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‘Rosewater’ unlocks freedom from fear

“Rosewater” (2014). Cast: Gael García Bernal, Kim Bodnia, Dimitri Leonidas, Haluk Bilginer, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Golshifteh Farahani, Claire Foy, Amir El-Masry, Nasser Faris, Hamza Muhaisen, Jason Jones. Director: Jon Stewart. Screenplay: Jon Stewart. Book: Maziar Bahari and Aimee Molloy, Then They Came for Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival. Web site. Trailer.

Fear can be a crippling emotion that keeps us locked in place, unable to move forward in our lives. Under dire circumstances, those feelings can become debilitating, preventing us from extricating ourselves from what we’ve manifested and creating anew. For a foreign correspondent returning to the oppressive regime of the land of his birth, those notions get put to the test, as seen in the fact-based new biopic, “Rosewater.”

In 2009, Iranian-born journalist Maziar Bahari (Gael García Bernal) traveled from his home in London to Tehran to cover the nation’s presidential election for Newsweek magazine, a contest principally featuring hardline incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and progressive reform candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Bahari left behind his young pregnant fiancée, Paola (Claire Foy), believing that he would be gone for only a week. However, the trip turned into a much longer and more difficult journey than he ever imagined.

Bahari’s return to Iran evoked mixed personal feelings. On the plus side, it afforded him an opportunity to visit his aging, adoring mother, Moloojoon (Shohreh Aghdashloo). But, at the same time, the trip brought back painful memories of the incarceration of his free-spirited sister, Maryam (Golshifteh Farahani), who was jailed as a political prisoner by the fundamentalist government of Ayatollah Khomeini in the 1980s, and of his father, Baba Akbar (Haluk Bilginer), who was arrested for being a Communist during the reign of Shah Reza Pahlavi during the 1950s. Still, being the professional that he was, Bahari focused his attention on the task at hand – covering the election.

The 2009 Iranian presidential contest was a watershed moment in the country’s history. In the days leading up to the vote, Mousavi was believed to be steadily gaining momentum, giving the incumbent a genuine run for his money. However, when the results were announced, Mousavi was soundly defeated, an outcome many disbelieved, including Bahari, who received a jubilant phone call from one of Ahmadinejad’s campaign staffers (Amir El-Masry) enthusiastically proclaiming the president’s glorious re-election – before the polls even closed. In the ensuing days, claims of widespread election fraud circulated, and violent protests erupted, which Bahari documented with his video camera and released to the Western press. The intrepid journalist, who operated with official government accreditation, was simply doing his job – but that’s what got him into trouble.

Not long after the release of his protest footage, Bahari was taken into custody by the Iranian government. He was charged with being a Western spy and subjected to intensive, sometimes-brutal interrogation by a “specialist” (Kim Bodnia) seeking to coerce a confession out of him, a nameless captor who Bahari only knew by the ever-present scent of rosewater, a fragrance commonly used for cosmetic and ceremonial purposes in the Islamic world. The interrogator, who Bahari nicknamed for his signature bouquet, used seemingly every tactic imaginable to get his subject to confess, but Rosewater made little progress, especially since the allegations against his bewildered captive were rarely made clear and often based on laughably faulty “evidence.” Given the slow progress, Rosewater was increasingly pressured by his superior (Nasser Faris) to get results, and, over time, Bahari’s resolve gradually began to weaken; he was reaching the point where he was increasingly willing to do almost anything to secure his release.

To cope with these circumstances, Bahari frequently envisioned himself engaging in conversations with his sister and father. Having both been captives themselves, Bahari believed they might be able to provide him with insights from their experiences to help him get by. And that coping mechanism proved valuable, eventually providing him a key to outwit his captors. Drawing upon the advice of his sister, Bahari decided to follow her recommendation that he tap into his sense of internal freedom, a strategy that enabled him to strengthen his will to survive – and to shrewdly turn the tables on those who imprisoned him.

