Promises, promises: preliminary notes on “The Promise.”


I, too, saw The Promise.  Here are my comments in response to the rhetoric and sloganeering that has surrounded this movie since its release:

1. Our story… Is this “our story”? An ambitious man from the villages goes to Istanbul in 1915, falls in love with an Armenian woman who is living with her American boyfriend in a hotel and who seems to have no pangs of guilt about sleeping with two men. That’s a fairy tale not our story.

2. must be told…A fairy tale set against the background of a calamity rendered in an epic style. Can “our story” be told within this mixed frame of reference? Is this the best genre(s) and content — sweeping scenes of carnage peppered with closeups, beautiful sunsets, and tantalizing Istanbul high life a la Masterpiece Theatre?

3. So that the world will know…The world will know what after having seen this movie? That a genocide was perpetrated on the Armenians. Ok. But why? That is not answered, unless one reads the Armenians’ Christian religiosity and goodness in the film as the old, hackneyed and lazy notion that we were Christian and they were Muslim. Not a shred of historical context is available for the non-Armenian viewer.

And for the Armenian viewers who “know” something about our story: That is the most problematic part of the PR-driven comments. Why is it that we want to see the blood and gore over and over–on large and small screens, on book and CD covers? What psychological force pushes us to that, what jouissance do we extract from it?

4. For closure… If a Hollywood production is our path to closure, then our “cause” is in real, real trouble. And what closure? That silly psychological term which has lost all meaning through over-use and over-extension. Couple that with the trivialization of the word trauma, and you have a perfect PR line which rings more hollow with each passing attempt at proving to ourselves that it happened to us.

5. For recognition: We have convinced ourselves that in the cultural realm, the more frequently we show the images, the more explicitly we do that, and the more we talk about it in gruesome ways, the more we increase the chances of the recognition. There is a word for this mode of visual and verbal representation, for this kind of thinking; it shall remain unsaid here.

6. Well, at least it’s done; it’s out there: It’s done, yes–and I have not yet said anything about the movie as a movie, which is the fate of even a second-rate production: to be out there in the world and become a subject of analysis. Not in our case. Our national obsession does not allow for that kind of debate not for this movie, not for all the “genocide art” and “genocide literature” that we have produced over the years. They are there only as parts of the arsenal of cultural productions proving that it happened, as instruments.

End of story.


About Taline Voskeritchian

Writing teacher at Boston University; translator (from Arabic and Armenian); prose writer; occasional editor; incurable wanderer.
This entry was posted in Armenians, Cinéphilia and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Promises, promises: preliminary notes on “The Promise.”

  1. David Boyajian says:

    “The Promise” is just one film, and was never meant as the sole vehicle to tell others about the Armenian Genocide.

    It is merely one of hundreds of thousands of political, social, legal, and media vehicles that Armenians have deployed over the last many years.

    As for the use of the word “obsession”:

    Besides our Genocide’s being a matter of history and restorative justice, it also alerts us to the ongoing dangers faced by Armenia and Artsakh from 80 million Turks (whose country has threatened Armenia and blockaded it and was about to invade Armenia in 1993) and 10 million Azeris (whose country, invented in 1918, wishes to take over a land (Artsakh) that is historically and demographically Armenian and which Azerbaijan has persecuted).

    • Thank you for your comment, David Boyajian.
      Yes, true it is just one film–but one which has been in the making, so to speak, for many, many years, whose budget is staggering for any film.These two factors make it a movie whose ambitions are extraordinary.
      Obsession is the end of reason, the point at which reasons faces a barricade, the place where thinking–critical, reflective, what have you–comes to a stop.

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