While online movie rating systems have never been one hundred percent reliable, recent clashes between fans and critics around the blockbuster movies of the summer have further confirmed that audiences are growing increasingly distrustful of online scores, favoring the recommendations of their peers to decide if a movie was worth seeing or not.
Still, a lot of people will check sites such as IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes to get an indicator of a movie's quality — but while the latter distinguishes critics based on the publication they write for, the former can be contributed to by anyone.
The Online Ratings For The Promise Look Suspicious
What does that have to do with #ThePromise, the movie starring Christian Bale, Oscar Isaac and Charlotte Le Bon that premiered at this year's Toronto International Film Festival? The movie sports a mediocre 4.1/10 rating on IMDb, but before you give up on watching it, take a look at the breakdown of the reviews below:
Out of 86,704 votes, 55,126 gave the movie 1/10 and 30,639 awarded it 10/10, then add to that the fact that this movie hasn't been screened anywhere else than at TIFF in September yet. Meanwhile on YouTube, the comments on the trailer are disabled and the number of likes and dislikes is hidden. Is this the sign of a movie hated with a passion by fans, such as the Ghostbusters reboot, or could it be targeted for different reasons?
What Is The Promise About?
In order to understand why The Promise seems to be under attack by online reviewers before it has even been released anywhere in the world, it's crucial to break down the plot and the true events it was based on. The IMDb summary sells the story as a love triangle between an American journalist (played by Bale) and two young Armenians (Isaac and Le Bon), but there's a much grimmer background to their relationship.
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The story takes place during a defining era for Armenians, namely the end of the Ottoman Empire — most of which has become Turkey today — where the Armenian genocide took place before and during World War I. Most of us are familiar with the Holocaust, during which the Nazi regime sought to exterminate the Jews of Europe, but the Armenian genocide is unfortunately still too rarely acknowledged and discussed.
The Bleak History Of The Armenian Genocide Needs To Be Acknowledged
While the oppression of the Armenian population, mostly of Christian belief, had been recurrent under the Muslim Ottoman rule since the mid-19th century, abuse of Armenians took a turn for the worse in the years of World War I. On April 24, 1915, around 250 Armenian intellectuals who had been advocating for better treatment of the Armenian minority were deported to Ankara, officials claiming that they were a threat to the empire in the war. Most of them were murdered shortly thereafter.
But those speaking out weren't the only ones targeted: An actual "Temporary Law of Deportation" granted the Ottoman government the rights to deport anyone considered a threat to national security. Meanwhile, Armenian soldiers were withdrawn from the ranks of the Ottoman army, and women, children and elder men were rounded up and sent to march through the Syrian desert without any supplies or possibility to rest. Thousands died on the road, and surviving the trip wasn't a sign of hope either: The remaining ones were brutally murdered, some of them burned alive. In 1915, the New York Times wrote:
The roads and the Euphrates [river] are strewn with corpses of exiles, and those who survive are doomed to certain death. It is a plan to exterminate the whole Armenian people.
It's a short summary for such a complex and gruesome event, but in the end it's been established that around 1.5 million Armenians lost their lives.
Denial: A Different Kind Of Censorship
Yet to this day, the Turkish government has refused to call the event a "genocide" — even though the creator of the term, Raphael Lemkin, said he was inspired by the Armenian tragedy when he coined it in 1943. Turkey's denial and strategic position in the Middle East has led other countries to subtly avoid acknowledging the event as a "genocide," including the United States, the United Kingdom and Israel.
If these governments are still refusing to deem the extermination of the Armenian population a crime against humanity, it's not surprising that a movie with a popular cast and an inviting love story wouldn't be so welcome in theaters. While we can't verify who's trying to bring down the ratings of The Promise, Reddit user eye2eyemusic pointed out that this was the kind of measure the Turkish government was capable of taking, and explained how important it was that this movie be given its chance to succeed:
As Armenians, we have not really had movies like 'Schindler's List' and 'Life is Beautiful' to put the Armenian Genocide in the media forefront. I would really like to see this movie succeed. I find the behavior of the Turkish Government to be atrocious, but from my seat, the only way I can correct this type of behavior is to call it out and direct people's attention to it.
Whether or not the movie is good is beside the point: What matters is that it could help raise awareness on a chapter of history that has been buried for way too long. Although it appears to heavily romanticize the story, it could still help shed some light on the horrors inflicted on the Armenian population, and maybe even more than a simple documentary. The attractive heroes and the emotional romance might just help sell the movie.
The Promise doesn't have a release date yet, but stay tuned!