that when you see a portrayal of a real man being brutally tortured, the method seems mild by comparison. A movie such as this is not only important to demonstrate what barbaric lows our species is capable of, but to remove it from the realm of entertainment placing it back where it belongs; unforgivable acts of barbarism.
Some may wonder how a comedian such as Jon Stuart would handle such a serious topic. I doubt that those with any significant amount of trepidation have not only seeing this man plying his trade as a political comedian but has also ignored the many attempts conservative news outlets have had investing him in the debate. Just because the man makes his living bringing laughter to his fans does not preclude the fact that he is an astute observer of human nature and is exceptionally well informed into not only the subjects of today but much of the historical background. Mr. Stewart has a degree of understanding of the sociopolitical status of the world that approaches academic standings. As someone who often uses his satirical sabot encase the all too real of a point being made, he allowed the material of the story to stand on its own merit. His directorial style here is straightforward. He connects the audience to the protagonists following him through 118 days of sheer hell. The one aspect stylistically as some may feel departs from a documentary feel is how Bahiri has conversations with the ‘ghosts’ of his relatives. This is completely realistic within the context of the subject matter and emphasizes the internal struggle this man had to endure as well as the strength he derived from his loved ones. Just keep this man in mind and how he endured such pain and anguish in search of the truth, next time you are tempted to take the freedoms we have in this country for granted.