"Of Gods and Men" is a movie loosely based on the book "The Monks of Tibhirine," which tells the true story of eight French Cistercian Trappist monks who were kidnapped in Algeria in 1996. Six of them were killed in mysterious circumstances.
Living in harmony with the surrounding Muslim community, the monks face a difficult decision whether to leave or stay when violence is brought to their region by a fundamentalist group.
"Of Gods and Men" is a poignant tale about the power of faith, its limits, humanity, power, violence, and corruption told primarily through the images and sounds of liturgy and rhythm. As the story moves through these rhythms of monastic and communal life, violence comes closer and closer to the brothers and their village. Throughout Algeria, gruesome acts of violence spread, including beheadings and massacres. Stories of violence elsewhere are made real when the terrorists show up at the monastery door seeking help for their wounded. Once the guns cross the threshold of the monastery, violence never truly leaves. Life shared in harmony with neighbors and in community is disrupted by both the military, which seeks to maintain its power, and the terrorists, which seek to gain power. Life shared with neighbors begins to be overtaken by conversation about violence, by acts of violence on family members, and by intimidation of villagers in the monastery's medical clinic. Within the monastic community, peace and harmony are disrupted as well. In deciding whether to leave the village to fend for itself or whether to stay and risk death, each brother embarks upon a journey of self discovery about the role of faith, sacrifice, commitment, peace, and love. A community built upon an ethic of peace must decide whether peace might entail a violent end for the brothers' own lives.
A complicated political backdrop of colonization and Muslim-Christian relationships frame the movie, but it moves quickly from the political to the human, which is what gives this movie its emotional and spiritual power. It is not concerned with making a political point; it is concerned with plumbing the depths of humanity.
How strong is faith? What does it mean to be a neighbor? When is suffering efficacious? Necessary? What does it mean to be human? What is peace? And, how far should one go to bear compassion in the world?
These are the questions this film poses. These are important questions for all of us to ask.
A slow and deliberate film, "Of Gods and Men" is the most faithful representation of contemplative life and what I would call "real faith" that I have seen on the big screen. Whether it's the faith of the villagers or of the brothers, the film shows the power of faith to hold communities together and how the depths of faith can terrify. I highly recommend this movie. It is beautiful and tragic and deeply moving. From the muezzins at the mosque to the chanting and singing of the monks, the sounds of this movie will stay with you.