Of Gods and Men is a movie about values, convictions, faith, tolerance, martyrdom, mission, community, brotherhood, outreach, it’s a movie about living, and it’s a movie about dying.
It takes place in Algeria in the mid-90’s, focusing on a group of French Trappist monks who have taken a vow of poverty in order to reach out to a largely Muslim community. The monks fit in with those around them beautifully, providing free medical services, participating in the town’s market, and even attending children’s birthday parties. Their relationship with the community is one of the best interfaith portrayals of tolerance as both get along, helping and loving each other, while still maintaining their beliefs with conviction. The monks are never seen proselytizing, but always acknowledge whom they serve.
The people of the community’s lives are interrupted by a civil war in Algeria and their lives are threatened when a radical Muslim group begins causing chaos all around. This becomes especially personal to the friars when they hear (and we see) that the rebels have attacked and killed a group of Croatians who live in the country to provide aid. The scene in which monastery leader Christian hears of this news is one of the most saddening scenes I have seen in a while; the way his face drops is utterly heartbreaking.
From here, the monks must make a decision. The Algerian government suggests that they get army protection, something the monks are unwilling to do, because they do not believe in violence or in using a corrupt government for protection. Christian and the six other brothers residing in the monastery must make a decision… Should they stay in the monastery and risk their lives? Or should they flee, saving themselves and potentially helping out other communities elsewhere around the world. The town desperately needs what they provide and abandoning it in its time of need would be tragic. Should they give up on their calling in order to seek safety? They are a group of people who have already given up nearly everything for their beliefs, are they willing to give up absolutely everything? At the same time, they also question what laying down their lives would actually accomplish. Would it be for the sole purpose of the glory in martyrdom? In beautiful long shots these questions are asked.
The friar’s acts of mass and liturgy serve as the only background music to accompany the entire film and is almost like the canvas to which the entire film is painted on. Each song fits what is happening dramatically and allows for the monks to express their trials, doubts, and fears beautifully.
The entire situation gets even more complicated, when they are approached by the terrorists themselves and asked to provide medical aid to injured members. The monks face pressure from both sides of the war to help, but must follow their allegiance to their God above all. The scene where this situation is presented is one of the best in the film, I won’t spoil it, but I will say that Christian handles this terrifying predicament in a way I can imagine Jesus or the early Apostles handling it. It shows a wonderful, uncompromising way of dealing with your enemies that is so refreshing.
No matter what your experience with the Christian faith, there is still plenty to admire and enjoy with this movie. The passion exuded by the monks is awe-inspiring and the love that they show for their community is an example all should follow.
For those of the Christian faith, it is an absolute must see. It expresses all the love, the mission, and the struggle that is contained within the true Christian and shows how to put those desires into action. Though at times it is sad, it also remains uplifting and is an image people should share and watch for a long time to come.