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Of Gods and Men - Study Guide for RE

By Brendan O'Regan, Arklow CBS.

Of Gods and Men (2010) is an award winning French film by Xavier Beauvois that tells the true story of a group of Cistercian monks living and working in a poor community in North Africa. Their work comes under threat from Islamic terrorists as political tensions rise in the area.

It's an absorbing and moving film - at times it is quite slow, matching the rhythm of the monks' lives, and may not hold the attention of the class for long periods. Fortunately there are many fine scenes, short set pieces that effectively illustrate many of themes that feature in RE classes. The film is especially useful at TY and Senior Cycle - there are complex issues of faith and the rating is over-15, probably because of the portrayal of a very violent assault on foreign workers. Note that scene timings given below are approximate.

The topic of social justice is also to the fore as the monks work generously with the local Muslim community, especially providing medical attention. Some early scenes (e.g. from 6:25 to 7:34) show Dr Luc, one of the monks tending to queues of locals at his monastery clinic.

The theme of community is evident on at least two levels. Firstly there's the monastic community itself with all its rituals and its sense of mission, the human relationships and conflicts - in a few key scenes the monks debate whether they should leave for their own safety or stay to fulfil their mission with the people (e.g. 27:27 - 29:15). About two thirds of the way through there's a wonderful image of solidarity as the monks huddle together and sing while a military helicopter hovers over the chapel (1:28:58 - 1:31:12). There is also the local community, ordinary Muslims eking out an existence and not too happy with the tensions and fears brought about the activities of terrorists. The two communities come together early in the film as the monks attend a local Muslim celebration (10:08 - 13:40).

For exploring the topic of ritual there are many scenes of the monks at their prayers (collectively and individually) and hymns (e.g. the opening scene, or the Christmas crib ritual at 43 min:16 sec - 45:02 - see clip on left). These are sparse, largely visual and often musical.

Some scenes may be useful for the study of Islam and inter-faith dialogue. There is one particularly tense scene where the terrorists arrive at the monastery demanding supplies (36:23 - 41:52). This scene will probably have the students riveted because of the strong sense of threat, but there's also an interesting exchange about Christianity and Islam between the terrorist leader and the Abbot.

There's a most striking scene about three quarters way through the film - a beautiful example of table fellowship (1:39:40 - 1:43:06). As the monks dine, it's reminiscent of the Last Supper. With great compassion the camera pans across the faces of the monks as their emotions change at the thought of what is to come.

The DVD is readily available for purchase online (eg , etc) and there are clips and trailers on YouTube. For more background and opinion check out the film's entry at and the review at