Promises kept and broken in the Armenian Genocide

Review: The Promise

(M) Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, Christian Bale

Not many people know about the Armenian genocide, despite the fact that 1.5 million Armenian Christians were killed from 1915 to 1918. Based on true events during this period, The Promise confronts the genocide that the Turkish government still denies. Disappointingly though, this film doesn’t fulfil its promise to fully show the horrors inflicted on Armenian Christians.

Under the crumbling Turkish Ottoman Empire, we’re introduced to a young Armenian man, Mikael (Oscar Issac). Mikael is an aspiring doctor, who uses his dowry to fund his medical studies in the once multicultural capital Constantinople. Here he meets the enchanting Armenian artist Ana (Charlotte Le Bon) and her partner and American journalist Chris Meyers (Christian Bale).  The instant attraction and shared heritage sparks a ‘forbidden love’ dynamic between Mikael and Ana. It gets even more complicated when Turkey enters the First World War and chaos breaks out. So begins the ‘relocation’ of Armenian Christians, an ethnic minority in the Empire. This process saw systematic imprisonment, mass killings and the Turkish army driving out Armenians from their homes and into the Syrian desert to die.

Director Terry George (Hotel Rwanda) and his cast display immense care and respect for the difficult task of depicting the Armenian genocide on-screen. However, The Promise is debilitated by the love triangle that feels clichéd and acts as an anti-climax to what should have been a tension-driven historical drama.

This is not the cast’s fault. Isaac (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), Le Bon (The Hundred-Foot Journey) and Bale (The Big Short) do well to hold the film together with their commitment and understanding of their characters. So it’s safe to say this film doesn’t lack a stellar cast or visionary director. Rather, the issue is how the constricting storyline focuses more upon which couple will end up together – instead of delving deeper into why this genocide was actually happening and looking closer at what the Armenians were subjected to.

The Promise gives a glimpse into the Armenian Genocide but it’s just that, a glimpse. However, it should prompt audiences to research more about the atrocities which occurred.

There are a number of promises made in this film but a prominent one is the silent but resilient promise made by the Armenians to survive, despite the government’s attempt to wipe out their entire nation. The strength of the Armenian people is also shown through their unwavering faith in each other and God. And it is God who shared with the Armenian people – and everyone else – the greatest promise of love and eternal life through the greatest gift of all, Jesus (Romans 6:23).

This film could have done more, could have said more but what it does do is shed light on a crime against humanity that should not be forgotten or hidden.

Read an original news article published in 1915 in The New York Times detailing the genocide, here.

The Promise is in cinemas 15 June 2017. Win tickets to see it here.

Melissa Stewart




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