In the film, a group of French, Christian monks have been living in a small village in Algeria. They offer medicine and welfare to their community, and practice their faith with discipline.
In the time the film was set, Algeria is experiencing a run of insurgent and terrorist acts from the Jemaah Islamiyah group, who are killing Christian people who have migrated to the area.
The monks, who hear of these brutal slayings through the grapevine, begin fearing they will soon be targeted. They discuss the idea of leaving the monastery, and fleeing home to France. They can’t reach agreement on what to do and so stay, in deep fear about the outcome that will surely befall them.
Soon after, they are visited by the terrorists who are seeking medical assistance for a few of their men. The monks discuss their issues and ideas about this, and turn the men away – not because they don’t wish to help them but because they cannot survive the travel to the remote areas the injured men are located.
When the monks were confronted by the scenario they feared the most, they dealt with it only as they knew how – by being as honest and compassionate as they could be.
From this moment on in the film, the monks find a new peace with life. They embrace each other and their daily chores, delighting in the serenity such simple pleasures bring. The prospect of slaughter still hangs over their heads, as ever present as before their visit. Yet they find that what once terrified them now holds a different meaning. They find they learn more about each other and of what their life has meant to them. And they continue to grow and embrace that, even amongst the fear they continue to feel.
I have thought a lot since about how the things we fear most; be it loss of job, separation from a partner or even death itself, are often more real in thought than in practice. We can consume ourselves thinking about them, giving our attention to them every day. But the lesson I’ve taken from the film is that it’s much more enlightening to carry on with your life, paying attention to the smallest of joys and tasks.
I won’t discuss the film any more than that, but it’s well worth seeing if you find yourself with a spare night. In the mean time, I’m going to try to keep my thoughts and actions focussed in the present.