Not Without My Daughter is a nightmare in every sense of the word. In this atrocious political-exploitation thriller, Betty Mahmoody (Sally Field), an ordinary middle- class woman living in Alpena, Mich., with her Iranian-born physician husband and their young daughter, agrees to take a trip with the family to Iran. It’s the mid-1980s, and Betty’s husband (Alfred Molina), stung by the racism he has encountered in the United States (and inspired by the resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism under the Ayatollah Khomeini), undergoes a sudden, fanatic reconversion to Islam, insisting that the family now remain in Iran and that Betty start conducting herself like a good Iranian wife (i.e., like a loyal servant).
The filmmaking is so crude that we aren’t given an inkling of the husband’s psychology. Overnight, he simply turns into a wife-beating, teeth-baring thug. And so even though the movie is based on the real Betty Mahmoody’s 1986 account of her ordeal, it seems to be saying: Betty’s husband may have lived in America for 20 years, but deep down he was always one of them. The movie takes the story of Betty Mahmoody’s escape from Iran and turns it into a demagogic anti-Iranian horror show — one that, in the current climate, can easily feed anti-Iraqi sentiment as well. It would all be worth getting mad over were the film not so plodding or so obvious in its tactics. F