A Promise Only Partly Kept

In my last blog post, I said that I would be going back to my usual articles about history. Well, it seems I’ve only partially kept my promise. I mean, I am reviewing a movie about history, and I have to talk about that history to explain the movie. That counts, right?

In a similar vein, The Promise was supposed to be Hollywood’s definitive take on the Armenian genocide, a horrible event in world history that few people know about, in large part because of a very successful century-long cover up by the Turkish government. It was supposed to go down as one of the great historical drama films, the 21st century’s answer to Schindler’s List. Instead, we got a movie that is definitely about the Armenian genocide, except when it’s not, and definitely a very good movie, but not a great one.

Odds are fairly strong that many of the people reading this blog had never heard of the Armenian Genocide, so I’m going to try to summarize the main points as well as I can.

The Ottoman Turkish Empire once dominated the eastern Mediterranean; in the 16th century, it wrapped around the coast from Algeria to Hungary, ruling over most of the Middle East, North Africa, and southeastern Europe. This empire was incredibly diverse, home to Arabs, Turks, Persians, Slavs, Greeks, Armenians, Jews, and many, many other groups. Islam was the official religion, and the Ottoman Sultan claimed the religious title of Caliph, or successor to the Prophet Mohammed and leader of all Muslims. However, there were also a great many Christians in the Empire, who only had limited freedom and were subject to discrimination.

In the 19th century, western powers such as Russia, France, and the UK began intervening in the weakening Ottoman Empire’s affairs, carving out valuable lands as colonies, helping minority groups such as the Greeks, Romanians, Bulgarians and Serbians achieve independence, and forcing the Ottomans to give Christian minorities greater rights. To save itself, the empire attempted to modernize, becoming a constitutional monarchy dominated by political reform movements such as the Young Turks. When World War I broke out, the Ottomans joined Germany and the other Central Powers, declaring war on the Russians, French and British. The Sultan, acting as Caliph, declared the war a jihad, hoping that this would encourage all Muslims from around the world to rally to the Ottomans’ aid. This didn’t happen, and the war went very poorly for the Ottoman military. Rather than face their failings, the Turkish leadership accused the Christians of the Empire of spying for the enemy, and began a series of mass arrests.

This was to be the start of a downhill slide into madness, as the Ottoman military rounded up millions of Armenians, Greeks, and other Christians. Many were forced to work as slaves, and most were simply massacred. Most scholars estimate 1.5 million Armenians, half a million Greeks, and 150,000 to 300,000 Assyrians were killed. Yet, more than a century later, the Turkish government refuses to acknowledge that this genocide ever happened. Generations of Turks have grown up being taught in schools that such talk is nothing but lies by anti-Turkish Westerners. Sure, Turkey claims, there were people killed on both sides, but nowhere near the numbers claimed. Investigative reporters and scholars who go to Turkey trying to dig up evidence of the genocide are penalized for doing so by Turkish authorities. As a NATO member, key U.S. ally, and one of the wealthiest and most powerful nations in the Middle East, Turkey has been able to bully many governments around the world from officially calling these events a “genocide”, including that of the United States.

Even Hollywood has been cowed by Turkey into remaining silent; prior to The Promise, two previous attempts by American filmmakers to make a movie about the genocide were shut down after Turkish pressure. Even The Promise almost wasn’t made. It was only through the intervention and funding provided by wealthy Armenian-American Kirk Kerkorian that it was able to be finished and released.

To its credit, the film does a remarkable job portraying these historical events. It is very intelligent and even-handed in its portrayal. We see these horrors through the eyes of ordinary people, caught up in events much larger than themselves that they can’t fully understand. We see both sides’ points of view, we see the life that Armenians had in the Empire before these horrible events, and we are shown that not all Turks supported the genocide, with some trying to do what they can to resist. We see how different people responded to being attacked by their neighbors and hunted by the military. We see tragedy and acts of heroism. It’s all very powerful, and I won’t deny crying during certain scenes.

Which is why it was so jarring and infuriating when all of it came to a screeching halt time and time again throughout the movie for the romance subplot. Look, I get that these horrors of history are very dark and very disturbing. Having something to break it up was important for the audience’s sake. But did they have to go with the love triangle? The most overused cliche in the past decade? It’s not even a well-executed or interesting love triangle subplot!

