Monday, December 20, 2010


On Friday, after the frustrations and annoyances of Christmas shopping in the West End of London , I went to see the film, Of Gods and Men.  Chris had told me about it some months away - but what I wasn't prepared for was the impact of this powerful French movie which tells the (true) story of a group of seven Cistercian monks who, in 1996, were abducted from their remote monastery in Algeria.  At that time there was an outbreak of Islamic terrorism in the country and it is this growing menace which provides the background of the narrative.

The title of the film comes from Psalm 82: 'Now I say to you, "You are gods, and all of you children of the Most High" and it deals with the personal response of these monks as they face the probability of violent death.  The story revolves around the daily life of this Cistercian community as they pray, study and work.  Much of the film is in silence and the only background music is that provided by the rich, modern French chant which is so hauntingly beautiful (and stands in stark contrast to Anglican chant) and the choice of texts used helps to highlight the dilemma of these Cistercians.  This is a film which uncompromisingly deals with ethics and morals consequent upon theology and faith which is centred on the celebration of Christmas.  Therefore is asks the viewer to contemplate the choice which these religious must make as they consider that God incarnated Himself in our humanity.  And, over the years, around this community has grown a village of Muslim peasants who are unable to leave their homes as the Islamic terrorists draw closer.

The title seems to point to the fact that these Cistercians are completely human whilst called to embrace divinity.  There are moments of high human drama and the monks exhibit all the emotions one would expect in such a situation.  To leave or to stay; to save their own lives or live out their monastic calling.  This is the agonising choice they must make individually and as a community. 

The film reaches its climax after they come to the conclusion that they will stay.  Having made the decision the brothers are shown sharing in a meal: to the crescendo of  'The Dying Swan' from Tchaikovsky's 'Swan Lake' this is, movingly, their Last Supper, with its overtones of Passion of Christ. 

One is not shown the circumstances of their death and the final moments are taken up with them being marched into the forests one snowy day.  No doubt Xavier Beauvois, the Director of the film, was aware of the full text of Psalm 82 from which these two verses provide the title:

'Now I say to you, "You are gods,
and all of you children of the Most High.

'"Nevertheless, you shall die like mortals,
and fall like any prince."'

Arise, O God, and rule the earth,
for you shall take all nations as your own.

Of Gods and Men

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