review – ‘a dying king: the shah of iran’ (2017)

A Dying King: The Shah of Iran (2017) is a detailed documentary emphasizing heavily on the story of the near 2-year medical journey that brought about the death of the late Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who ruled for 38 years; reigning from September 16th, 1941 – February 11th, 1979. On January 16th, 1979, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and his royal family we’re unaware they would be embarking on a Medical treatment odyssey around the world to Egypt, Morocco, The Bahamas, Mexico, New York City, Panama, and coming full-circle, back to Egypt – where the late King would pass away on July 27th, 1980 in Cairo. Bobak Kalhour, the writer/director and producer, reveals the controversial medical story that has remained a perplexed enigma for the past 40 years. The documentary relies heavily on interviews with a wide variety of Doctors and medical physicians who were involved with treatment consultations during the near two-year journey, and sheds light upon the mysteries behind the medical malpractices associated with the late Shah’s multiple illnesses and ties them with the controversial political and financial relationships King Pahlavi had with the United States and the United Kingdom.

In the film’s opening sequence, we’re shown monumental images of an Iranian landmark, the Freedom Tower – formerly known as “Shah’s Memorial Tower”. The colossal memorial was commissioned by the last Shah of Iran and completed in 1971. After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the name was changed from “Shah’s Memorial” to “Freedom” to mark the contended declaration that the Islamic Republic had freed Iran from oppression by western global elites. A contradicting and hypocritical name change, nonetheless, considering the citizens of Iran have everything but freedom, with their human rights stripped of them for the past 4 decades since the revolution in 1979. Photographs of the last King of the Pahlavi House are shown with President Jimmy Carter – the 39th President of the United States who served one term from January 20th, 1977 – January 20th, 1981. After briefly mentioning the coup d’etat on Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953, where the Central Intelligence Agency and the United Kingdom’s lead role in overthrowing Iran’s democracy in just 4 days gave an inevitable rise and unintended fall to Mohammad Reza Shah’s future reign, the voice-over narration brushes on how the late Shah conveniently left Iran for Europe, prior to the coup, and returned on August 22, 1953. The documentary shows how President Richard Nixon, the 37th US President, allowed the late Shah to purchase any weapons he wanted from the United States in 1973. Prior to beginning the medical malpractice story, the documentary shows how the Shah famously pronounced himself as the “King of Kings” and mentions how the Shah wanted to modify the world order that had initially put him into power.

CARU Pictures (2017)

In the late ‘70s, the middle-class was politically woke in Iran and turned against the Shah; everyday Iranians had become disenchanted and cynical toward the Shah’s late reign. President Carter put pressure on the Shah to improve the rising human rights tensions growing severely in his nation. Iran became swamped by adversarial groups revolting and taking industrial actions with protests that relied on the emergence of what would become the theocratic movement of Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini – the former supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran. And after all of the aforementioned backstories, Bobak Kalhour’s documentary begins to tell the story of the great mystery and controversy behind the mismanaged and negligent medical treatment given to the last Shah of the Pahlavi Dynasty.

The documentary discusses the secret Doctors from France, who came to Iran to aid the Shah, and used a trick to hide the illness of Leukemia from him, and how Dr. Karl Fellinger – the Austrian physician – warned the Shah’s personal physician, Dr. Abdul Karim Ayadi in 1968 that the Shah had to be under magnified health care management due to alleged problems that could arise. The documentary falls into a host of interviews with the parties involved, from Doctors and Professors to the Shah’s former advisors. Manouchehr Ganji, Iran’s Education Minister and Dean of Political Science at Tehran University from 1976-1978, claimed in an interview that the Shah “…was under the opinion that Iranians, once they learn about his illness, would not be supportive of him, as before.” Mr. Ganji was referencing the Shah’s elevated sense of self-worth and heightened level of character that he refused to tarnish by admitting his illnesses to the citizens of Iran.

CARU Pictures (2017)

“The interesting part of understanding the psychology of the alpha person; there are people, who, really are in a sense conspiring against him. You can’t have a leader without people wanting to be in his leadership position. And when a person starts to feel the weaknesses – and by the way, control is the central aspect of being an alpha person.” The psychologist Jerry Berlin, PhD said, referring to the late Shah’s dominant personality and prideful mentality in refusing to inform his compatriots of his ill health throughout the 1970s. “The man was getting sicker and sicker. I had an agreement with my beloved King: we never should lie to each other. I said to him, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’” Ardeshir Zahedi said, the former Iranian diplomat who served as a foreign minister and ambassador to the US and the UK. Foreign Minister Zahedi went on to quote the late Shah, “’If I would have told you, you would have gone public.’ I said, ‘100%, I would have. Your people have to know, so they have sympathy for you.'”

