Finally, in addition to the spontaneous words and actions of the monks (part 4), the rich and frequent scenes of prayers, hymns and liturgy, an integral part of the fabric of the film, contributes enormously to the depiction of the monks’ Catholic milieu, their beliefs and spirituality.
We’ve already seen the immense significance accorded to Christmas in a crucial early sequence, with its Christmas hymn recounting how “God has prepared the earth like a cradle / For his coming from above” as “the Child of life divine,” “taking flesh of our flesh,” etc. Later in that sequence, we see the monks tenderly place a manger holding the Christ child in the creche they have set up.
I’ve also cited lines like “Recognizing my weaknesses, I accept those of others. I can bear them, make them mine, in imitation of Christ … The apostle’s weakness is like Christ’s, rooted in the mystery of Easter and the strength of the Spirit.”
Here’s another notable excerpt from the monks’ worship, redolent with powerful passion, resurrection, Eucharistic and Trinitarian language:
Let us turn to the Man of Sorrows
Who beckons us from the cross
Because He is with us as on Easter morn.
Let us not forget the blood He shed.
Let us break the bread
Let us drink from the chalice of passage
Let us greet the One who sacrificed Himself.
By loving us until the end
Through Him, with Him and in Him
You shall receive, Almighty Father
In the unity of the Holy Spirit
All glory and honor,
Forever and ever.
The eucharistic language is reinforced by an actual communion scene in which we hear the repeated words “The body of Christ.” (There is also an important climactic “Last Supper” scene, though the Eucharistic overtones are subtextual, not explicit.)
We hear excerpts from the liturgy of the hours:
Lord, open my lips,
And my mouth will proclaim your praise …
Save us, Lord, while we are awake,
guard us while we are asleep;
that, awake, we may watch with Christ,
and, asleep, may rest in His peace.
Scriptural texts include a chanted Psalm 143 (“Enter not into judgement with your servant / For no man living is righteous before You…”) and a reading from Luke 17 (“On that night two people shall be in one bed; one shall be taken, the other left”), followed by “The Gospel of the Lord—Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.” God is hailed as “Father of light, eternal light and source of all light,” who “seeks the prodigal son.”
After five posts, what more can I say? I’ve already stated that Of Gods and Men powerfully expresses the beauty and attractiveness of lived Christian faith in its theological and liturgical richness and uniqueness more memorably and appealingly than any dramatic feature film I can think of in up to a quarter century, and that it is exceptional in offering a portrait of lived Christianity that is wholly positive. To that, I will add that it does these things about as memorably and powerfully as any film I can think of. It has no rivals I can think of in the last quarter century, and few peers in the history of cinema.
I will make a stronger statement still. There are not many outstanding films—I could probably count them on the fingers of one hand—of which I could say to an inquirer, “You want to know what it means to be a Christian? You want to know what following Jesus is all about? Watch this film.” Of Gods and Men is one of the few, and one of the best.
Could it say more? Can one take exception to Christian’s perspective in one regard or another? Well, of course. The Tibhirine monks are men, not gods, and the film isn’t the Bible, or the Catechism, or the Mass.
Then again, we need more than the Bible, the Catechism and the Mass. We need works of art—stories and images, books and films—that make the good, the true and the beautiful alive to our imaginations and senses, that offer persuasive and inspiring human examples of lived faith. We need films like Of Gods and Men.
I don’t necessarily accept or agree with everything I read in, say, St. Alphonsus Liguori, or St. Francis de Sales. (The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ and Introduction to the Devout Life are not the Bible, the Catechism or the Mass.) My issues, moreover, may not be trivial; they may be worth noting. I would be a fool, though, to allow such issues to deprive me of benefiting, with deep appreciation and gratitude, from the immense riches of their spiritual insights and holy example.
There are immense riches in Of Gods and Men. I am deeply grateful for it. Already in two viewings it’s become a hugely important film to me—one that I expect to revisit again and again, with great benefit, for as long as I continue to watch movies.