REVIEW: The Promise: A Powerful, Memorable Film

May 11, 2017

With “The Promise,” filmmaker Terry George, known for his 2004 Oscar-nominated “Hotel Rwanda,” set out to tell the story of 20th century’s first genocide.

Following the timeline of events that led to the Ottoman Empire’s perpetration of genocide against the Armenian population in 1915, the plot is centered around a love triangle between an Armenian student named Mikael Boghosian (played by Oscar Isaac), an Armenian from Paris named Ana Khesarian (played by Charlotte Le Bon) and an American reporter named Chris Myers (played superbly by Christian Bale).

Leaving his small Armenian village in the Ottoman Empire, Boghosian travels to the Turkish capital Constantinople to study medicine.

The film depicts Turkish-Armenian relations at a high point (“high” is meant in the vaguest sense). Many Turks still held venomously racist views towards Armenians, but they went to the same universities, lived in the same cities and shopped in the same markets (when walking through the market, a Turk exclaimed to him, “that Armenian pig will rip you off.”)

Shortly after, as the Ottoman Empire entered the First World War, Turkish aggression against the Armenian population became a mainstay of government policy. This film portrayed this accurately, as the blueprints for Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich soon spread to every village in the Ottoman Empire.

Turkish officers began rounding up Armenian intellectuals and businesspersons, executing them on a whim. Boghosian was yanked out of medical school and sent to a labor camp where he was effectively starved, and made to work while awaiting execution.

Miraculously, Boghosian escaped. Following his harrowing journey back to his home village in an attempt to save his family, the film vividly portrays the horrors of the Armenian genocide. From cargo trains packed full of prisoners, to their coerced death march through the desert where they were executed.

When US Ambassador Morgenthau (played by James Cromwell) confronts a high-ranking Turkish officer about the Ottoman Empire’s rampant aggression against the Armenians, he scoffed in obfuscating Turkey’s genocidal ambitions, describing it as a “relocation” of the Armenian people.

When Ottoman officers arrested Associated Press reporter Chris Myers, they threatened to charge him with espionage, casting the entirety of his reporting on Turkey’s treatment of Armenians as brazen fabrications and falsehoods, denying his eye-witness accounts of Turkish military men casually executing Armenians on a lark.

Prior to the film’s release, Turkish deniers of the Ottoman Empire’s genocide took to the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) in spades, spamming the site with paltry one-star reviews in efforts to sink anticipation around the film. (I’m not sure you’d need a better reason to see a movie than the fact that it enrages hordes of backward, genocide-denying Islamists.)

In the end, “The Promise” is about Armenian Genocide’s history and timeline; the love triangle tying the film’s protagonists is secondary. And this is where the film shines. Director Terry George accurately displays the unimaginable horrors of genocide on the big screen.

As the credits roll, and the dimmed lights slowly illuminate the theater, you’re left with one lingering, melancholy thought. That how such unspeakable crimes – a deliberate attempt to exterminate an entire population — can go on palpably denied by its perpetrators, and ignored by the rest of the world. “The Promise” is an overall great film that you won’t soon forget. Go watch it (take your friends and family too!), don’t let the memory of the Armenian genocide or its victims die.