Review of The Mauritanian

Naima Said

Staff Writer

The words for forgiveness and freedom are the same in Arabic.

The Mauritanian, released February 21st, 2021, is based on the harrowing true events of Mohamedou O Slahi, according to his 2015 memoir, Guantanamo Diary, where Slahi recounts his life right before his imprisonment and his physical and mental torture as a detainee inside Guantanamo Bay. Although held by the United States, Slahi was never charged.

It’s not the inhumane abuse that breaks you in this movie, but the truth-seeking tale of hope that represents the end credits of real life—Mohamedou sharing his gratitude, and pure moments of peace as he sings along to Bob Dylan with a smile of resilience.

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Jodie Foster and Tahar Rahim’s Oscar worthy performances drive the relationship between the defense lawyer Nancy Hollander’s efforts to acquire a hearing for Slahi, who was accused of recruiting the terrorists that carried out 9/11.

The pursuit of justice is an important element seen by both Nancy Hollander’s character and lead prosecutor, Lt. Col. Stuart Couch, who corroborate and undergo obstacles to obtain primary evidence to support their case. What’s fascinating is Lt. Col. Couch’s findings that overturn Slahi’s original conviction, finding Slahi innocent and excusing himself from the case.

There are contrasting plot elements, ranging from religion to relationships. Lt. Col. Couch is a practicing Christian, who comes to terms with his immoral acts in life. One of his former colleagues was killed in the plane hijacking, and he becomes pressured along with his own guilty conscience to seek retribution. The notable ideology behind Lt. Col. Couch’s character is his refusal to blame just anyone. The irony is his repercussion for being honorable as he is titled a “traitor.” Hollander is marked as defending a terrorist, but doesn’t label herself as religious, basing moral acts on personal character. She greets Slahi properly by saying “As-Salamu Alaikum,” when first meeting, to which Slahi replies. Slahi is a devout Muslim, completing his prayers and speaking with God, both his obligation and way of desperately seeking help. Towards the end we notice a small shift with sarcastic comments about suing God, but like all faith, it fluctuates and at the end you always have trust. As Lt. Col. Couch put it, “God is on my side.”

Director Kevin Macdonald’s superb addition of the violence sequence of Slahi’s torture into a mendacious confession was relentless and magnetizing. Cinematically sinister with Slahi’s sexual assault by a female guard, in which he becomes distorted with reality and evocations of his wife, it defies common stigma, and unfortunately reminds one of the events at Abu Ghraib.

The film jumps around between 2002 and 2005 but ends in the same trapped environment that makes you use your imagination for a source of light, literally and metaphorically.

This film is a drama, but has subtle comic relief with Slahi’s English progression, learned from both the guards and books during his time. 

Slahi’s interactions with another inmate in French, who refers to himself as Number 241, since he doesn’t believe he has a name there, are underrated. The title of the movie comes from the inmate creating a name for Slahi inside the prison since he is from Mauritania. Both Muslim and wanting out, Slahi believing it to be true one day, whilst Number 241 doesn’t. Later identified as Ahmed Jabar, his suicide by self-asphyxiation was foreshadowed when he told Slahi to keep his soccer ball.

As my final note, The Mauritanian takes you into the lawless world of something unknown to the average American. As a Muslim, I left with newly found mental strength, knowing if one human being can endure 14 years of horrendous incarceration, and still come out with a positive outlook on life, while voicing their opinions without the element of fear, I can do it too.

I can release fear and forgive. It’s the only way to feel free.

“I want to forgive, for that is what Allah, my god, wants. May God forgive us, and may God be with us.” -Mohamedou O Slahi (excerpt from court speech)

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1 reply

  1. I just finished watching this movie on Netflix. I will be buying Mohamedou O Slahi’s book. I cannot even put into words how horrifying, yet in the end inspiring this film was. Composure took some time after viewing it. I have only heard of this level of forgiveness and strength once before. Azim Khamisa’s son Tariq was killed by Tony Hicks as part of a gang initiation. Azim not only forgave him but began a justice foundation, The Tariq Khamisa Foundation, in his son’s name. Tony Hicks began volunteering with TKF while still in prison. Azim forgave him publically. You may have heard this story. As for my story, I endured years of csa and dv, but I believe forgiveness is the same as freedom too. I have spent a lot of my life learning the superpower of forgiveness. It is healing. It brings peace. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. ♥.


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