When talented medical student Michael (Oscar Isaac) set eyes on Armenian dance instructor Ana (Charlotte Le Bon) in the closing months of 1914, he is struck by the love bug. With the Ottoman Empire as a backdrop, a romantic rivalry ensues between Michael and real life American photojournalist Christopher Meyers (Christian Bale) due to Michael and Ana’s shared Armenian heritage. With the Ottoman Empire ready to blow at any second and Meyers crossing all boundaries to expose the truth, our characters must set aside their differences for the greater good, as Armenian Genocide seems to be on the agenda.
Don’t let the 6.0 IMDB rating fool you. This is a good movie, even if its subjects are of the morbid nature. Though, I’m not sure if it was wise of me to watch this as a part of a double feature with The Zookeeper’s Wife. Where The Promise is about the Armenian Genocide, the other is about The Final Solution and the extermination of the Jews in Poland at the hands of the Nazis. Why do I put myself through such trauma? I do it in the name of film and sound storytelling because both films have a story to tell and an important message. Racism is the name of the game, and both say no to racism. Still in 2017, it’s as relevant now as it was in both world wars.
Many of 2016’s films that I’ve only been able to see now because of shitty UK release dates were based on unfortunate events of the past. At its core, this is a love story. It also shows what one ethnic group will do to another just because they’re different. In short, radical nationalism. Reducing the value of a different culture/group’s life is not a new thing. For example, the Nazis with the Jews and Islam with the Hindus/Sikhs (see Viceroy House) and Christianity with ‘Witches’ AKA beautiful women who were just intelligent. Also, the acts committed by the British Empire. The list is long! From the director of Hotel Rwanda comes a take on one of history’s darkest days.
That said, not all of the film is dark and about merciless killing. It’s about a people who were once a shining part of the former-Ottoman Empire and find all their hopes and dreams destroyed in an instant. And in this, when it happened, I felt very much alike to when the Germans bombed Warsaw Zoo in The Zookeepers Wife. Although, there are many great actors in this film, including Oscar Isaac (Force Awakens) and Christian Bale (The Big Short). And it introduced me to Charlotte Le Bon (Bastille Day), as well as the fine performances from the strong, female-centric supporting cast. The cast is great. And I cared for every one of our protagonists. Brilliant performances.
There are holocaust deniers in all corners the world. Take David Irving for example (see Denial). ‘History is written by the victors’ is a common saying, and the Turkish Government, to this day, still deny that the Armenian Holocaust happened. Yes, that was my reaction too. The Ottomans turned against its minority population and slaughtered them where they slept. Fact. They did this because they could. Fact. Value judgements based on religion, colour, cast, creed or sex is wrong. Fact. Much alike many Brits with the atrocities of the British Empire, the Turks deny their history. Only by acknowledging and creating a healthy discourse channel, can we move on.
I am not ashamed in saying that I worship the air Isaac walks on. Since seeing him in Inside Llewyn Davis, I have followed his career in great detail, whether that be on film or on the small screen of television. He is a gift from the heavens and a gift to Hollywood. He could be the next Great American actor. Oscar’s charms jump from the screen from the get-go. But alike to Michael Fassbender and Dan Stevens, he is another one of those actors who commits to a role and he’s also very good at portraying raw suffering and trauma. Countless times throughout the picture, I got chills from the sadness presented, as well as that common lump in the throat.
In 2017 with technology and the internet being as prevalent as they are, it’s impossible not to get political. Most things we do or say can be interpreted as a political act. And this film, like many others, shows that us that criminals aren’t in rags on the streets. The petty theft that occurs in times of war is nothing compared to the acts of corruption made by the fat cats in suits. The world at the moment is divided and looks to become even more divided in the coming years. Films like this show us that despite the world being crooked and divided, we the people can unite, even if it is only our small corner.