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Film / The Promise (2016)

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The Promise is a 2016 American historical drama film directed by Terry George and starring Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon and Christian Bale, set in the final years of the Ottoman Empire. The film premiered on September 11, 2016, at the Toronto International Film Festival and was released in the United States on April 21, 2017, by Open Road Films.

The Promise is about a love triangle that develops between Armenian medical student Mikael (Isaac), an American journalist based in Paris named Chris (Bale) and an Armenian-born woman raised in France, Ana (Le Bon), during the final years of the Ottoman Empire, and during the Armenian Genocide. It was financed by the late Kirk Kerkorian, and is the first major Hollywood film to deal with the topic of the Armenian genocide.

The film follows Mikael, a medical student from the village of Siroun who is put into an arranged engagement in order to use the dowry money to advance his education in Constantinople. While there he becomes enamored with a woman named Ana who is staying with his uncle Vartan, as is American reporter Chris Myers. However, as the Ottoman Empire is pulled into World War I, the Turkish government begins to enact its plan to exterminate the Armenians, who are accused of aiding the invading Russians. Mikael soon finds himself placed in a prison camp, but eventually escapes and tries to return to his village. All the while, Chris Myers attempts to document the carnage and put a stop to it.

Also of note is the song "The Promise" by Chris Cornell, written for this film and Cornell's final musical release before his suicide soon after this film's premier. The song became somewhat of a Breakaway Pop Hit which was nominated for a Grammy Award, ultimately managing to gain more mainstream popularity than the film itself.

Not to be confused with the 2011 miniseries of the same name. Or the 2005 Hong Kong film.


