The Promise – Movie Discussion
I am loathe to see a movie that is centered around an affair, and The Promise certainly is. On the other hand, I decided to see this one because it is also about the genocide of Armenians (who were generally Christian) by the Turkish (predominantly Muslim) at the end of the Ottoman Empire—of which I have been woefully ignorant.
If I can be frank here, I was a bit annoyed at the love triangle. In some ways it distracted from the real weight of the story—the horrific slaughter of the Armenians—by introducing a competing story line. I think the triangle was primarily used as a plot device, a way to both frame historical events and drive them forward. Or, maybe it is used as a bait and switch, as the advertising focus is on the love triangle, something that will, sadly, draw many people? In any case, I think it distracted from the more important subject matter and that the same purposes could have been done through other, more pure relationship dynamics. (Consider Hotel Rwanda, which tackled a similar subject matter without being polluted by a competing, and sinful, storyline.) (While I’m being critical—the title also feels like a bait and switch, as the movie really has nothing to do with promises. Yes, Mikael is betrothed to someone, but despite saying he made a promise, he doesn’t honor it...and in the end, no real point is made about the value of keeping your promises, or the tragedy of breaking them. Again, it felt more like an advertising ploy than anything substantive to the movie.)
Love triangles, affairs and pointless titles aside...the movie has merit as a testimony to the past, and a warning to the future. The Armenians were not aware of the danger facing them. They scoffed at alarmists, saying, “We’ve lived through these Turkish threats before.” Mikael, however, had seen the horrors and the reality. “Threats?! They want us dead.” The Turks felt that the Armenians were “a tumor in our midst” and they wanted the tumor eradicated.
The first person (in the movie at least) who seemed to really understand the danger wasn’t an Armenian. It was Chris, an American reporter. Maybe it was because of his job, or maybe it was because he was an outsider and that gave him a different or perhaps less biased perspective, but he was the one to realize the eminent danger Armenians were in. Like any prophet, however, the people were reluctant to listen to his warnings. He was in a tough position. He certainly wasn’t welcomed by the Turks who didn’t want their actions exposed. He also wasn’t fully believed by the Armenians. Yet, he was passionate about telling the truth and exposing the atrocities being committed. It may be that no one else saw value in his job, but he did. He knew that, “Without reporters, the Armenian people would disappear and no one would know.” They say the pen is mightier than the sword, and The Promise shows how true that can be.
Chris risked his life to tell the truth. He also risked his life to help save the orphan kids. He was difficult, abrasive, an alcoholic, infuriatingly single-minded and passionate, and even egotistical and arrogant... and yet he also cared deeply about his fellow man (especially children), and was willing to give his life—both to tell the truth and to rescue those in need. He was furious with Mikael for having an affair with his wife, and yet, he put that aside to help save Mikael, and then to work alongside Mikael to rescue others. He was incredibly flawed and incredibly real, and also incredibly heroic.
Movies like this awaken us to a few things. First off, to the horrors so many people face in the world. We have been SO blessed and sheltered here in America. As Christ points out, the reality in Armenia was that, “Dozens of orphans are arriving every week. Most of them have seen their parents murdered in front of them.” There can be so much hate and death in the world, and being reminded of this not only makes us thankful, but also, hopefully awakens in us a sense of compassion and a willingness to act. How can we see the danger our fellow man is in and not want to do something to help?! We don’t always know what’s going on, but when we see it our hearts can then be stirred.
Did you know the Turkish government still refuses to acknowledge their slaughter of the Armenians? They absolutely deny that it happened. THIS is revisionist history and denial in its worst forms. On the one hand it astounds me that people can look the blatant facts of what happened and just absolutely deny it. On the other hand, I have to humbly consider the fact that I often want to live in denial of my own sins, too. I want to ignore my ugly thoughts and my hateful responses. I want to deny that I sinned, rather than confess, humble myself and ask for forgiveness. It’s so easy to throw stones, and so hard to face my own guilt.
The Promise is, at some level, an attempt to right the wrongs—not of what happened, but of the denial of what happened. It is telling the story and acknowledging the pain the Armenians suffered—it’s amazing how powerful it can be to simply acknowledge someone’s truth. It also is a wake-up call of sorts for us. Not to be alarmist, but to shake us out of a false sense of safety, to get us to open our eyes and see what’s going on in the world around us lest we, too, be taken by surprise. (I always think of 1 Corinthians 10:12, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”) And finally, it awakens us to the needs of our fellow man, those who are, in our time, suffering similar trials—such as the Syrian refugees.
Questions for Discussion:
- Did you feel that the affair added to the story of the Armenian genocide, distracted or detracted from it, or was neutral in its impact?
- What do you think of Chris as a heroic character?
- Why do you think Chris was more aware of the dangers than the Armenians themselves?
- What is your response to those who fear for our future?
- You might not feel that a reporter could do much to rescue people, but Chris used his gifts, (as a reporter, as well as his title and his press credentials, physical presence and knowledge of the country) to save many lives. What gifts do you have that God might use to help others? Are there any gifts you have that you don’t feel would be useful? (God can surprise you with His ability to use anything you give to Him!)
- How does a movie like this change you? Does it make you want to do something to help those who are suffering?
- The story of the Armenian genocide takes place 100 years ago. Who are the people groups that are suffering similarly today?
- How do you feel about the Turkish denial of the Armenian genocide? Are there truths in your life that you have been tempted to deny? Have you ever been hurt and had someone deny your reality? How comforting is it when you’ve been hurt to just have someone acknowledge that pain and that story?
I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia. See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia. ---William Saroyan