Of Gods and Men
By John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service
A brilliant dramatization of real events, "Of Gods and Men" (Sony Pictures Classics) is a restrained religious masterpiece and a memorable viewing experience from which every adult—as well as many mature teens—can expect to profit.
Lambert Wilson and Jean-Marie Frin star in "Of Gods and Men."
The film recounts the fate of a small community of French Trappists living in Algeria during that nation's civil war in the 1990s.
Targeted by violent Muslim extremists—the Algerian conflict pitted militant Islamists against a secularly oriented military government—the monks must decide whether to continue their medical and social work for the vulnerable local population or abandon them by fleeing to safety.
From the first, their headstrong prior, Brother Christian (Lambert Wilson), is resolved to stay. He also refuses the military guard that civic officials offer to put in place to protect the monastery, regarding such a measure as out of keeping with his order's commitment to peace.
Brother Christian's confreres, however, forcefully point out to him that, with all their lives at stake, the decision on whether to remain must ultimately be a collective one. As each individual struggles with the issue, weighing his own welfare against his sense of commitment to his vocation and to those he serves, their varied personalities are subtly but strikingly profiled.
By contrast to the tightly wound Brother Christian, for example, Brother Luc (Michael Lonsdale) emerges as an avuncular, unflappable character whose faith endows him with a courageous good humor that nothing, it seems, can disturb.
Using the tools of the monastic life itself, director Xavier Beauvois finds a path to the heart of the Gospel through simplicity, a compassionate sense of brotherhood and an atmosphere of prayer enriched by sacred music and potent silence. The result is a profound mediation on what Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoffer famously termed the cost of discipleship.
While thoroughly measured in its portrayal of Muslim characters—the monks are shown to be on good terms with their sympathetic neighbors, and even one of the area's militia leaders ultimately demonstrates his respect for other faiths—"Of Gods and Men" presents a timely and artistically adept testimony to the power of nonviolence in the face of anti-Christian fanaticism.
Viewers of faith will also welcome the lyrical, though not unrealistic, image of religious life presented here, conveyed most powerfully in the climactic scene of a shared meal that movingly evokes the Last Supper. Indeed, in addition to its success on so many other levels, "Of Gods and Men" could serve as a highly effective tool for the vocation directors of various religious orders.
If that seems ironic, given the life-threatening peril that forms the dark backdrop for this masterful piece of cinema, it's an irony—or, perhaps more accurately, a divine paradox—as old as the church itself.
The film, in French with subtitles, contains brief gory violence, some unsettling images and a single instance each of rough and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.
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