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Overstreet

Of Gods and Men (2010)

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I took this Ebert quote you cite yourself ...

Between the eight of them, they have perhaps a century of life of usefulness remaining. Do they have a right to deprive those who need it of their service?

... as meaning that. After all, who else would be being deprived of their services if not the villagers?

Ebert is thinking of the "century of life of usefulness remaining" to the monks if they leave Algeria. In other words, Ebert means that by staying in Algeria and tempting fate, the monks are depriving other people they could be serving. What Ebert doesn't consider, or even interact with, are the historical obligations linking the monks to this particular community.

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ohhhhh ... well ... that's very different. Never mind

[/Litella]

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The Mere Comments blog at Touchstone magazine quotes this bit of backstory from a book on the real-life monks that gives me a new appreciation for the film and for one of its characters in particular:

In his book The Monks of Tibihrine, author John W. Kiser

tells the story of a French policeman, Lieutenant Christian de Chergé, in 1959 who befriended a local Muslim policeman assigned to assist him in the dangerous days of the Algerian war for independence. The Frenchman enjoyed the company of the Moslem because “he could talk unself-consciously about God, unlike in France, where God talk made people uncomfortable.” His friend, Mohammed, rankled him when he said, “You Christians don’t know how to pray. We never see French soldiers praying. You say you believe in God. How can you not pray if you believe in God?” Christian struggled for an answer.

On one of their conversational walks in countryside, rebel soldiers fell upon them and Mohammed put himself between Christian and their aimed rifles, insisting that the Frenchman was a godly man and a friend of Muslims. The fells withdrew, but “the next day Mohammed was found with his throat slit near his home … where he lived with his wife and ten children.”

By 1964, our French lieutenant Christian de Chergé had become a priest. In 1968 he became a Trappist monk and joined Tibhrine in 1971. As brother Christian-Marie he was elected prior in 1984 and again 1990. Some 36 years after his friend Mohammed had had his throat cut by rebels, Christian himself would be killed by Muslim terrorists along with six of his Trappist brothers.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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Don't know if you were going to post this SDG, so forgive me if this is jumping the gun: How Catholic is Of Gods and Men?

As much as I like this film, I have not been champing at the bit to see it again...until I read your article. Now I'm itching to return for a second viewing. Hopefully, this week.

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A friend referred me to a "Fresh Air" interview with one of the film's advisors. On that page, I read this, which surprised me (not spoilering the text because I think the outcome of the monks is well known):

The movie, which stars Lambert Wilson and Michael Lonsdale, is based on the story of seven French monks who worked in a monastery in a rural Algerian village. In 1996, during the Algerian Civil War, they were kidnapped and later executed. Though the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria was officially held responsible for their murders, recent documents declassified by the French secret services indicate that the killings may have been a mistake on the part of the Algerian army during a rescue attempt.

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I thought it was an excellent and thought-provoking film, a look at a group of monks living the Christian life in community among themselves and among their neighbors. We see these men wrestling honestly with the difficult choice of facing matyrdom, and wrestling with the consequences to their own calling, and with the relationships they have built within the town where they live. And the singing and the prayers of these men in their monastery are beautiful. This will surely find itself on the A&F Top 100 film list in the future.

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So... why "Swan Lake"? Any thoughts?

And, did I miss something during that scene?

Several monks weep at that table, as the music plays, and I wasn't clear on why. Strong, shared premonitions that this was the end? Moved by Luc's surprise contributions of the wine and music? Or was there a clear sign that I missed that made it clear to them that this would be their last night together?

It's such a powerful scene - so much so that I think it's redeemed that music for me. (I worried that I'd always associate it with Black Swan.) But I found myself a little distracted watching it, wondering if I'd missed something.

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Overstreet wrote:

: It's such a powerful scene - so much so that I think it's redeemed that music for me. (I worried that I'd always associate it with Black Swan.)

I saw this movie at the local film festival, two days after seeing a Russian cartoon called The Ugly Duckling, which ALSO made prominent use of Swan Lake on its soundtrack, so for me the music will always be associated with those two films simultaneously. I didn't see Black Swan until I got the screener a couple months later.

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Here's a paragraph from the Christianity Today review:

Brother Christian's answer refuses to bow to pragmatism, conforming instead to the higher logic of love. "We are martyrs out of love, out of fidelity. Love endures everything," he says, embracing Christophe. "It is through poverty and death that we advance towards him." The next time the brothers meet about the decision, each has decided on his own accord (or perhaps by the prompting of the Spirit) to stay. In one of the film's most moving scenes, the men enjoy a final meal together while listening to Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, their Last Supper, filled with laughter and tears. Then one gray day, they are taken away by armed captors into a mist of snow, never to be seen again.

Um...

Okay, I get that this is an historical incident.

I get that a lot of people know the outcome of the situation.

But to me, this deserves a stronger term than "spoilers."

On the other hand, I guess they just saved a whole lot of people about ten bucks each.

I saw it with a close friend who had never heard about the incident. He had no idea how it was going to end. And I think the film was more impactful for him that way.

It certainly wouldn't have moved me as deeply if I'd read a description of the final scenes before I went in.

Sheesh.

Edited by Overstreet

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Overstreet wrote:

: It certainly wouldn't have moved me as deeply if I'd read a description of the final scenes before I went in.

I think telling the reader that this is a movie about monks who were abducted by an Islamist militia (and died under mysterious and controversial circumstances) only makes sense, since that is basically why their story is being told in the first place.

Describing each of the last few scenes in turn, though, does seem a bit iffier.

Personally, I'm a little more puzzled by the review's opening paragraph, which calls the film "a mystery in the homeland of Marquis de Sade."

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It's such a powerful scene - so much so that I think it's redeemed that music for me. (I worried that I'd always associate it with Black Swan.) But I found myself a little distracted watching it, wondering if I'd missed something.

I, too, found the "down time" for Swan Lake after Black Swan to be gratifyingly brief. This is now my cinematic association with the music. (No thoughts on why Swan Lake in particular. Like Luc's appreciation for soccer and soccer reportage, it's part of the appreciation that they have for the world outside the monastery.)

I also found the scene you reference both powerful and enigmatic -- and on rewatching I found that the power grew while the enigma seemed less problematic to me -- once I wasn't wondering where it was going.

The individual monks experience a range of successive emotions -- they are at turns pensive, elated, somber, withdrawn, and overcome with tearful emotion. All of these emotions seem to make sense within the context of having crossed a decisive threshold, having decided as a community to stay -- no longer bearing the weight of indecision or irresolution, no longer divided either within or among themselves. As Christian said of that long-ago Christmas Eve, there is nothing left for them now but to live. They are committed to walk the road to the end, and how the road is likely to end is all too clear. The sense of that Swan Lake night as a Last Supper of sorts is deliberate and conscious not only on the filmmaker's part but on the monks' part as well. I don't think the film gives us any reason to conclude that the monks were necessarily abducted that evening. It could have been days, weeks or even months later. It wouldn't change the emotional significance of that forward-looking evening.

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Did they make the right choice? In their own idealistic terms, yes. In realistic terms, I say no. They have the ability to help many who need it for years to come. It is egotism to believe their help must take place in this specific monastery.

The person sitting next to me when I saw it was adamant that they should have left. And on one level - the one Ebert identifies - that case makes sense. If they had made that choice, they might today be at work doing worthy ministry. I'm not sure that perspective was much a part of the debate in the film. It seemed more of leaving to avoid having throats slit.

But the film is only partly about that choice. It is far more about a recognition of who these monks are as a community and as followers of Christ. It is about the witness they bore to what it means to understand that they and all those they met were God's children.

Ebert writes: "Between the eight of them, they have perhaps a century of life of usefulness remaining. Do they have a right to deprive those who need it of their service?" But responsibility is not abstract, it is found in the entanglements of our lives. This monastery and this village are fundamentally intertwined; the monks have a duty to these people. It may not be an unbreakable obligation, but the monks can't simply say, "We have decided to go be useful elsewhere," as if this would have no impact on the villagers.

Nathan Schneider @ Religion Dispatches makes an interesting comment that touches on this debate; I wonder if anyone here knows how true, or how broadly applicable, it is?:

What’s surprising is just how fathomable Beauvois makes their choice. The martyrs come out as heroes, but not especially superhuman ones. The Christian love they’re striving for takes very specific form in the people that they serve. Nobody wants to die. They’re not even trying to change the world, really, but only bear witness to it normally, day by day.
This, too, is typically Trappist; a vow all monks take is to bind themselves to a place.
It’s also, in the etymological sense, martyrdom.

If these monks had made a VOW to bind themselves to that community, then leaving it could, in some sense, have been a betrayal of that vow, no?

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Nathan Schneider @ Religion Dispatches makes an interesting comment that touches on this debate; I wonder if anyone here knows how true, or how broadly applicable, it is?:

What’s surprising is just how fathomable Beauvois makes their choice. The martyrs come out as heroes, but not especially superhuman ones. The Christian love they’re striving for takes very specific form in the people that they serve. Nobody wants to die. They’re not even trying to change the world, really, but only bear witness to it normally, day by day.
This, too, is typically Trappist; a vow all monks take is to bind themselves to a place.
It’s also, in the etymological sense, martyrdom.

If these monks had made a VOW to bind themselves to that community, then leaving it could, in some sense, have been a betrayal of that vow, no?

Yes.

Trappist monks do take a vow of "stability" binding them to their community and the place where it lives. While this vow seems not to absolutely preclude relocating -- at least one Trappist community in Africa did relocate in the face of armed violence, and all the Tibhirine monks, including Christian, take seriously the possibility of leaving, and vote on it periodically -- it is a very serious commitment and relocating is not easily or lightly undertaken.

