HOUSTON — I attended a screening of the new independent film “The Keeper: The Legend of Omar Khayyám” here in June. The film was written, directed and produced by Kayvan Mashayekh, who emigrated from Iran to the U.S. in 1979 with his family when he was 11. Seven years ago he abandoned his Houston law practice to pursue his dream of directing movies.
Mashayekh encountered tremendous racism following the 9/11 attacks and had great difficulty making the movie because of this. Yet, he persisted and completed this excellent, epic film that was shot on three continents.
The movie is about a young Iranian American boy, Kamran, whose older brother is the family “keeper” of the story of Omar Khayyám. The brother is dying of leukemia in a Houston hospital and relates the legend to the boy. The boy becomes the keeper after his brother’s death.
Vanessa Redgrave makes a brief appearance in the film and her performance, as usual, is magnificent.
Omar Khayyám was an intellectual in 11th century Persia who studied science, geometry and astronomy. He built an observatory with the backing of a progressive sultan who supported the development of science and knowledge. His poetry, compiled in the Rubáiyat, is what he is remembered for now.
One of Omar Khayyám’s friends, Hassan, was a religious fundamentalist who viewed his scientific activities as heresy. The struggle between the two characters parallels the relationship between religion and science.
The story of an Iranian challenging Islamic fundamentalism caught the attention of some and helped the film to advance to completion. However, the themes presented in the movie are just as relevant to the Christian right wing in this country. In the film, the Islamic extremists ruthlessly attack those in the forefront of progress in science and knowledge and collaborate with the invading Christian crusaders from Europe. In the U.S. today we have an administration opposed to stem cell research and other scientific advancements, which, if allowed to proceed, will serve to relieve the misery of mankind.
This wonderful film helps to dispel anti-Iranian and anti-Muslim prejudice. It also clearly points out the follies and dangers of religious extremism and shows how it can be used to aid the forces of reaction.