Religiosity and Conflict

Of Gods and Men – 2010 – dir. Xavier Beauvois

★★★★/★★★★

The world context of war has always had a religious aspect to it. Sometimes the war is caused by two religions conflicting (although that’s never the whole story) and other times it’s simply a question: what will the religious do in times of war. Do they take a side, do they fight, do they turn away the opposing forces? Of Gods and Men attempts to examine these questions although the answer is at best ambiguous. Actually it’s not. Are you willing to die for your generosity? Your answer to that question will be what you take away from this film. But neither answer is easy by any means.

The Atlas Monastery in Algeria is the setting of this film, and the monks are from which we see our conflict. At the onset of the civil war in Algeria, the Christians of the monastery and the Muslimah of the same community are torn in their actions. Neither supports the Islamic Extremist Insurgency nor their brutal actions, but when the insurgents roll through the community with an injured comrade they decide to treat the injured although the monks themselves are divided on this seeming show of support. At one point they meet with the executive of their area who also questions their support. Eventually they are kidnapped and killed by the insurgents.

The performances are all good although it can’t be said there are any standouts among the cast. The true star of this film is in the audiences minds. “What would I do in the same situation?” Would I, someone with medical training although not a doctor, treat someone who has very potentially killed friends of mine and has threatened to kill others? Would I stay in my monastery despite knowing that I was in grave danger? We are asked these questions and given no answers because of the deaths at the end of the film. This is an exercise in philosophy. 

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