Our main character is Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac), an Armenian pharmacist in a small village who is able to go to medical school in Constantinople because of a dowry he received when he promised to marry a local girl (Angela Sarafyan). Upon his arrival in the Empire’s capital, he meets Emre Ogan, a young, privileged Turkish medical student (Marwan Kenzari); Ana Khesarian, a beautiful teacher who has traveled the world and is looking to settle down (Charlotte Le Bon), and Chris Myers, an American reporter (Christian Bale).

Ana and Chris are clearly an item, and they are clearly living together, even though they are not married. In 1914. Okay, that doesn’t ring true.

Then, Mikael and Ana fall in love. Mikael refuses to marry Ana because of his promise to marry the local village girl back home. But he apparently has no problem sleeping with Ana? Wait, what? And Chris seems to be mostly okay with this and is totally best friends with Mikael? None of this makes sense!

By the way, I’m not kidding when I say the film stops to focus on the love triangle. It literally feels like the movie is interrupting itself to say, “Oh, yeah, sorry, I know you just saw lots of people dying, but we need to drop everything so we can see how these lovebirds resolve their drama.” It’s just so frustrating, because the movie does so well when it’s focused on the main plot and so poorly when it’s focused on the subplot.

Look, I want to like this movie more than I do. It has powerful scenes, intense drama, well-executed action, good special effects, and great cinematography. Even the acting is exceptional from everyone involved. It’s just that the one subplot throws everything off. It’s like a rock chained to a bird’s legs as it flies, keeping it from soaring as high as it could.

The Promise is a good movie, but it just feels like it could have been a great movie if it weren’t for the one crucial flaw. But I’m not here to review what the movie could have been.

7 out of 10.

Lessons Learned from Moving

As I was growing up, my family moved numerous times, and I ended up living in four states. However, as I was starting my freshman year of high school, my family planted itself in coastal California and stayed put. I would live in the same house for the next 15 years. So, when the time came for me to move once again, it had been so long that I had largely forgotten many aspects of moving. Plus, I am now a full-grown adult and not a child, so my experience would be completely different anyway. It’s one thing to be moved, it’s another to be responsible for planning and executing every aspect of the move. Along the way, I learned a few lessons, and I figured I might as well share some of the things I learned.

It’s always a bigger job than you first assume

I knew, roughly, what I was going to be taking with me to my new place. My bed, some of my furniture, some art on my walls, my books, my clothes, and my computer and printer. Piece of cake.

Until I actually began to pack, and quickly discovered that I had far more to go through than I initially planned. No sooner had I started packing my books than I discovered I still had my old college textbooks, boxes (plural!) of board games I played as a kid, some golf equipment, an unused clarinet and book on how to play it, and even a whole collection of audiobooks on cassette tape!

Who here actually remembers these guys?

It was a huge job going through all of that and sorting out what I was going to keep and what I was going to put out for yard sale. Then it got worse. All of that digging through things I forgot I owned unleashed hordes of dust monsters across my room. I exaggerate, of course, but I ended up having to go through more than a dozen dusting cloths and vacuuming some hard-to-reach areas multiple times.

Eventually, I managed to get it all packed, loaded onto a U-Haul, and unloaded at my new place. That’s when the real job began: unpacking everything I had just packed!

I now had to find places for everything, and that proved to be an even tougher challenge. Even after downsizing as much as I could manage beforehand, I still was cramming things in odd spaces because I didn’t have room for them where I intended to put them.

For example, I got a new bookshelf from Wayfair for my books, but when I finished assembling it, I quickly discovered that my many larger-sized books simply wouldn’t fit on it, so I had to get creative about finding places for the big books. That’s why all of my cookbooks are on a shelf in my kitchen.

The aforementioned kitchen. And yes, I am using this blog post as an excuse to show off my new place.

Speaking of Wayfair…

I officially love Wayfair now

I didn’t just get my bookshelf from Wayfair, I got my desk and chair from them as well.

Yep. Still showing off my place.

In both cases, I picked Wayfair because of their low, low prices compared to brick-and-mortar furniture stores. I mean, have you seen how expensive furniture is? Wayfair’s prices were usually about half of what I was seeing at the furniture stores on sale. The things I ordered arrived in giant, heavy boxes wrapped in bubble wrap and stuffed with Styrofoam. They arrived in pieces and had to be assembled.

