(All images in this post are screen captures I took via the PowerDVD program and a rented disc.)
OF GODS AND MEN (2010)
Lambert Wilson as Christian
Michael Lonsdale as Luc
Olivier Rabourdin as Christophe
Philippe Laudenbach as Celestin
Jacques Herlin as Amedee
Loic Pichon as Jean-Pierre
Xavier Maly as Michel
Jean-Marie Frin as Paul
Olivier Perrier as Bruno
Directed by Xavier Beauvois
French with English Subtitles
Rated PG-13 in the United States
2 hours, 2 minutes long
In 1996, fundamentalist Islamic terrorists kidnapped a group of French Trappist monks in Algeria. The precise circumstances of these men’s death remains uncertain, but their demise apparently involved beheading. The terrorists did not abduct all members of the religious community. This fact, I presume, explains how we know what happened until the kidnapping. Of Gods and Men is the story of the Trappist monks.
The movie opens in 1995. The monks form a community in and of themselves. They support each other, pray and worship together, and even argue among themselves. But they do more than pray and garden, not that those are bad activities.
Brother Luc, a doctor, tends to patients most days. Some days, he sees up to 150 people from the adjacent village, in fact. He cannot get out much, due to physical infirmity, so the patients come to him.
Luc also functions as a counselor.
The monks’ Muslim neighbors turn to them for prayer and advice, which the gentle monks are glad to offer. Militant, violent fundamentalists have become active in the area, much to the disapproval of the villagers. The monks are, in fact, integral to the village, for they also attend family functions and other social events there. Here we see Brother Christian, abbot of the monastery, and a fellow monk speaking with some village elders.
The monks are in great danger from both the terrorists and the Algerian military. The monastics have a way out, for they can transfer to another monastery. But, if they do this, what will become of the impoverished villagers next door? And, if they stay, the monks risk martyrdom.
We already know how the story ends. So the real drama lies in the journey. How do the monks make peace with the real possibility of violent death for their faith? And by which paths do those who initially supported leaving come to agree to remain in harm’s way?
The journey of faith can be a difficult one, depending on circumstances. One IMDb reviewer, while praising the movie, wrote that the monks were not saints, as if saints are perfect. I propose that the monks were saints, warts and all. They struggled, some more than others, but concluded that, if the path of following Christ leads to their martyrdom, so be it. I harbor serious doubts whether I would have made the same decision.
Brother Christian, who died, left behind a written final testimony. Here is the English translation:
Should it ever befall me, and it could happen today, to be a victim of the terrorism swallowing up all foreigners here, I would like my community, my church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to his country. That the Unique Master of all life was no stranger to this brutal departure. And that my death is the same as so many other violent ones, consigned to the apathy of oblivion. I’ve lived enough to know, I am complicit in the evil that, alas, prevails over the world and the evil that will smite me blindly. I could never desire such a death. I could never feel gladdened that these people I love be accused randomly of my murder. I know the contempt felt for the people here, indiscriminately. And I know how Islam is distorted by a certain Islamism. This country, and Islam, for me are something different. They’re a body and a soul. My death, of course, will quickly vindicate those who call me naïve or idealistic, but they must know that I will be freed of a burning curiosity and, God willing, will immerse my gaze in the Father’s and contemplate with him his children of Islam as he sees them. This thank you which encompasses my entire life includes you, of course, friends of yesterday and today, and you too, friend of last minute, who knew not what you were doing. Yes, to you as well I address this thank you and this farewell which you envisaged. May we meet again, happy thieves in Paradise, if it pleases God the Father of us both. Amen. Insha’Allah.
I invite you, O reader, to spend two quality hours with this movie. May it deepen your faith, or perhaps help you find it.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
JULY 9, 2011 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF EARL WARREN, CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE UNITED STATES AND WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS