Movie Review: The Keeper: The Legend of Omar Khayyam

By Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D
Movie Magazine International
The idea of a film based on the story of Omar Khayyam, 11th Century Persian philosopher, astronomer, poet and author of The Rubaiyat, is exciting and full of promise –- with the potential for intriguing drama and spectacular visuals. It is an opportunity to introduce the American moviegoer to Middle Eastern history and actors as a vehicle for promoting cross-cultural understanding.

"The Keeper: The Legend of Omar Khayyam," filmed mostly in Uzbekistan, chronicles Omar Khayyam’s rise as one of the great intellectuals of his time, his love relationship with Darya, and his close friendship and rivalry with Hassan. Khayyam discovers advances in science and math and develops an accurate calendar. His friend Hassan takes a path of religious intolerance, as the Christian Crusaders approach. Omar rejects religious dogma that leads to killing, and incorporates the Greek philosophical emphasis on reason into his Islamic faith.

The modern part of the story is an ode to the oral tradition in the Middle East. It focuses on a 12 year-old Iranian-American boy Kamran (Adam Echahly) who sits at his dying brother’s bedside, learning about their legendary ancestor, Omar Khayyam. This eventually leads Kamran to England to learn about the first English version of the Rubaiyat translated in the 19th Century, and to meet with the bookbinder’s heir played by Vanessa Redgrave.

What an utter disappointment that the director, Iranian immigrant, Mashayekh chooses to use Anglo actors in Persian roles. It is like watching a Disney cartoon in which the ethnicity of the characters is neutralized so as not to offend. When asked about this in a Q & A, Mashayekh said that this story is for everyone across all cultures, and he wanted to be "inclusive". It was unnerving, and even distracting to see the Caucasian actors in the roles of Middle Easterners.

Mashayekh said that this film is an homage to his father and his story telling. But I think Mashayekh lost his nerve to trust American moviegoers to embrace his story if it were too Middle Eastern. The attempt at honoring his father and Omar Khayyam is admirable, but the film groans under the weight of its overly ambitious agenda, and need of courage. Its impact is diluted because it lacks focus and the substance and depth to make us care about the characters and get why Omar Khayyam is so loved by Middle Easterners.

For Movie Magazine, this is Joan Widdifield. ©
Air date 8/17/05
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The Keeper: The Legend of Omar Khayyam