I should start out by mentioning that I am Armenian, and I grew up learning about the Armenian genocide from a young age. There are not any movies about the Armenian genocide that have made it to the movie theaters. Most of the films are too gruesome for the general public to even watch, so I was very nervous that this movie was not going to give the genocide justice by dumbing it down with a love story, but I was wrong.
The Armenian genocide began in 1915 in Turkey and resulted in the death of 1.5 million Armenians. The Turkish government and U.S. government still do not accept this tragedy and that is the sole reason Kirk Kerkorian donated $90 million to fund the film, “The Promise,” according to IMDb.
“The Promise” was the perfect depiction of the heart-breaking events that took place during this time in Armenian history. I had chills more times than I could count watching this movie.
“The Promise” tells the story of a man named Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac), who was born in Armenia and raised in Siroun, Turkey. Boghosian moved to Constantinople to go to medical school, but to get the money to do so, he had to get engaged to a woman named Maral (Angela Sarafyan) for a dowry of 400 gold coins.
Once he moved to Constantinople, he fell in love with a woman named Ana Khesarian (Charlotte Le Bon), but she was in a relationship with an American reporter named Chris Myers (Christian Bale). The rest of the movie followed their love triangle as they tried to escape Turkey and return to safety in Aleppo, Syria.
Since Boghosian was Armenian, he was not exempt from enlisting in World War I, even though he was a medical student. The war turned into the extermination of the Armenian population. The Armenian men enlisted in the army were put to work in harsh conditions and once a project was completed, they were all killed.
What helps this story reach all audiences is that it was not as graphic as other genocide movies have been in the past. When Boghosian’s family members are dying, it is more implied by the characters’ reactions rather than shown in a series of gruesome images of blood.
In my opinion, the love story made the movie have more of an approachable vibe rather than a terrifying story of how a population was virtually exterminated.
I have never cried in the movie theater before, but I could not hold it together while watching this movie. Although I have been hearing about the horrible events of the genocide my whole life, this added love story and the family bond shown in the movie made it even more heart-wrenching every time someone died.
The acting throughout the movie emphasized the distress of the whole situation. When the characters were upset, I felt their pain, and when they were hopeful, so was I.
What I appreciated the most from this movie was the fact that it didn’t end on a somber note. It ended with an inspirational anecdote by Boghosian in Armenian with English subtitles, that emphasized the idea that although Armenians were killed, their culture is still surviving and is not lost. To me, that was the most powerful scene of “The Promise.”
I want to end this review the same way the movie ended- with a quote by William Saroyan, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Armenian poet who was alive during the time of the genocide.
“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard and prayers are no more answered. 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,” Saroyan said.