CARU Pictures (2017)

The documentary expresses a theory that the King’s Lady, his 2nd wife Farah Pahlavi and her entourage initiated and inspired his decision making. When the Shah left Iran, he thought he had living arrangements prepared for him in the United States, but they advised him to make a stop in Egypt to meet with then former President Ford.  The documentary delves deep into discussions about how the Shah had to leave Egypt for Morocco and for The Bahamas, as a wide variety of Doctors analyzed the health care the Shah should and would receive, with interviews revealing their disagreements with the misinformation and maltreatment he was given throughout the perplexed process. And when the British government determined that the late Shah was no longer welcome to stay in The Bahamas; he was a natural born Iranian citizen without a country to call his own.

The Mexican government and its President Jose Lopez Portillo, who served from 1976-1982, agreed to have the Shah come to Mexico. They arranged for the late King to live in a villa in Cuernavaca, Morelos. Dr. Jorge Cervantes, one of the Physicians in charge of the Shah’s health care in Mexico, is greatly interviewed in this documentary and is the highlight of the entire film. His facial expressions and words demonstrate the great mystery and controversy involved in the malpractices associated with treating King Pahlavi. Dr. Cervantes discusses how he was told there was a problem with Jaundice and abdominal pain, resulting in complications and confusion over the Shah’s proper diagnosis. “I have no idea why a tropical medicine expert had anything to do with somebody with gallstones.” Dr. Jorge Cervantes said. “But that’s the way the Politicians were handling the problem.” The Mexican medical practitioners believed they had efficient abilities and capacities to treat the Shah. “And apparently Dr. Kean thought the Mexican facilities were inadequate.” Dr. Cervantes refers to Dr. Benjamin H. Kean, an American tropical disease expert who treated the Shah.

Beyond the medical malpractice issues involved with he Shah’s death, the documentary alludes to the Rockefeller family’s interest in the Shah’s affairs since Chase Manhattan Bank was the primary financial institution for the Shah’s government; the principal accounts for the Central Bank of Iran as well as Iran’s National Oil Company were kept at Chase. It discusses how The Carter Administration finally allowed the Shah into the United States, based on a false analysis, from the perspective of Dr. Cervantes, of how Mexico was not prepared to conduct the surgery – after Cervantes clearly explained that the hardened deposits of gall stones in the Shah’s upper right abdomen could have been detected with an ultrasound, as opposed to the computed tomography scan that was recommended. Even in contemporary medical practices of the United States, Gastroenterologists appoint an ultrasound for patients to check for gall stones depending on their symptoms.

Dr. Morton Coleman is interviewed, the Oncologist who treated the Shah at New York Hospital, who said he had Lymphoma in his neck. “He got the worst possible treatment.” Dr. Jorge Cervantes said, in response to the Shah’s treatment received at New York Hospital. The documentary does an incredible job of shedding light upon the controversy surrounding the medical treatment of the Shah. “No surgeon with self-respect would allow someone from another country to do the surgery.” Dr. Cervantes said in reference to the Shah’s surgery at the Paitilla hospital in Panama City, where a foreign Doctor would come to operate on the Shah. Dr. Cervantes further claimed that “…the whole thing was a book of malpractice”. Dr. Kean said that the late Shah had suffered from Anemia resulting from a spleen debility. The documentary discusses the complications involved with the Shah’s desire to return to the United States from Panama for health care, but since Americans were being held hostage in Iran during 1980, it was politically unfeasible. Moreover, it reveals how the surgeon who removed the Shah’s spleen also removed a portion of his pancreas, resulting in an infection because the spleen wasn’t properly drained of abscess.

CARU Pictures (2017)

A Dying King: The Shah of Iran sheds light upon what happened to the Shah after he left Iran. It discusses the Shah’s secrecy of his illnesses from sharing the information with his staff, but more importantly, it delves into the medical malpractices with hints of untold truth’s behind the Shah’s final hours, mentioning Chase Manhattan Bank, the Rockefellers and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s involvement, in addition to western global elites determining the fate of the Shah with secret meetings. The documentary helps demystify the events that occurred after the Shah’s exile from Iran during the Islamic Revolution of 1979, exposing strongly held opinions of those involved through interviews that discuss the Shah’s illnesses, misdiagnosis’, maltreatment and the influence his subsequent passing would have on the Middle East and the United States. Perhaps, one should look back at the origins of the United States’ involvement with Iran to explain the blowback of adverse results from the political actions incurred in the Coup of 1953 and its connection to the Revolution of 1979; this could shed light upon how Iran went from being a strong American ally to one of its greatest enemies.

A Dying King: The Shah of Iran is available on Amazon Prime.

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