The intimidation inflicted by Bahari’s captors was undeniable. In fact, they came incredibly close to breaking him. But Bahari knew there was no basis behind their contentions, and his personal conviction successfully sustained him through these trying times. Indeed, the power of his beliefs in his personal truth enabled the creation of conditions necessary for preventing his interrogators from psychologically crippling him. And the employment of one’s beliefs in attaining a desired outcome, such as this, is the very essence of what conscious creation is all about.

As anyone familiar with this practice knows, we create the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, intents and beliefs. And Bahari, as someone who was utterly convinced of his innocence, wielded tremendous personal power with his beliefs, a circumstance that ensured his eventual triumph.

Rosewater and his minions, by contrast, tried to achieve success by employing beliefs that they knew were disingenuous, tainted by unsupported claims, at best, and outright fabrications, at worst. They were so hell-bent on achieving their desired outcome that they were willing to disregard such considerations in their pursuit of success. The use of un-conscious creation (also known as creation by default) in this way rarely yields hoped-for results, especially if the practice rests on a foundation of beliefs tinged with doubt (as is often the case here, as depicted in several scenes in which Rosewater is visibly conflicted about what he’s asked to do, knowing that such requests are inherently foolhardy).

Is it any wonder, then, that Bahari’s captors are destined to fail? It’s a lesson we can all benefit from for those times when we try to force outcomes into manifestation, especially when we’re well aware that we don’t have adequate belief support to make them possible.

Part of the reason for Rosewater’s failure is due to the co-created nature of these circumstances. While he obviously had certain results in mind when employing his conscious creation skills, so did Bahari, and the captive’s objectives were clearly at odds with those of the captor. In an event like this, the presence of contradiction as part of the mix kept Rosewater’s desired outcome from being realized. Of course, contradiction also kept Bahari’s results from materializing, which raises a significant question for all involved – exactly why did they create these conditions in the first place? What’s to be gained from such a seemingly intractable stalemate?

In scenarios as complicated as these, there are often multiple motivations behind the creation of the attendant circumstances. But, in many instances, they often involve the manifestation of conditions needed for each party to learn various life lessons. In Bahari’s case, this scenario enabled him to learn much about fear, the freedom from it and what such liberation makes possible. Rosewater’s experience, by contrast, provided him with an opportunity for a valuable lesson in the perils of un-conscious creation. And, in tandem, Bahari and Rosewater each materialized the means for gaining a significant new understanding of the importance of integrity.

The degree of success we attain in pursuits like those outlined above depends on how well we pay attention at recognizing what we create. After 118 days of interrogation, it becomes apparent that Bahari and Rosewater achieved mixed results in their respective endeavors, and one need only look at the outcomes to see how this played out. For them, like us, when we succeed at a particular undertaking, we’re able to move on to new ventures; and, when we don’t, we often find it necessary to revisit the lesson in question, re-creating comparable conditions in the hope that we just might get it the next time around. In either case, though, it ultimately depends on what beliefs we employ and act upon in realizing whatever outcomes unfold.

“Rosewater” is an excellent debut feature from first-time writer-director Jon Stewart. The picture is something of a surprise offering from the host of Comedy Central’s bitingly satirical Daily Show, which probably helps to heighten the film’s overall impact. Yet, despite the unexpected subject matter probed here, Stewart has nevertheless infused portions of his excellent script with his signature wit, making his points with effectively nuanced humor that never becomes gratuitous. This nicely paced, skillfully edited release features great portrayals by Bodnia and Aghdashloo, as well as Bernal, who has quietly added yet another fine effort to his growing resume of first-rate performances.

When fear threatens to imprison us, we must have the wherewithal to realize that it arises just like any other creation – from the power of our beliefs – and that we can change our circumstances at any time we wish, as long as we allow ourselves to do so. Making such a change, however, requires us to envisage a different path and to draw upon our internal freedom to choose it. And, as long as we retain our vision of such possibilities, we can move forward confidently into the future – no matter what obstacles may seemingly block our way.

Copyright © 2014, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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