This is where those savings come in… the extra you pay at the furniture store goes toward your custom-built pieces being brought in on a moving truck as fully assembled furnishings. That’s why I decided to spend the extra to buy my sofa and dining room table at the furniture store. But a desk, chair, and bookshelf? Yeah, I figured, I could assemble those. The desk and chair came together quite nicely. The bookshelf, on the other hand, was missing an important piece. I went digging through all the boxes and all the Styrofoam, and still saw no sign of the missing piece. I had to put a stop to what I was doing and call Wayfair.

Customer service, in my experience, isn’t about what you do when things go right, it’s about what you do when they go wrong. I have to say, I was super impressed with how Wayfair handled my issue. They immediately shipped me the missing piece, and it arrived before the week had ended. I was thrilled to finally be able to assemble my bookshelf!

Contrast that with the furniture store. All I wanted was an estimate on when the sofa and dining room table would arrive. I ordered them in mid-March, and I waited until early April to ask. I called three times, and each time, I was promised that I would get a call back later that day or the next day. Each time, I never heard back. At last, I had to actually walk in the store again to get my answer. They still haven’t arrived, by the way. So, no, I think in the future I’ll be doing much more business with Wayfair.

You will always forget something

I had several people help me move, for which I an truly grateful. It would have been a much bigger, more difficult job without their help. One of the nice things my mother and aunt each did for me was help to make sure I was well-stocked with food and basic necessities (scissors, pens, paper, silverware, pots and pans, etc.) before I moved in. Add to that the various items I knew I would need and bought for myself, I was confident that I had everything I needed.

I was wrong.

It’s amazing the little things you take for granted until the moment you need them. About four days after my move, I noticed my fingernails were getting a bit long, and thought, “Well, I’ll just clip them when I get home.” Then I remembered… I have no nail clippers! So, I had to make a trip to the store. A few days later, I was getting ready to hang my TV wall mount and pictures up, then I realized I had no stud finder. Another trip to the store. While preparing to cook dinner one night, I discovered I was missing a particular size of pot that the recipe called for. And so on and so on.

Bringing a cat with is tricky… and heart-wrenching

Of course I was going to be bringing Winkin with me to the new home! I’m CAT Flag, after all!

Actually getting her here, though, was a challenge. Not in terms of putting her in a pet carrier and driving her over, that was easy. No, it was the fact that she meowed and howled the whole way. It was completely heartbreaking to listen to her panic like that. I felt like a terrible person! Here I was, taking her from the only home she had ever known and bringing her to a completely new and strange environment.

Luckily, my mother is something of an expert on cats, and I also was able to find helpful online guides on how to move cats. Some key pointers:

  • Have a designated “cat room” pre-prepared. This will be the room with the litter box, scratching post, food and water dishes, and other familiar cat things. Keep the cat in there at first, especially while you are going in and out with boxes and furnishings. The less commotion the cat has to deal with (and the less likelihood it will try to escape and run away), the better.
  • Keep as much of the cat’s daily routine the same as possible. Keep feeding it and giving it fresh water at the same time each day, change its litter at the same time each day, bring as many of the cat’s old objects as possible and don’t get new ones unless you must.
  • Spend time playing and interacting with the cat to keep it calm.
  • Let the cat out of the cat room gradually once the initial unpacking is done. Let it out a little at a time, letting the cat explore its new environment at its own pace. Encourage exploration, but don’t push things too fast. If your intent is to have the cat be outdoors, keep it indoors for a few weeks first to minimize the risk it will run away.

Even so, she spent the better part of a week acting like she was traumatized. She didn’t eat or drink for two days, and then she would only do so at night. She spent all day hiding under the bed or under the bathroom sink. I brought her a cat toy and went to play with her, and she even acted scared of that! I was very worried.

However, after about a week or so, she was feeling much more comfortable and I’m glad to say that today she’s back to her old, happy self! She’s eating and drinking like normal, she plays all the time (when she’s not napping), and she’s even taking a liking to sleeping on my bed. Or the middle of the floor.

I’ve now had a couple of weeks to settle into my new home, and I am really enjoying it. I think this move will prove to be a very positive step forward. It’s been a bit of an adjustment, but I’m already starting to feel like this new place is home. Once again, to those who helped with this big project, thank you. I really appreciate it.

Next time, back to odd historical facts!