Seeing refugees flee their war-torn countries such as in Syria, we realize this tragic displacement of peoples happens over and over again through history. Many flee, but many are massacred and destroyed simply for being who they are—their ethnic origin and/or their faith background. But, why in the case of the Armenian Genocide, did it take one hundred years before the story was told? Is it perhaps a case of politics crushing truth for its own expediency?
I vaguely heard about the Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1918. The Turks do not deny wiping Armenia from the map, but adamantly refuse to admit it was a wholesale genocide. Since Turkey is a NATO member, other nations also refrain from naming the historical tragedy as such. How can a people so wholly stripped of their land, dispersed around the world and crushed by superpowers heal from such a collective memory of elimination? They cannot unless the story is told, truth revealed, and blame accepted.
The film, The Promise, is just such a story. It centers on Michael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac), a young medical student in Constantinople, whose Armenian background places his life in peril as well as all those he loves. Before moving to the city he was betrothed to a young woman so that her dowry could be used to fund his studies. After he moves to the city he meets a lovely Armenian artist named, Ana (Charlotte le Bon) whose shared heritage leads them to develop a profound connection. She, however, is with an American photo-journalist, Chris Myers (Christian Bale) who loves her deeply and followed her from Paris to Constantinople. A romantic rivalry develops between the two men.
Turkey aligns itself with Germany and turns against its Armenian neighbors. As the uneasy situation quickly turns to horror Ana, Chris and Michael must struggle to simply survive. Even as their paths separate they realize that this story of annihilation of a people must be told, so they make a promise to live to tell the world the truth. And the truth is that all human beings deserve to live and prosper—the most basic human right.
Director Terry George (Hotel Rwanda, In The Name of the Father) felt keenly the need to make this film in order to memorialize the people who lost their lives in this genocide. It is, in many ways, a contemporary story, he says, that “humanizes the refugee as opposed to dehumanizes them.” Showing the persecuted as human beings just like us attests to the power of the story of these refugees who seek a life of peace as a most basic human desire. We all want to live in peace. We all seek the opportunity to better our lives and our families’—something that no one has the right to oppress. Producer Eric Esrailian says that faith is the base of the Armenian drive to keep going, to move on from this tragic annihilation. They are a people of profound strength that comes only from a power beyond them. Being the oldest Christian country in the world, their faith in God allows them to overcome these atrocities, yet they are a people of incomplete mourning since these events have not been internationally recognized as genocide.
The power of art once again calls the world’s attention to human tragedy if not only to remind us this should never happen again, but that hope survives regardless of how much evil tries to snuff it out of the human psyche. Film has the power to pique our collective conscience to fight against any racism, discrimination, persecution and oppression. Human beings are created to be free, as God, the Creator, gives us freedom to make choices about who we are and how we live. The greatest freedom that makes us authentically human is the gift of oneself in love. Selflessness is true freedom. Selfishness enslaves.
Michael and Ana both break promises to those they are attached to but then seek to make amends. In the end, the greatest promise is to not give up hope. The promise is for them to tell the world that every human being has a right to live, to love and to prosper.
For Sister Rose Pacatte's review of The Promise, click here.