This week, I had occasion to watch a movie that has fundamentally impacted my outlook on vocations, faith, and the true nature of a life of mission. Of Gods and Men, a French Cannes Film Festival winner here in limited release in the US, is the story of a Cistercian monastery and a band of brothers who face a life or death decision when their existence is threatened by Islamic fundamentalists. The film’s synopsis outlines this plot:
Eight French Christian monks live in harmony with their Muslim brothers in a monastery perched in the mountains of North Africa in the 1990s. When a crew of foreign workers is massacred by an Islamic fundamentalist group, fear sweeps though the region. The army offers them protection, but the monks refuse. Should they leave? Despite the growing menace in their midst, they slowly realize that they have no choice but to stay… come what may. This film is loosely based on the life of the Cistercian monks of Tibhirine in Algeria, from 1993 until their kidnapping in 1996.
I was so quickly engrossed in the story that I soon forgot I was reading the subtitles and instead became enraptured by the beauty, the richness and the relationships playing out on the screen. Perhaps because it finds its basis in a true story, the film is scary in a “this is really happening” kind of way that makes it inappropriate for less mature teenagers. You can read the USCCB review here. That being said, I can’t wait to watch this film with my sons, and then to hold a long, loving conversation on the themes of fraternal love, mission, commitment, tolerance, bravery, and ultimate martyrdom explored. There are heart-wrenching moments, soaringly lovely interludes, a respectful presentation of religious traditions and a climax that has stayed with me over the past few days and that has me asking myself if I will ever remotely understand the commitment to faith these men shared together.
I hope you too will have the opportunity to see this movie. It stands the potential to fundamentally change society’s view of men who commit themselves to the Church and to the world at large, in a way unlike any other faith-based film I’ve ever seen. But on a wider scale, if you view this film with an open heart and a serious mind, you can’t help but ponder your own “yes” to God and to your fellow man, and if each of us did pause to ask this—what a place our world could be!
I give Of Gods and Men my highest recommendation and can’t wait to hear from any of you who have had the opportunity to view this film.