Under increasing threat from fundamentalist terrorists, a small group of Cistercian (‘Trappist’) monks living out their vocations in the midst of a poor Algerian community must make an agonising decision – to leave the people they have loved and served faithfully to their fate (while securing their own safety), or to stay and to face almost certain death.
Such is the gripping backdrop against which the Film ‘Of Gods and Men’ unfolds. Based very closely on the factual events that underpinned the murder of the monks of Tibhirine in the turmoil of 1990’s Algeria, the film is a masterpiece of gripping cinema. Not only is the acting superb, but the concepts of community, discipleship, friendship and sacrifice are explored in touching detail. Moreover, the abiding motifs that permeate the entire narrative is hope in the face of despair and love in the face of hate.
The most poignant scene, at least from my perspective, was the so-called ‘Last Supper’ scene, where we see the small Cistercian community share an emotionally charged meal together after they have taken their decision to stay at Tibhirine come what may. The scene opens with the community joining in collective prayer; Br. Luc gets up to collect the wine and switches on a recording of ‘Swan Lake’. At first the brothers respond with smiles and an atmosphere of joy, but as the music progresses, tears begin to flow as each man reflects on the gravity of the decision just made. The evolving scene is incredibly touching; the low lighting, lack of dialogue and the emotional ebb and flow matching the music makes for a poignant few moments. ‘Swan Lake’ is a perfect choice – a story of love, reconciliation, eternal life, transformation and forgiveness – echoing the true meaning behind the monks’ living and dying in a foreign land racked with turmoil, extremism and hatred.
Christian, the Abbot of the community, wrote so movingly and shortly before his death at the hands of a terrorist group:
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.
And so with Christian’s words, you can make up your own mind whether or not this is a film worth watching. You can also watch the trailer (courtesy of youtube) here: