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Of Gods and Men (2010)

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Persona said:

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.

Brian D said:

What do others think about how the correctness or incorrectness of the decision made by the monks affects the film?

I personally enjoyed how the film wrestled with the monks' decision, and thought that some of the scenes where they were sitting

around the table talking about whether to stay or leave were fascinating (I loved how the older monk was at first quiet, but when he did say something it was profound - he was

such a likeable character.)

For myself, I'm not really sure that they made the wrong choice. During the initial talks some of them were ready to start packing and leave, yet the others who were more

inclined to stay didn't outright disagree with, or more importantly, look down on those who wanted to leave. Then later on in the story it was impressed on them that the local

people needed them and didn't want them to go, and yet even later, they all came into at least somewhat of an agreement that they were "supposed to stay". At this time

they knew that there was indeed dangers in staying, but I think it's important to note, that these dangers were also not guaranteed.

I read into the film that they felt guidance from above saying they were supposed to stay, and trusted in the guidance. Therefore to my mind this implies that they made the right decision, as well

as adding another dimension of insight and questions about faith (even providence?), to the story.

Edited by Attica

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Best use of the Swan Lake music in a film last year?

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Best use of the Swan Lake music in a film last year?

I'm glad you brought this up. I've been thinking a lot lately about how strange that sequence is and it has to do with the way the music is paired with the cuts (or rather, how it isn't). Both times I saw it (both times were in a theatre, too) I wanted to get swept up in that moment and just let the emotions flow. And both times I was left fairly cold. I find the rhythm of that scene to be really off. The cuts, the length of shots, the kind of unsure pans, stops, stutters; everything about it is just...distracting, like the music and cuts are responding to two different minds. And not cathartic at all in the way I assume Beauvois intended. I only get teary during Christian's end monologue, which is funny to me because I tend to dislike narration and love overpowering musical moments.

I know it's somewhat tongue in cheek, but to answer your question, I guess I'd say no. At least Aranofsky's use is in line with the music's original purpose (though I didn't find that sequence particularly affecting either, just noisy).

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I liked how the Swan scene plays on the darkness and light can coexist so closely--in a character in Swan Lake/Black Swan, in that moment in Of Gods and Men--but even with that, the scene did seem out of place tonally.

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Now on Blu-ray/DVD, BTW. Some product notes at my review.

By the way, the Netflix DVD I got doesn't have the extras you mentioned.

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By the way, the Netflix DVD I got doesn't have the extras you mentioned.

They're on the Blu-ray disc.

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Gotta admit this film has been growing on me in my time away from it. I feel like the girlfriend that needed space, then got frozen out, and started coming back around.

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Gotta admit this film has been growing on me in my time away from it. I feel like the girlfriend that needed space, then got frozen out, and started coming back around.

FWIW, at times I almost feel that this is the film that I became a critic to write about, the film I developed my skills in order to be able to write about, and that now I could retire if I wanted to.

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Really? I loved this film, but if anything, my main reservation about it -- its visual technique -- has grown since I saw it. That's by no means a disqualifier. I think I put this film at #3 among first-half-of-2011 releases. Thematically, it's superb, although the Muslim/Christian equivalence issue, discussed earlier in this thread, hasn't been entirely settled, at least not in a way that eases my concerns.

But I'm willing to give the film the benefit of any doubt about that issue. What I struggle with, if anything, is that the film felt flat visually, with the exception of one or two bravura sequences.

I don't mind a "plain" film with a powerful message. However, for me to say, "This is the film I was born to write about," there would have to be a more dynamic visual style at work.

Edited by Christian

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Really? I loved this film, but if anything, my main reservation about it -- its visual technique -- has grown since I saw it. That's by no means a disqualifier. I think I put this film at #3 among first-half-of-2011 releases. Thematically, it's superb, although the Muslim/Christian equivalence issue, discussed earlier in this thread, hasn't been entirely settled, at least not in a way that eases my concerns.

But I'm willing to give the film the benefit of any doubt about that issue. What I struggle with, if anything, is that the film felt flat visually, with the exception of one or two bravura sequences. I don't mind a "plain" film with a powerful message.

However, for me to say, "This is the film I was born to write about," there would have to be a more dynamic visual style at work.

You know, you may be hitting on something there with me. The lack of a more dynamic visual style could be another reason it didn't initially rock my world, but the story itself and the way it plays out are the reasons I keep looking forward to seeing it again.

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Thematically, it's superb, although the Muslim/Christian equivalence issue, discussed earlier in this thread, hasn't been entirely settled, at least not in a way that eases my concerns.

Can you expand on this a bit? I don't see this discussion earlier in the thread.

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Thematically, it's superb, although the Muslim/Christian equivalence issue, discussed earlier in this thread, hasn't been entirely settled, at least not in a way that eases my concerns.

Can you expand on this a bit? I don't see this discussion earlier in the thread.

I meant to get back to Christian on this myself. FWIW, I discuss the film's religious implications at length elsewhere:

Does Of Gods and Men endorse religious indifferentism? I don’t think that’s accurate, no. It would be fair to say that it doesn’t explicitly affirm Christianity as the one true faith, and that it embraces the better side of Islam, at one point enough to raise pious eyebrows. (More about this later.) On the other hand, Of Gods and Men powerfully communicates the beauty and attractiveness of lived Christian faith, and of the Christian faith itself, in its theological and liturgical richness and uniqueness—and does so, I believe, more memorably and appealingly than any dramatic feature film I can think of in up to a quarter century...

Of Gods and Men is exceptional in offering a portrait of lived Christianity that is wholly positive. In many films of outstanding religious significance, from The Mission to A Man for All Seasons to The Passion of Joan of Arc, saintly heroes are contrasted with or pitted against a corrupt or coopted hierarchy. Of Gods and Men stands out for focuses solely on Christian devotion, community and service at its most beautiful and winsome.

Muslim belief is much more briefly and ambiguously treated. We see peaceful Muslim villagers coexisting with Christians, but also violent Muslim extremists—and it’s the latter who ultimately have the upper hand here. Notably, both peaceful and violent Muslims cite the Quran (more accurately, the peaceful Muslims paraphrase or generalize from the Quran, while the terrorist leader, Ali Fayattia, recognizes a specific text Christian quotes to him and completes the quotation).

Cinematically, it is fair to say that Christianity and Islam are not on an equivalent footing here. One could say the film is Christocentric, or at least Christianity-centric, and that it offers a critique of the darker side of Islam and Muslim culture with no corresponding critique of Christianity. There’s a aside critiquing the legacy of Western imperialism, but nothing directed against Christian believers per se.

At the same time, there is a challenge to Christians, in that the Christian spirit celebrated here is an irenic one, embracing non-Christians of good will and appreciating whatever is good and true in non-Christian religions, including Islam. The monks of Tibhirine emphasize that they are called to be “brothers to all,” and they stake their lives on this mission, knowing that they are likely to lose them. For American Catholics half a world away, risking nothing, it’s easy to label Muslims enemies by pointing to 9/11 and other terrorist violence. Of Gods and Men challenges this attitude, as we will see.

Oh, and FWIW, since it's Christmas Eve, here's a beautiful hymn on the Incarnation heard in the film as the monks prepare for and celebrate Christmas Eve -- the night of the dramatic standoff with the terrorists who invade the monastery:

This is the night

The immense night of origins

And nothing exists except love

Except love which now begins…

God has prepared the earth like a cradle

For his coming from above.

This is the night

The happy night of Palestine

And nothing exists except the Child

Except the Child of life divine

By taking flesh of our flesh

God our desert did refresh

And made a land of boundless spring.

If the monks believe that -- not to mention Christian's powerful meditation on the Incarnation later in the film -- they at any rate don't make any Christian/Muslim equivalence.

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Oh. This didn't even cross my mind. I guess it is easier for me to hear this as an insider, but this film very clearly and simply explains the missional heart of the gospel better than any film I have ever seen.

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I just got to watch Of Gods and Men this week, and I have to say that the timing was perfect in the lead-up to Christmas.

Here is a post I put up earlier this week.

Oh, and Merry Christmas everyone.

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Oh. This didn't even cross my mind. I guess it is easier for me to hear this as an insider, but this film very clearly and simply explains the missional heart of the gospel better than any film I have ever seen.

That's what I say. I could probably count on my fingers the number of films about which I could say, "You want to know what it means to be a Christian? Watch this film." This one is high on the list.

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Michael: My concern has to do with what Steven addressed above. I'd like to see the film again before going further with my own thoughts. It's been a while.

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I get that. Having watched it again recently, I was even more impressed with how perfectly the film reflects Nostra Aetate in its almost anthropological presentation of the co-existence of these two religious communities. I am having trouble understanding what concern someone could have with this presentation. There is a pretty direct Christian/Muslim equivalence in the film that derives from these brothers' missional call to attach themselves to this community: they are all humans.

This even extends to those that eventually take them prisoners, as the brothers locate their desire to say within the attitude of Christ toward his own enemies.

I could probably count on my fingers the number of films about which I could say, "You want to know what it means to be a Christian? Watch this film." This one is high on the list.

I think this is the highest on my list at this point.

Edited by M. Leary

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I am having trouble understanding what concern someone could have with this presentation. There is a pretty direct Christian/Muslim equivalence in the film that derives from these brothers' missional call to attach themselves to this community: they are all humans.

I googled around to search for the text of the letter that is read near the end of the film, and which was the focus of my unease. I was reminded that Steven has written about this concern at length, and in so doing has acknowledged, "this isn’t language I can imagine myself using." He comes down on Christian's, and the movie's (and the Catholic church's?) side, but I don't.

So, given that you can see why I might be uncomfortable with the final portion of the film and its summary statement, so to speak, does that help you understand why I might have some unresolved issues with the film?

Still, I loved this film and expect it to be in my top 5 of the year, maybe the top 3. And, like Steven, I agree that "Christian’s manner of life and death have earned him the right, as I see it, to challenge me, to push the limits of my comfort zone." That doesn't mean I'm where he ended up, or that I'll get there -- or even close to it. But the movie does challenge me on this, while affirming so much else. It's a great film, no question.

Edited by Christian

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But I'm willing to give the film the benefit of any doubt about that issue. What I struggle with, if anything, is that the film felt flat visually, with the exception of one or two bravura sequences.

I don't mind a "plain" film with a powerful message. However, for me to say, "This is the film I was born to write about," there would have to be a more dynamic visual style at work.

In short, that's the reason I admire films like The Tree of Life and The Thin Red Line over Of Gods and Men (which isn't to disparage Of Gods - I loved the film and look forward to seeing it again).

I think Of Gods visual style - which is straightforward and austere - suits the content of the film. Malick's style - which is fluid and impressionistic and free - wouldn't at all be suited to telling the stories of these French monks. So, in short, Of Gods and Men is great for what it is, but I do appreciate the virtuosic elements in Malick's film that simply aren't (and for the most part shouldn't be) in Of Gods.

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I can't imagine why a "dynamic" or "fluid" visual style would automatically be privileged over an "austere" one. "Flat" is of course a pejorative word, and I deny that it applies to the visual style of Of Gods and Men. But I'm not in a position to discuss this at length at the moment.

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My review is finally up. Thanks to Comment Magazine for publishing it.

You sir, have nailed it. From the moment I finished this film I've been trying to get others to watch it, especially people of faith. I was confused by the resistance I met, but after having time to consider I did fall on many of your same conclusions, adding only, "Hmm. Maybe it's too 'Catholic' for people."

I'm lobbying hard in my church to start a monthly movie night, am making slow progress, and have already planned this as the first feature. I've also passed your review along in my little corner of facebook. They've heard me carry on about it before, but it's good to provide a more literate second opinion. ^_^

How awesome was that Movieguide review? Just a terrific job they did over there. Not just missing the mark of the lesson to be taken from the story, but "three obscenities and no profanities?" Hmm, "Fuck off" must be an obscenity then? I shudder to think what would qualify as profanity. 8O

I saw this at Grand Cinema in Tacoma during the "City of Destiny Faith and Film Series," an event sponsored by two local churches and probably filled with their congregations... and I was fortunate enough to enjoy my own Movieguide-style reviewers hissing whispers right behind me every few seconds, Wife: "So these are the bad guys, or are these the good guys? Oh, so those are the good guys?" The More Informed Husband: "No, these are the bad Muslims, those guys the priests were sitting with were the good Muslims. No, that's a priest not a Muslim." And the best one from Husband: "No, I think that's a Christian Muslim," which made my eye twitch and my wife grab my arm and hold me down in my seat. Such an Alvy with Annie in line at the theater moment.

I couldn't get back in time to see it in theaters, so bought the blu-ray as soon as I could. I watched it not long ago with my son, and he was very moved by it. We have already seen evidence of the effect it (together with other faith-concerned films and art we expose our children to) had on his way of thinking about his young faith in our conversations and little things we hear back from his bible study teacher.

I ramble. Basically, thank you for that.

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I can't imagine why a "dynamic" or "fluid" visual style would automatically be privileged over an "austere" one. "Flat" is of course a pejorative word, and I deny that it applies to the visual style of Of Gods and Men. But I'm not in a position to discuss this at length at the moment.

I didn't call Of Gods and Men flat, that was in the quoted section.

And I'm not saying that "fluid" visual style should be automatically privileged over an "austere" one. I might prefer the former, but in this case it's a matter of Tree of Life doing something exceptional and virtuosic where Of Gods and Men mostly doesn't. And as I said, I think it would probably be inappropriate if Of Gods and Men tried to be virtuosic in the same way The Tree of Life Does - so I'm not at all automatically privileging one or the other, merely saying I understand why someone would personally prize Tree over Of Gods.

I think of them as being on an equal plane, though, since they have different means and different aesthetic sensibilities.

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I didn't call Of Gods and Men flat, that was in the quoted section.

I know. I was talking to you and Christian at the same time.

I, also, can understand why someone would value The Tree of Life above Of Gods and Men. But that someone would not be me. :)

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