In 2015, world leaders across the world came together to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, a tragedy in which 1.5 million Armenians were systematically killed by the Ottoman government.

Two years later, Director Terry George, best known for his films “Hotel Rwanda” and “In the Name of the Father,” has decided to memorialize the events of the genocide through film in “The Promise.” George’s film tells a powerful story of love, drama and loss over the historical backdrop of the Armenian Genocide.

In 1914, Mikael Boghosian, played by Oscar Isaac, travels to Constantinople to attend medical school. While there, he meets Ana, played by Charlotte Le Bon, and the two bond instantly over their shared Armenian heritage. This attraction causes a rivalry to form between Mikael and Ana’s boyfriend, Chris Myers, played by Christian Bale. Myers is an American journalist for the Associated Press who soon realizes that Turkey is no longer a safe place for Armenians. As the government of the Ottoman Empire begins to carry out the genocide, the three characters are forced to find ways to ensure their own survival as well as the survival of their families.

The visuals in the film are stunning. Mikael’s journey through the mountains of his small village to the vibrant city of Constantinople is captured beautifully. The lighting in the beginning of the film is bright, but as the genocide initiates, it darkens, symbolizing the harsh and sudden brutalities of war. Images of labor camps and mass deportations by train are depicted on-screen as the story begins to darken.

The film’s official release date in the United States was Friday. However, on March 22, the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues in conjunction with Open Road Films, Survival Pictures and the Armenian National Committee of America hosted a viewing at the United States Capitol Visitor Center. George and film producer Eric Esralian were in attendance, and the two spoke about the making of the film and its relevance today.

George emphasized the importance of creating realistic characters.

“I want people to be with Ana and Mikael and Chris and go through these events,” George said. “It’s important that people are taken through these events from the inside. For me, that is the greatest thing in filmmaking.”

Isaac, well known for his role as known as Poe Dameron in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” portrays Mikael with passion and emotion. Similarly, Le Bon, best known for her work as Marguerite in “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” matches his authenticity and honesty; the actors share a strong sense of chemistry. Christian Bale also delivers a skilled and engaging performance.

The Armenian Genocide can be a sensitive subject. Although most scholars and historians agree the events constituted genocide, only 28 countries in the world officially recognize this fact. In fact, two of the countries that do not officially recognize it are the United States and Turkey.

Esralian wanted to make sure that the filmmakers’ position was clear.

“Of course, the Armenian Genocide is undeniable. My great-grandparents were genocide survivors. It’s not a debatable question in our minds,” Esralian said. “When you see the film and you feel moved by it, you should know that there are obviously places in the world today that need our assistance. There are people who are in danger today and genocide, unfortunately, is not a thing of the past.”

George also echoed this position by pointing out how these events are being recreated today in Syria, where many Syrians have been forced to flee the war-torn country, and in Iraq with the genocide of the Yazidi community by Islamic State militants.

When creating the film, George struggled with making a story that was both historically accurate as well as engaging for audiences.

“You have a film about the Armenian Genocide, but within that is a movie love story and something that people who either have no knowledge of the political subject matter or even no interest could go into the film and be moved,” George said. “We need to persuade people that this is a piece of entertainment as well as education.”

With Armenian Genocide Memorial Day coming up on Monday, both George and Esralian hope that the film will call people to action.

“We feel like this is not just a movie, but it’s a movement to keep the promise which is the message that we have been talking about on social media,” Esralian said. “There are people that want to share stories like this and try to make the world a better place.”

One Comment

  1. Oscar Mirzan says:

    Thank you Meghan for this review. I just saw “The Promise” and I can say that this the movie Erdogan and Bashar el Assad do NOT want you to see. You don’t have to be Armenian or Christian to be moved by what happened to the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire, no more than you have to be Jewish to be moved by the tragedy of the Shoah, or to be Muslim to be touched by what the children of Syria have been going through. You just need to be a human being and have a heart. Yes, the love story is a bit Titanic-esque, but if this is what it takes to be able to make a movie like this in Hollywood today, so be it. O. Mirzan

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