A tribute to the Tibhirine monks at the Vatican website discusses this angle.

Edited by SDG

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Predictably, Movieguide declares that this is a movie in which Christians are good and Muslims - all Muslims - are bad. The reviewer seems to have entirely missed the scenes in which some Muslims protest the behavior of the extremists, or the quotations from the Koran by one of the monks to talk sense into the terrorists.

This movie is a wake-up call to western civilization. It clearly contrasts the loving Christian mission and ministry of the monks with the mad cruelty of the Muslims. The monks reflect the love of Jesus Christ even unto death; the Muslims reflect the ruthless brutality of their false prophet.

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Didn't we used to have an emoticon for "banging my head against a wall".

Matt

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Saw this two days ago and loved it. I've read a fair bit about monastic life during my Merton phase and the life of the monks as shown on screen rang true with what I remember of my reading.

Does anyone know if they plan on releasing the screenplay, I would love to go back and revisit some of the dialogue but I might have to wait until the DVD.

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Does anyone know if they plan on releasing the screenplay, I would love to go back and revisit some of the dialogue but I might have to wait until the DVD.

It's not the screenplay per se, but here's a transcript of subtitles (presumably from some overseas DVD).

Without that resource, I never could have held forth in such specific detail in my five-part blog post series on the religious content and significance of Of Gods and Men.

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I finally saw this in my local theatre tonight.

It really was a great, great film. There were a few times during the film in which I remember thinking that the filmmakers had made perfect choices.

Afterwords, when a couple of us were talking about the movie, one person mentioned that he couldn't imagine them telling that particular story

in a better way.

I think this film shows that meaningful stories about the Christian faith can be told, and that if they are done right people outside of

our faith will be embrace them. One of my agnostic friends, who was with me, loved the film.

Now I'm going to go back and read through the thread.

Edited by Attica

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So I left the theater after seeing Of Gods and Men and the disc in the car was playing Radiohead's "Arpeggi." Totally tripping after seeing this film: "Why should I stay here? Why should I stay? I'd be crazy not to follow, follow where you lead... Your eyes, they turn me..." Is that bizarre or what.

And now I can't remember whether I read this in some other review or if it was in the film itself, perhaps in the end credits: Is it true that the letter Christian wrote which was narrated at the end of the film was written two years before the film's final scenes? If that is true, it changes my mind about the whole "Should I Stay or Should I Go" thing.

I mean, if he knew for that long exactly where this was leading, and chose to stay anyway - and for what? did their martyrdom change anything about the war itself? - seriously, I've got to rethink whether or not I agree with their choice to stay.

I'm not as in love with the film as everyone else here is. It was OK. Some have said that it's an accurate representation of what Christianity, or perhaps Christians in action, or Christian actions, is supposed to look like. To which I say, not really, if it was that boring we'd all martyr ourselves.

Where's the Robin Williams all "suck the sap out of life" found in this kind of practice of the faith? I don't see it. And I'm not claiming I have it, either. I'm sure I don't. Still, the faith here is awesome, the actions very honorable, I can see the basic point that's been made. It doesn't change the fact that the faith looks like a very bland life.

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The way the monks were able to be involved in the lives of the local people of this culture, to mix with them and be as much a part of the fabric of their lives as it seems monks could be, actually seems to me a thrilling portrait of faith. ;)

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The way the monks were able to be involved in the lives of the local people of this culture, to mix with them and be as much a part of the fabric of their lives as it seems monks could be, actually seems to me a thrilling portrait of faith. ;)

And I guess when you begin debating this aspect of the film you are no longer talking about the film, but talking about the event. Which is OK with me. Part of what I'm going through is trying to decide if the film itself is great (parts of it certainly are, though it drags in places in the middle) compared to events in real life that had decisions I'm not certain I agree with. Perhaps the monks' decision should have been handled differently (choose life? I guess not), but it mostly relays well on film.

And for the record, you can mix with people anywhere in the world. It makes sense to mix with the ones in places which aren't going to kill you.

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It's so interesting to discuss this film with the evaluation of the "stay or go" question on the table. What do others think about how the correctness or incorrectness of the decision made by the monks affects the film? I haven't completely made up my mind on that very question, even though I instantly felt on leaving the theater that this is a great film.

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I was finally privileged to see this.

Spoilers

I didn't realize the story was going to go to the depth that it did with different characters wrestling with how to live out their faith. I need to see this again just to rethink through the discussions on how facing up to suffering, weakness, pain, martyrdom etc. makes you more like Christ as long as you don't seek those things.

I'm a little overwhelmed attempting to put my thoughts on the film into a review, but I'm going to try. Just still got to wrap my mind around the idea that these guys did not actually seek martyrdom. In fact, they did not want martyrdom - they loved their lives, their work, their small pleasures - and somehow it seemed like the only way it was right for them to accept martyrdom was if they didn't want it.

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