  • Action Bomb: Comes with a dose of Taking You with Me. Mikael and a friend he meets at the prison camp were helping an injured prisoner to his feet when a Turkish soldier shot the injured prisoner in the back, and forced Mikael's friend to thank him for relieving him of the burden. Later when he and Mikael are loading crates of dynamite onto a train, the prisoner takes a crate and approaches the same Turkish soldier, saying "Thank you" before throwing the crate to the ground and blowing them both up. This enables Mikael to escape.
  • America Saves the Day: Extra focus is put on American reporter Chris Myers doing his best to save every Armenian he can regardless of his safety, and US ambassador Henry Morgenthau's attempts to stop the genocide is also shown. While Americans did contribute to helping Armenians at the time, no mention is made of the efforts by Germans (mainly German missionaries who used their status as members of an allied nation to rescue orphans) and Russians (whose invading army stopped the genocidal campaign in its tracks in the east). This is likely to give American audiences someone to relate to. Then again the movie places a lot of emphasis on the French being The Cavalry who rescue the Armenian civilians in Musa Dagh.
  • Belly Dancer: One is featured in the club the protagonists visit at the start of the movie. Ana also dances alongside her and does it pretty well.
  • Betty and Veronica: Maral and Ana for Mikael, respectively. The former is an Armenian girl from his village whom he is arranged to marry, the latter is also an Armenian though she was raised in an exotic, foreign land.
  • Big Damn Heroes: The French navy at Musa Dagh rescues thousands of Armenians trapped by Turkish soldiers, covering their escape to the ships with artillery fire and marines before spiriting them away.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Chris, Mikael and Yeva survive the genocide, but Mikael's hometown and his family are gone. Ana drowns however and while Chris survives, he dies later on in 1938 while covering the Spanish Civil War. Luckily the orphans survive and grow up as healthy adults who attend Yeva's wedding with an American Marine in 1942.
  • The Cavalry: The French navy in the end, which saves everyone at Musa Dagh. This is based on what happened in Real Life.
  • Christianity is Catholic: Averted - most of the cast are Armenian Apostolic Christians, who are often mistaken as Eastern Orthodox (like Russians, Greeks and Romanians), but aren't in communion with them. One scene takes place in an Armenian mass presided over by historical priest and singer Father Komitas. The movie also features an American missionary as a supporting character who is presumably Protestant of some denomination. Seems like everyone here is anything but Roman Catholic (which makes sense, since almost no Christians in Turkey were Catholic, and they still aren't).
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Both male protagonists since Ana dies drowning. In Mikael's case, he gets this trope twice since his wife also gets killed during the genocide.
  • Doomed Home Town: The genocide eventually reaches Siroun, and almost every Armenian is killed, save for Mikael's mother and niece who survived buried under dead bodies.
  • Fainting: In one light-hearted moment, Emre faints while examining a body during a class in Constantinople Imperial School.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The presence of German officers in Constantinople foreshadow the Ottoman Empire's entry into World War I a few months later.
    • Said presence of German officers as well as Henry Morgenthau's affirmation of his Jewish heritage before the Pasha foreshadows the eventual genocide of the Jews at the hands of the Nazi Germans, who used similar techniques as the Ottomans.
  • Famous-Named Foreigner: The Armenian protagonist is named Mikael Boghosian.
  • Fanservice Extra: The Turkish Belly Dancer featured in the club the protagonists visit that even briefly dances alongside Ana.
  • Historical Domain Character: Several appear, such as US ambassador Henry Morgenthau, famous Armenian composer Gomitas Vardapet and Young Turk member and orchestrator of the Armenian genocide Talaat Pasha.
  • Ironic Echo: While in the work camps, a Turk kills a crippled Armenian and demands Mikael and Garin say "thank you" for relieving them of their burden. Garin says it as his last words as he blows up said Turkish officer.
  • Imperiled in Pregnancy: Mikael's wife Maral becomes pregnant shortly after they consummate their marriage while the Armenian genocide is underway. She doesn't survive it.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: Averted as Mikael's young cousin Tamar and his unborn child are slaughtered along with all the inhabitants of Siroun, Tamar's sister Yeva being the only child surviving the attack.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Chris Myers puts his life on the line for his reporting. Although he survives the genocide, his life does end while covering the Spanish Civil War in 1938.
  • Killed Offscreen: The fate of most of the town of Siroun. Also the ultimate fate of Chris Myers, decades after the main events of the film.
  • Love Triangle: Between Mikael, Chris, and Ana. This is complicated by the fact that Mikael was already betrothed to Maral, a woman in his home village.
  • My Species Doth Protest Too Much: Many of the Turks are shown to not all be on board with the Armenian genocide and do what they can to stop it. Three notable examples include:
    • Mustafa, a driver who helps escort the orphans out to Musa Dagh and stays with the Armenians.
    • A deputy governor appearing before the American Protestant Mission in Turkey, risking his life to inform them that an evacuation must start.
    • Emre: the son of a Turkish aristocrat who betrays his father and government to report on Chris being imprisoned and nearly executed to Henry Morgenthau, the American ambassador to the Ottomans. This gets Emre shot for treason, but his actions allow Chris to inform the French navy that a large number of Armenians are trapped and need aid.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: Driven home early on in the film where a group of German officials, visiting their allies in the Ottoman Empire, sing "Deutschlandlied" (a song that although closely associated with the Nazis today had been Germany's national anthem since the 1800's), thus reminding the viewer that Germany was paying marked attention to the Armenian genocide and would use many of the same techniques in the Holocaust less than 30 years later. Hitler in fact even cited it as evidence that they could get away with murdering all Jews in Europe, since he said "who remembers the Armenians?"
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Emre gets this every time he tries to help either Mikael or Chris. The first time, he pays a bakshish so that Mikael can avoid conscription, and is humiliated by his father. The second time, he helps Mikael find his uncle, only to have his friend jailed, and himself be forced to join the Turkish army. The third time, he warns the American ambassador that Chris Myers is in jail and set for execution, and is executed in his stead for treason.
  • Orphan's Ordeal: Mikael and Chris both take it upon themselves to smuggle a group of orphans out of the country, only to discover that their escape route has already been cut off by the Turks and the Armenian villages plundered. They instead make their way to Musa Dagh with some other survivors.
  • Persecuted Intellectuals: Mikael witnesses the genocide being signaled by several notable Armenians like himself (a doctor), his own uncle Mesrob and Father Komitas being rounded up and sent to the camps. This was true in history, as the first act which the Young Turk government took toward the genocide was arresting over 200 Armenian intellectuals, starting with the capitol Istanbul.
  • The Promise: The titular promise was the one Mikael made to his fiance to return to Siroun after getting his medical degree. He does technically keep it after escaping the labor camp, but not before having an affair with Ana.
  • Railroad Tracks of Doom: Mikael narrowly escapes being hit by a train while walking on the tracks. Instead he dodges it and hops onto the back.
  • The Siege: The Musa Dagh defense is portrayed, in which a group of Armenians were besieged on the mountain of Musa Dagh for forty days before being rescued by French warships.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Mikael and Ana.
  • Suicide Attack: Garin uses dynamite to blow up a Turk who killed another prisoner, killing himself in doing so.
  • Train Escape: Mikael hops on the back of a train after escaping the prison camp, only to find it filled with Armenians being taken to their death.
  • What You Are in the Dark: When Emre visits Chris Myers in jail, he tells his friend that he will be executed for spying and no one will ever know what happened to him. Chris simply replies "You will.", which prompts Emre to help him.

Alternative Title(s): The Promise