By Jonathan Decker (family therapist, film critic)
A stunning examination of the courage it takes to dedicate oneself to Christ and to the needs of others, Of Gods and Men feels a lot like real life. The naturalistic acting and film-making style make this 2011 movie play as if it were shot on location in 1996 when the actual events occurred. The stellar ensemble cast, led by Lambert Wilson (The Matrix Reloaded), disappear so completely into their roles that one forgets that these are not the actual people on whom the film is based. There is no musical score, save for the Gregorian chants by the central characters, a group of French monks living and serving in the war-torn Muslim nation of Algeria.
Depending on the viewer this realism will be either the movie's greatest strength or its greatest weakness. Some may complain that the film is too slow and too quiet. They may have their patience tested and argue that there are long stretches with nothing going on. For others, like myself, there is plenty going on in the subtle details of each interaction, prayer, and reflection. The film refreshingly takes its time to develop every character and allow them human weaknesses along with divine virtues. It explores the peace and nearness to God they seek in prayer, service, song, and solitude. This quiet integrity and its place in holding together a larger community is touching, all the more so when it is tested to the utmost by violence and terror.
The monks' insistence on staying at their post in spite of probable death, as well as the mutual appreciation, love, and respect they share with the Muslims surrounding them is wonderful. Their dedication to helping everyone, regardless of which side of the erupting civil war they're on, gets them into trouble with both factions, who both suspect the monks of siding with the enemy. That living their beliefs places them in danger is clear, but those same beliefs are shown to drive their ability to overcome fear, find meaning for their lives, and coexist in harmony with neighbors of other faiths. If the film has a major flaw, it's that it provides little context by way of circumstances and location. I learned the details of the time, the place, and the larger conflict through research after finishing the movie. That said, the acting is exquisite, the messages thought-provoking, and the realistic and ponderous film-making is at once gripping and soothing. Of Gods and Men is in French with English subtitles.
CONTENT OVERVIEW: Of Gods and Men is rated PG-13. It has a rather graphic scene of terrorists slitting the throats of civilians and one subtitled f-word.
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: Perfect love casts out all fear. We can live in mutual appreciation and love with those who do not share our religion. In standing for right, be bold but not overbearing.
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Jonathan Decker is the clinical director of Your Family Expert. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist, husband, and father of five. Jonathan earned a masters degree in family therapy from Auburn University as well as a bachelor's degree in clinical psychology from Brigham Young University. He is an actor, author, and television personality.
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