“From that moment on, everything became dark… I didn’t know how I could cope with this loss.”
This is how Cyrus, the protagonist of Closure, describes his feelings after the murder of his father by the Iranian authorities. He is just 10-years-old when their peaceful family home is raided by the Islamic intelligence service, and his father Dariush is taken out and shot.
Dariush, the leader of a house church in Iran, is deceived by undercover intelligence agent Majid, who pretends to be interested in Christianity. Having discovered where Dariush keeps his stash of Farsi Christian literature, Majid leads a team of officers to his home to gather the evidence and deal with the “offender”.
Closure is narrated by the 40-year-old Cyrus as he reflects on that dark day and how it cast a shadow over his life as he grew up, became a doctor and had a family of his own. “The idea of revenge grew deeper every day”, he recalls. As a Christian, Cyrus knows that he needs to forgive Majid, but struggles to overcome his feelings of hatred and bitterness.
Events drawn from real life
While the plot of Closure may seem melodramatic and far-fetched to viewers in the UK, it is actually based on the real-life story of Joseph Hovsepian, the writer, director and producer, and his brother Andre, who plays the older Cyrus in the film. (The young Cyrus is played by Ryan Sadaghiani, who starred in American Sniper).
Their father Haik Hovsepian, Superintendent of the Assemblies of God (AOG) Church in Iran and Chairman of the Council of Protestant Churches of Iran, was brutally murdered in 1994. He had been outspoken about the lack of religious freedom in Iran, and was a strong advocate for fellow Iranian pastor Mehdi Dibaj, who had been imprisoned for 10 years and sentenced to death for apostasy. Hovsepian disappeared three days after his protests helped to secure Dibaj’s release; he was later found with multiple stab wounds to his chest. Six months after Dibaj’s release, he too was abducted and killed.
Closure is dedicated to the families of Iran’s Christian martyrs, and is very much based on their experiences and feelings; their struggles with fear, doubt and forgiveness.
Andre, who like Cyrus was just 10 when his father was martyred, said: “The film portrays the process of forgiveness. There is a perception of an unreachable, idealistic forgiveness that once you forgive the feelings never come back, like pushing a button. This film takes you through the journey of forgiveness, the struggles and challenges that come with it. It’s a very sensitive point, but an important one.”
A message for persecutor and persecuted
As well as exploring the experience of the persecuted, Closure also considers the persecutor; in particular their struggle with guilt and need for redemption.
Joseph said: “As much as it’s a film for the Christian community, it’s also for the enemies of the Christian community. Closure helps us to think outside the box, and not just to look in terms of two groups: the victim and the enemy.
“I hope that it will connect with the inner feelings of persecuted Christians, and encourage them that it is possible to forgive. A lot of Christians in Iran are going through that journey.
“The other message, for the non-believer, is for them to know that the central point of Christianity is forgiveness. That’s what Jesus did for us, and that’s what we are expected to do towards others. That’s very different to what the average Muslim has been taught.”
Joseph said that he wants persecutors of Christians in Iran to see that there is a chance for them to do the right thing, and that they are welcome by Jesus — and also by his people.
For viewers in the UK, and other Western countries, Closure provides a powerful insight into the harsh reality for Christians in Iran. And though we may not experience the intense persecution of our brothers and sisters there,Closure has a universal message in its gritty portrayal of both the call and the struggle to forgive. For we all face times when we have been wronged, and have to wrestle with our emotions as we seek to be obedient to Christ’s call to forgive.
An American viewer who attended the US premiere of Closure told Joseph: “After you watch a Bruce Lee movie, you want to fight with someone. You come out of this movie and you want to forgive people.”
The Hovsepian family, which also includes Haik’s widow Takoosh, and children Rebecca and Gilbert, are testament to the grace of God, which enables believers to forgive even the most horrendous of wrongs, and bring glory to Him in the face of suffering.
Joseph said: “At times, we still feel my dad’s absence, no matter how many years have passed. But the blood of people like my dad didn’t go in vain and it was planted in a land that is now bearing fruit, which is very comforting for us.
“In a country that is so much opposing Christianity is one of the largest and fastest growing movements of people accepting Christ, and that’s encouraging to see.”