It’s been over a century since the Armenian genocide and to this day, the Turkish government refuses to admit this troubled past. Fortunately, viewers won’t be able to escape the horrors of this atrocity if they watch the new film The Promise. Starring Oscar Isaac and Christian Bale, the drama (which tells a fictional story about the real event) focuses on the genocide and tells the story of a love triangle in the midst of the tragic events.
Isaac stars as Mikael Boghosian, an apothecary who longs to become a doctor. He travels to Constantinople in 1914 to pursue his dreams. Unlike some of his fellow students, he’s committed to the field. He moves in with his uncle and befriends Ana Khesarian (Charlotte Le Bon), a local teacher.
Their relationship begins nicely enough but it’s soon revealed that Mikael is betrothed to a local woman from his small town while Ana is dating an American journalist named Chris Meyers (Bale).
The love triangle itself is a predictable set-up for a film that ultimately pursues higher goals. This isn’t a movie about romance (for much of the movie, the characters are separated from one another). It’s a movie about the Turkish government’s plan to eradicate the Armenian population. The triangle is simply the way that writers Terry George and Robin Swicord invite audiences into the story.
That being said, this set-up allows viewers to witness different elements of the genocide itself. Mikael is the most ambitious one here, aiming for a better education and pursuing that. Ana is the idealistic one, whose affection for her students (even in the midst of the war) is powerful and unwavering. Chris is the most realistic one. He’s the one who first comprehends what’s coming and takes steps to let the world know about the horrors he’s witnessing. Each of these characters have a unique journey and that journey itself is more important than their romantic entanglements.
Through their intertwining lives, viewers will see different perspectiices of the situation. The love triangle isn’t as developed as it could have been (in fact, the relationship Ana shares with Chris isn’t that well-defined) but the plot moves steadily along introducing some strong and integral supporting players along the way. Supporting actors Marwan Kenzari and the great Shohreh Aghdashloo have some really great moments onscreen in their respective roles as Mikael’s fellow student and mother.
The drama never really delves into the international community’s awareness of the genocide. It’s an interesting choice because viewers might find it hard to believe that the world stood by knowing about this atrocity. And yet, it did. As the film notes, more than one and a half million people perished in this genocide.
The story simply revolves around the characters who don’t know what the outside world is doing. They only want to survive. There’s one big dramatic scene revolving around an American diplomat dealing with a Turkish official about the genocide but that scene revolves around Chris so it makes sense for it to be included.
In totality, The Promise casts a spotlight on the genocide and commendably shows some of the pain and heartbreak Armenians must’ve faced during this period. Notably, the movie is PG-13 so the violence isn’t as prominently displayed as it has been in other movies about genocide (such as Schnidler’s List) but the emotional power remains the same.
The plot may have its issues but The Promise still does an admirable job showing the brutality of this massacre and creating characters that the audience invests in. The ending offers some hope but it’s sad to realize that over a century after this genocide occurred, there are some (including the Turkish government) that refuse to admit the genocide even happened.
Review by: John Hanlon