Saturday, March 19, 2011

Catholic Night at the Movies: “Of Gods and Men”

Back when I helped run a cinema, I developed a proprietary system for rating movies. The Average Stun Factor (ASF)™ is the percentage of movie-watchers who remain seated until the end of the final credits. Some excellent films, anything by Disney for example, have an ASF™ in the range of 0–3 out of a possible 100, and the ≤3 percent stay only to clean up popcorn spills.

In fact, the ASF™ is fundamentally a measure of how much a movie is like a Mass—to what degree your spiritual state is altered, temporarily to be sure, by the experience. I don’t know about you, but when the Mass is ended, I don’t really want to go in peace. I want to stay in peace.

High-ASF films have the same effect. Some examples from my personal all-time-best list are “A Man for All Seasons,” “Breaker Morant,” and “Out of Africa.” Comedies generally have an ASF™ under 10, and love stories rarely top 20. In this regard, “Out of Africa” is unusual. “Seasons” and “Breaker,” by contrast, are typical of ASF chart-busters. They are both about martydom.

(Technical footnote: Any film’s ASF™ should properly be divided by, and so adjusted by, that film’s Credit Watchability Index (CWI)™. You may recall the comedy “The Hangover,” which ran its credits over photos supposedly taken during the drinking bout that led to the hangover itself. Because these images were essentially part of the film, and hilarious, the CWI™ for “The Hangover” was 99+. Therefore, the ASF™ of close to 100 for “The Hangover” is essentially meaningless. End of technical footnote.)

“Of Gods and Men,” by contrast with “The Hangover,” has a CWI that begins in the 30–40 range, but quickly tails off for two reasons: The chanting of monks with which the credits begin soon fades to silence, and the credits are in French, for God’s sake! Who can read them?! In the final analysis, then, while an estimated 75-80 percent of my fellow movie watchers stayed to the end of the credits this afternoon in Bethesda, Maryland, the CWI™-adjusted SF™ was somewhere between 200 and infinity.

(Secondary technical footnote: When a single observation is made, it results, of course, in an SF™, at least two of which are needed to generate an ASF™. End of secondary technical footnote.)

The real-life martyrdom of seven Trappist monks in Algeria in 1996 is not the only reason for this remarkable rating, but it helps. Yet, as my new-found Trappist friend Brother Isaac noted, this film could have gone wrong in countless ways. Instead, it gets almost everything right.

The first thing it got right was the casting of the eight monks. (A ninth arrives late in the film, or just at the wrong moment where his personal safety is concerned.) There is a memorable scene near the end of “Of Gods and Men” that makes you grateful for each of these eight faces, especially that of Jacques Herlin as the elderly Amédée (above left, with the superb Michael Lonsdale as the doctor monk, Luc).

If you are Catholic and conscious, you probably already know more about “Of Gods and Men” than you should before seeing it, so I will not spoil the experience with any more details. Just tell me, please, when you do see it, whether seeing it isn’t quite a bit like going to Mass.


  1. I also read a great review here:

    I wasn't going to see this movie originally bc I thought it'd be too upsetting for me but now I might!

  2. Therese Rita,
    Many thanks for your comment. There is only one graphically violent scene in the film and (sorry if this is a spoiler) it comes early, not late. When you see a road crew working with heavy equipment, you'll know it's time to shield your eyes for about 30 seconds. The "upset" later in the film is profound but not gruesome.


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