Of Gods and Men

Of Gods and Men, a French film directed by Xavier Beauvois, is based on a real incident. It tells the story of a group of Trappist monks living in a monastery in the Atlas mountains during the Algerian Civil War of the 1990’s. The leader of the monks is Christian (Lambert Wilson). One of the monks, Luc (Michael Lonsdale), is trained as a doctor. He provides treatment for people from the nearby impoverished village. They learn that Islamist rebels have been targeting foreigners. An official urges the monks to return to France, because the government cannot guarantee their safety, but the monks refuse. Luc treats the wounds of one of the rebels. After that, the government suspects the monks of providing aid to the rebels. (In one scene, we see the look of disgust on an officer’s face when he sees Christian praying over the dead body of a rebel.) The monks try to maintain the routines of their existence, despite the pressures on them.

The film mostly depicts the daily lives of the monks. We see their rituals, their prayers, their chores, their dealings with the villagers. The slow pacing of this film may test some people’s patience, but Beauvois wants us to get a sense of how these monks experience time. They grapple with the question of whether they should stay or leave. Although they are afraid, they feel obligated to remain. They have completely committed themselves to their way of life.

In the film’s last scene, we see seven of the monks being led away by the rebels. In the end, faith, duty and honor are not enough to protect us in this world.

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