Why No One Should Turn a Blind Eye to Torture: A Review of "The Mauritanian"

by Rana Irby



Fair warning: if you watch the film The Mauritanian (which you absolutely should), it’s going to be a tough experience. This is not only because the movie is two hours long, but also because the story is quite heart wrenching. You may even need to take breaks with the knowledge of the fact that the story the movie is based on is true, and the actions perpetrated against Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a prisoner without charge at Guantánamo Bay, were done in the name of the citizens of the United States of America. Since the war on terror began nearly 20 years ago, you may have heard in passing about the treatment of detainees at Guantánamo, with talking points being either for or against the United States’ actions. The Mauritanian puts a literal face on what has happened, and continues to happen, in the name of waging war on terror. The film makes you stop, look, and not turn a blind eye to torture.


As mentioned above, The Mauritanian tells the story of Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s fight for freedom after being detained in Guantánamo Bay for more than 14 years without being charged. The movie is based on Slahi’s memoir Guantánamo Diary. Director Kevin Macdonald grippingly depicts Slahi’s (played by Tahar Rahim) pursuit of justice along with his attorney Nancy Hollander (played by Jodie Foster), her assistant Teri Duncan (played by Shailene Woodley) and Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch (played by Benedict Cumberbatch). The reason I use the word gripping is because each moment of the film presents the viewer with a sense that all those involved in making the film knew the serious nature of the story and wanted to convey it as powerfully as possible. Each scene did such a great job of conveying the injustices against Slahi that I actually had to watch the movie in two sittings to give myself time to process everything that was going on.


Not only was Slahi detained for years without charge, he was tortured, which is depicted in the film. Thankfully, the actions were portrayed in snippets, so the viewer can get a sense of the horrendous nature of the actions without the film being too gratuitous. As for the characters, the movie did a spectacular job of presenting Slahi as a human being, as well as emphasizing the moral weight his case took on those involved. It left me, and hopefully anyone who watches the film, with the sense that no matter the accusation or offence, guilt or innocence, no one should be tortured. One finishes the film with no other option than to consider the dignity of the human person.

The Mauritanian is an engaging look at the fight for justice and dignity of the human person, especially in light of torture. The film places the subject front and center, demanding attention, and crucially ascribing a human face on the victims of torture. For us Americans, the egregious acts inflicted on Mohamedou Ould Slahi were done in our name. Thus, it is a must watch.


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