Normally I’m tired of the whole love triangle trope in film. It’s often a clunky and messy plot device that always ends with disappointment, either for the characters involved or for the audiences watching. The Promise is different. It’s a love story as told during the Armenian Genocide in the early 1900’s. Even though there’s romance involved, the film doesn’t shy away from the horrific atrocities being committed by the Ottoman Empire.
Mikael (Oscar Isaac) is a medical student who leaves his home of Armenia to travel to Istanbul in order to further his education. While there he meets the lovely Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), a fellow Armenian who was raised in Paris, and her partner Chris (Christian Bale), an American journalist with the Associated Press. As their relationship deepens, the world around them begins to crumble. World War I begins and with it comes the Armenian Genocide. Suddenly Mikael is no longer only fighting for love but for the survival of his people.
The Promise is a film full of contrasts. It’s a contrast of stories. On one hand you have the romance between its characters. The love triangle between Mikael, Ana, and Chris feels realistic and is constantly evolving. There are moments where I believed that Mikael and Ana are the perfect fit, while at other times I saw how deeply Chris cares for her. I was never always rooting for one character throughout the film. Eventually the war separates them and they move on with their lives, and while events do lead them back together, their lives apart from each other never felt like they were ignoring their true feelings. I really got the sense that Mikael found happiness with his new wife and child.
On the other hand, there’s the devastating nature of the war happening around them. Armenians are being rounded up and killed as the Ottoman Empire attempts to erase their entire culture from history. Their entire livelihoods are being uprooted as Mikael is forced to go into hiding. Chris does what he can to document the horrors, but he too is faced with danger. There are moments of peace between the tension, but they are oftentimes brief and can show how quickly things can change. The Promise does not shy away from history. Even to this day, the Armenian Genocide is covered up and denied by many. This is a story that needs to be told.
Visually, The Promise offers plenty of contrast as well. The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous and captures beauty of what I imagine the Ottoman Empire looked like back in 1915. From the spectacular landscape shots to the finely detailed costumes and sets, the film is like a window through time. With the good comes the bad as well, however, as the beautiful countryside and its citizens falls to the devastation of war. Bodies pile up on the streets as fires tear down everything that they worked so hard to achieve. Be forewarned, there are some difficult moments to watch.
The Promise may be a bit slow at the beginning, but once it gets started it doesn’t falter off course. It’s a captivating story with great performances by its cast that shines a light on the mostly untold story of the Armenian Genocide. Sure, it’s been dramatized somewhat by Hollywood, but it’s message couldn’t be any clearer.