By Arpeni Mael, Editor-in-Chief
On April 24, 1915, the Ottoman Empire, now known as modern-day Turkey, annihilated 1.5 million Armenians.
102 years later, on April 21, the first film about the Armenian Genocide came out that told the story of what the Turkish government still refuses to acknowledge.
Directed by Terry George (Hotel Rwanda), and starring Oscar Isaac (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, X-Men: Apocalypse), Christian Bale (The Dark Knight, The Fighter), and Charlotte Le Bon (Bastille Day, Inside Out), The Promise is a historical drama that is set in the final years of the Ottoman Empire and the Armenian Genocide. The main cast’s only actor of Armenian descent is Angela Sarafyan (Westworld).
Christian Bale’s character delivers an important message about the importance of the press.
As an American reporter who is documenting the genocide for the Associated Press, he portrays a journalist who refuses to give up his sources.
In the film, he states that without the press, no one would know what was happening to the Armenians.
However, despite indisputable photographic evidence and the works of journalists, U.S. ambassadors, and survivors, the Armenian Genocide has gone unacknowledged for over a century.
The film was independently produced with a budget of $100 million, thanks to the late billionaire businessman, Kirk Kerkorian, who fully financed The Promise. Kerkorian’s parents left the Ottoman Empire just as the genocide was about to start.
As someone whose great-ancestors were either survivors or victims of this holocaust, April 24 is a day that I push for recognition.
I had high expectations for this film, which was reached, because it is the first mainstream American film to tell the story of the Armenians.
The Armenian Genocide is rarely taught in schools and is unacknowledged by any U.S. president while in office, except for Ronald Reagan.
Despite all this, the Armenian people continue to tell their story, and thanks to Kerkorian, Hollywood is telling their story, too.
While the film didn’t have a full history lesson of the genocide, it gave viewers, at least in my opinion, a brief telling of what happened.
So for those of you who are unaware of the genocide and want to learn more, The Promise is a great place to start.
Isaac portrays Mikael Boghosian, an apothecary who lives in the small Armenian village of Sirun, on the southeast part of the Ottoman Empire. With aspirations of attending medical school, he promises himself to Maral (Sarafyan), receives a dowry of 400 gold coins. He travels to Constantinople to attend the Imperial Medical Academy.
Once he is there, he befriends Emre (Marwan Kenzari), who is the son of a high-level Turkish official. Through his wealthy uncle Mesrob (Yigal Naor), he meets Ana Khesarian (Le Bon), an Armenian woman who was raised in Paris and is in a relationship with Bale’s character, Chris Myers.
At the peak of the international tensions between the Ottoman Empire and the Armenians, Mikael and Ana fall in love. With a love triangle in place, you would expect things to get tricky.
Personally, I hated the romance in the storyline. I wish Director Terry George just focused on the history. But it is Hollywood, and Hollywood loves a good love triangle.
I won’t spoil the film for those of you who are interested in watching it, but Bale doesn’t stray from his hero character.
With the help of Emre, Mikael temporarily manages to avoid recruitment in the Ottoman army through a medical student exemption. However, when he tries to save his uncle, he is detained and sent to a prison labor camp himself.
He eventually escapes the camp and returns to the village. Mikael’s whole family is murdered, and his mother barely survives. Maral who was pregnant, is left for dead and their unborn child ripped from the womb.
The Turkish soldiers find them, and Christian Bale, being, well, Christian Bale, he distracts them. By doing so, he is captured and sent to prison where they believe he is a foreign agent spreading lies about what is actually going on.
On their way to freedom, a Turkish weaponry barrage causes Ana and Yeva, Mikael’s cousin and Mesrob’s daughter, to go overboard. Mikael jumps in after them and is able to rescue Yeva, but Ana drowns.
Twenty-seven years later, Mikael has settled in Watertown, Massachusetts and has adopted Yeva.
Despite the romantic aspect of the film, I think that The Promise did a great job of depicting the genocide. The actual truth is much worse than what was shown, but I don’t think that would have made it appropriate for the big screen.
To be honest, I cried throughout the whole movie because it hits so close to home.
I think that Isaac, Bale, and Le Bon portrayed their characters so well. The only complaint that I had was that I wish there were more Armenian actors in it.
Besides Sarafyan, who is the only Armenian actress in Hollywood, there was no one else.
The waterworks went overboard when the movie ends with a quote from William Saroyan, an American Armenian novelist:
“Go ahead, destroy Armenia. See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a new Armenia.”
Sarafyan isn’t exactly well known; Hollywood’s lack of Armenians shows. Despite the Kardashians, Cher and Serj Tankian from System of a Down are in my opinion, the popular ones.
The social media impact, #KeepThePromise, was supported by actors like Sylvester Stallone, Dean Cain, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, and even Candian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Former President Barack Obama stated in his 2008 campaign that he would recognize the Armenian Genocide. He didn’t.
On Monday, President Trump issued a statement but refused to recognize it as a genocide.
As an Armenian-American, my only hope for the future is that we get the recognition we deserve. I promise to never forget the Armenian Genocide.
One thought on “Keeping the promise, 102 years later”
I watched the film and enjoyed it. TBH I think the romance (the lure for audiences) is overshadowed by what the film really wants to do – show the effects of the Armenian genocide: the marches in the desert, Talaat’s insurance comments, etc. The film is really IMO dedicated to that. The romance scenes get interrupted by new developments in the genocide, and the ending of the love triangle means the genocide shattered that completely.