The Promise reminds us that empires may fall but love survives.
It was nothing short of genocide. From 1915 to 1922, 1.5 million Christian Armenians were killed. The troubled period in history is the backdrop to the story that unfolds in The Promise, released in Australian cinemas this week.
In 1914 as the Great War threatens, the mighty Ottoman Empire is crumbling. Constantinople, the once vibrant, multicultural capital on the shores of the Bosphorus, is about to be consumed by chaos.
Aspiring doctor Michael (Oscar Isaac) from the Armenian village of Siroun sets his heart on enrolling at the Imperial Medical School in Constantinople. To pay his tuition fees, he betroths himself to Maral (Angela Sarafyan), a rich woman from the village. Michael promises her that, once his studies are complete, he will return to her.
When Michael arrives at medical school, he meets Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), an Armenian dance instructor from Paris. The pair form a romantic bond, but there’s a problem. Ana is already in a relationship with Chris (Christian Bale), an American journalist reporting on events in the Ottoman Empire.
The Turkish Government has plans to expel Christian Armenians from the empire. Village by village, troops begin defeating Armenians by any means possible.
Because of their background, Michael and Ana know they are in danger. Michael is kidnapped and, along with many other Armenians, made to work as a slave under the close watch of the Turkish military.
After an explosion in the camp, Michael escapes and makes his way back to Siroun. Much to his relief, his parents are safe. But the Turks have occupied the territory. As a runaway, Michael knows that his best chance of survival is to marry his fiancée, Maral.
While the couple move to the mountains and try to resume a ‘normal life’, the military continues to hunt Armenian Christians and hound them from their homes.
Michael knows he has to use his medical skills to help his people. Along the way, he also reconnects with Ana.
As the remaining Armenians head for safety in the mountains, they pray to God for protection so that they might sing his praises again.
History tells us that, although persecuted, this group of Christians continued to believe. They held onto the hope that God would protect them. Promises are made and promises are broken. The one promise that must be kept is to live on and tell the story.
Through the years, there may be many times when we go through problems so big that we don’t see a way out of them. However abandoned we feel, we are not alone. God is with us.
God doesn’t always remove problems from us, but he does assure us that he will be right by our side through them.
In the Bible, he promises: “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed” (Isaiah 54:10 New International Version). Whatever we face, we will be stronger when we face it with God.
With thanks to Warcry UK
The Promise director’s comment
The director of The Promise, Terry George, is best known for Hotel Rwanda and In the Name of the Father. The idea of attempting to tell a love story set amongst the Armenian Genocide (one of the greatest yet least known catastrophes of the 20th century) appealed to him. “This attempt to eradicate an entire nation has almost disappeared from the history books because of collective denial and political expediency,” George says. “It is a story that I believe demands to be told in cinematic form, but how do you get audiences to experience such a horrific and foreign event?”
He looked to someone he calls a “master of cinema” for inspiration—David Lean and his take on the Russian Revolution in Dr Zhivago and the Irish War of Independence in Ryan’s Daughter.
“They used romance to lure audiences into seats. They told great love stories that were inextricably woven into the story of these momentous events. We learned of the hardships, the joy and pain they experienced as part of history”.