Of Gods and Men

April 29, 2011

Gracious Living Day by DayLast Friday, after a long, busy, rainy, cold, eventful week Nena and I went to see a movie.

We were glad we did.

The Trappist Monks in "Of Gods and Men"

The Trappist Monks in "Of Gods and Men"

We saw the French movie, “Of Gods and Men.” It is a dramatization of a true story of eight French Trappist monks living in a remote monastery in Algeria during the civil war of the 1990’s.

Deeply connected and involved in everyday lives of the Islamic population of the nearby village, the monks are trying to decide whether to stay at the monastery in the midst of growing dangers; or, leave the inhabitants to their own fate.

Evidence of tumultuous violence soon becomes impossible to ignore, but the only sounds we hear at the monastery itself are the singing and chanting of the monks’ prayers and the murmurs of everyday life. When we hear Tchaikovsky’s famous “Swan Lake” passage near the end of the film, we feel the external stimulation the way the monks must feel it, and after all the silence, its power is almost beyond endurance.

Once the Islamic insurrection reaches their hill, and they gradually start to realize the danger they are in, the men grow afraid. Each of the eight men go through their own spiritual questioning, suffering, decision making. They don’t hide their fear. Some want to leave right away. Others want to stay. Most are confused and undecided.

Lead by the example of their prior, Brother Christian, the monks decide to pray, think and allow contemplation to lead them to a collective decision.

The lives of the monks (who are mostly elderly men) are a balance between physical labor of working on their land, making honey, doing housework; spiritual rituals of chanting, singing and contemplation; and intellectual pursuits of reading and conversation.

They accept and recognize each other for who they are. They try not to judge the decisions of the individuals in their group. They listen to each other and hear each other’s fears without judgment and false sympathy. They are in danger and they all know it. They never say that all will be well. They are sweet and kind to each other, and take care of each other’s needs. When they are afraid, they say they are afraid, and hold on to each other for dear life.

They live with communal encouragement and individual meditation.

They talk. They listen.

The camera lingers on the lined features of the monks’ faces as these actors mostly act with their eyes.  Many scenes are works of art in their own right. The lighting is subdued, the characters singular and distinctive. The landscape sincerely evokes the spirit of the place where the action is taking place.

When Nena and I left the movie theater on that blustery, cold, rainy night, we didn’t say a word to each other.

We walked to the car in compete silence.

We drove home in complete silence.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Nikolette J. April 30, 2011 at 11:27 am

Dear Liliana — Thank you for sharing your world so simply and honestly. One of my favourite posts was the one about going to your cottage in winter, ending with a cup of tea. Then I read this one, “Of Gods and Men” and had to respond. What a wonderful movie. Who would think people would pay to see it; clearly we need to contemplate. You might enjoy reading another response to the movie:
http://www.vagabondpages.com/march11/of_gods.html
Thank you.
Nikole

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Liliana May 2, 2011 at 7:56 am

Dear Nikole,
thanks for your kind words. And thanks for the link to the wonderful Vagabond quote – I couldn’t agree wit the statements more.

I was deeply moved by the film. In our reality of constant noise, distraction, violence, and conflict, the simple kindness of these men spoke to me louder than any megaphone ever could.

Please keep in touch,
Liliana

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