The Dissident

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
The Dissident Movie Poster Image
Intense docu on the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
  • PG-13
  • 2020
  • 119 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Stands out for positive role models.

Positive Messages

Depicts dissidents as freedom fighters who will risk everything (their families, their lives, etc.) to tell the truth in a world where evil forces try to cover up that truth. This kind of courage in the face of impossible odds is rare in real life. Some viewers may disagree with this portrayal.

Positive Role Models

Khashoggi was murdered for his work and for his beliefs, but his fight was a long, brave, noble one. Time magazine honored him as Person of the Year in 2018. His courage, optimism, perseverance are truly admirable.

Violence

Disturbing, read-aloud transcriptions of the murder (the words are also shown on-screen) and the dismembering of the corpse with a bone saw. Scenes of where, inside the consulate, Khashoggi may have been killed and where his body may have been disposed of. Description of how meat was cooked to cover up smell of burning flesh. Graphic news footage with blood and bodies. Blood trail seen in ultraviolet light. Description of torture in which a man lost all his teeth. Descriptions of people being pushed, dragged, beaten.

Sex

Not an issue, but the concept of a man and a woman hoping to marry is frequently discussed.

Language

"Bastards," plus "shut up" and "God bless."

Consumerism

Twitter frequently mentioned, shown.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Dissident is a documentary about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whose outspoken views against the government and ruling family of Saudi Arabia were published in the Washington Post. It's a powerful film, capturing Khashoggi's perseverance and courage and demonstrating first-hand how journalism can fight against terror and oppression by revealing the truth. Expect disturbing material, notably a read-aloud transcript of Khashoggi's murder and the subsequent dismembering of his body, as well as scenes of the places where he may have been killed and his body burned. There's some bloody news footage (with dead bodies), a trail of blood under ultraviolet light, and other verbal descriptions of violence. Language includes a use of "bastards," plus "shut up" and "God bless." 

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What's the story?

In THE DISSIDENT, filmmaker Bryan Fogel examines the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi, who wrote for the Washington Post and was openly critical of the Saudi Arabian government and its ruling royal family, was living in exile in Istanbul. In October 2018, he went to the Saudi Arabian consulate to obtain papers so that he could marry his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, but he never came out again. The movie tells Khashoggi's story leading up to the murder and also follows its disturbing aftermath, as Khashoggi's friend and associate, 27-year-old Omar Abdulaziz, lives in fear for his life. More shockingly, viewers learn of the Saudi crown prince, Mohammad Bin Salman, and his evil technological empire, which is capable of destroying Twitter users and infiltrating phones -- even Jeff Bezos' -- to steal private data. But Abdulaziz continues to fight.

Is it any good?

Long and not exactly uplifting, this documentary is nevertheless absolutely essential, constantly reasserting its own investigative journalism even in the face of world powers that would crush it. Directed by Oscar winner Bryan Fogel (Icarus), The Dissident consists largely of talking-head interviews and some drone-cam establishing shots of various cities, but it benefits greatly from dynamic footage of Abdulaziz and plenty of archival footage of Khashoggi himself. The movie quickly humanizes the legendary journalist, emphasizing his warm smile and his loving relationship with Cengiz, as well as his tenacity in never stepping down from a battle.

Abdulaziz, meanwhile, is shown frequently on the move, on sidewalks or on subways, as if unwilling to stay in one place to be interviewed. (His family and friends back in Saudi Arabia have all been arrested.) His interviews give the movie a paranoid force that, again, makes it more human. The many other interviewees are largely sources for Fogel's reporting, and few of them are on-screen long enough to leave an emotional impression, but their information is still vital. Computer-generated images of the Saudi Arabian internet trolls, as well as flies and bees (representing the bad and good forces on Twitter), may seem a little extraneous, but they nonetheless get the point across clearly. Ultimately, though, The Dissident is most impressive for the same reasons that Khashoggi was impressive: courage and a quest for the truth.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about The Dissident's violent content. How does the murder in this movie compare to those in fictional movies? Which has more impact? Why do you think that is?

  • Do you consider Khashoggi a role model? Are the risks he took worth what he accomplished? How did he demonstrate courage and perseverance?

  • Why do you think Omar Abdulaziz would continue his vlog when his family and friends are suffering in prison back home? Would you do the same?

  • Have you ever stood up against something that you knew was wrong, even though the chance of some kind of punishment seemed high?

Movie details

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