THE BLOG
11/24/2014 02:39 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Rosewater

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The Daily Show is considered primarily a comedy program finding it's provenance in That Was the Week That Was and the media parodies on SNL. However, there's undoubtedly a substantial segment of The Daily Show's audience for whom the program's satire is their primary news source. And if the satire about seemingly sacrosanct news items seems tasteless, the argument can be made that the grotesquery of what is going on in Iraq and Syria, in the Ukraine and to the Ozone layer is what's truly lacking in taste. Rosewater, the movie about the imprisonment of Newsweek journalist Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal) in Teheran's notorious Evin prison (based on his memoir Then They Came For Me: A Family's Story of Love, Captivity and Survival), was directed by Jon Stewart, of Daily Show fame. However, as a director Stewart's persona is a far cry from that of the television host. Instead of treating Bahari's story as a comic strip or subject of satire (in the way Argo partially did in its tale of a notorious escape from Iran), Stewart tackles his subject with deadly seriousness. If there are humorous elements like one in which Bahari entices the film's eponymous interrogator (Kim Bodnia) with stories about massage excursions in the exotic New Jersey city of Fort Lee, they're intrinsic to the reality of what's going on. The movie is curiously complex and a far cry from the kind of homiletics that are often the dark side of the satirist's trade. The association between Rosewater and Rosebud is not serendipitous when one considers that one of the main axes Bahari's tormentors have to grind is the link between journalism and spying. Whether Stewart or Bahari intended it, it's hard not to fault the Iranian hardliners their insinuation of collusion (however one might detest their methods). The movie points to layers upon layers of connections rather than disconnects between the journalist and his captors, including the fact that Bahari's father had been a prisoner of a common enemy the Shah--whose rise to power had come about due to the CIA's machinations against the democratically elected Mosaddegh back in l953. There's a scene where Bahari is about to be executed in the prison courtyard. His interrogator pulls the trigger, but there are no bullets in the gun. It's a replication of an event in Dostoevsky's early life. One wonders if the character, whose novelistic sensibility Stewart so vividly paints in Rosewater (personal/historical flashbacks are interspersed throughout the film), will someday turn the nightmare he lived into a great work of fiction.

{This originally was posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}