This past weekend, Rick and I watched what was perhaps the most moving, fact-based movie we have ever seen. The honesty and emotional depth contained in this riveting film should rank it among the classics in film making.
Recommended to us by fellow blogger, Luis, Beyond the Gates is a must see for anyone who truly comprehends the value of human life and liberty, and who genuinely wants to contain, if not eradicate, the kind of evil that is represented by those in this world who gain pleasure by causing indescribable torment for their fellow man.
Released in Europe in 2005 under the title Shooting Dogs (reflecting the fact that UN peacekeepers used to shoot local dogs that fed on the decomposing bodies of genocide victims), Beyond the Gates is the story, told in microcosm, of one of the most despicable human-on-human atrocities of our lifetime: the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
Referring to the power of man's free will, the film opens in silence with the following script:
One of the two main characters, Joe Connor, is a young, idealistic Englishman, bent on ‘making a difference’, who has accepted a year-long post as a teacher at Ecole Technique Officielle, a high school in Kigali, Rwanda.
The other main character is Father Christopher, a Catholic priest who has lived in Africa for three decades – a caring, compassionate man who provides affirmation, love and spiritual guidance for the students at the school, and their families.
Father Christopher insists on maintaining the spiritual essence at the school, even as the situation outside its walls turns increasingly brutal. As persecuted refugees enter the school compound, seeking the protection offered by the United Nations peacekeepers stationed there, Father Christopher remains calm and affirming, and insists on serving mass at the usual times, as though nothing outside of the school or church walls has changed. The Father has lived through coups before, but he soon realizes that the brutality occurring outside his walls goes far beyond anything he has ever witnessed.
John Hurt’s performance as Father Christopher is every bit as commanding as that of any ‘best actor’ academy award winner in history.
Nearly 2,500 persecuted refugees eventually take up residence within the school compound walls. All the while, bloodthirsty, machete- and medieval-skull-mace-wielding killers are congregating, in ever larger numbers, beyond the gates, taunting those inside, and brutally massacring others who are unfortunate enough to pass by.
Upon witnessing a new mother, and her newborn child, falling victim to a horde of machete-wielding murderers outside the gate, Connor, trembling, looks to Father Christopher for some kind of spiritual comfort or reassurance:
- How much pain can a human being take, do you think? I mean, if you feel enough pain does everything just shut down before you die? ‘Cause you’d think that, wouldn’t you? You’d think there’d be some … um … something in the design, you know … some shut-off valve, if you feel enough pain?
Also within the school compound is the small contingent of Belgian U.N. peacekeepers, who encircle the compound with sandbags, and station themselves as sentries – weapons pointed at the growing crowd of armed, bloodthirsty lunatics surrounding them.
As the brutality outside the gates and across the entire nation escalates, the U.N. forces throughout the country, rather than coming to the aid of the brutalized, simply sit back and obey their mandate not to ‘interfere’, but simply to ‘monitor’ the fragile ‘peace’.
Finally, massive U.N. trucks enter the compound with orders to evacuate … only those blessed to have white skin.
The refugees find themselves abandoned by the world … surrounded by madness.
As the U.N. forces, and the school’s staff, prepare to board the trucks for evacuation, one of the refugee Tutsi fathers approaches the U.N.’s Belgian Captain:
- Captain, I have a polite request. It is from all of us. The people of Kicukiro and the refugees of the school.
[Reading from a paper]: We are all fathers, mothers, sons, daughters. We are all one family now. And it is as one family that we wish to die.
Therefore, we politely request that, before you leave us, your soldiers use their guns to kill us. We do not wish to be killed by machete. The bullets will kill us all quickly and there will be much less pain.
Captain: I’m sorry. I cannot agree to your request.
Tutsi Father: Please. If not for us, then please spare the children the pain.
Captain: I am sorry.
Tutsi Father: Please, just the children!
Captain: I cannot help you.
Father Christopher did not evacuate with the other whites, but stayed behind with the refugees. When asked why, he replied:
- You asked me, Joe, ‘Where is God in everything that is happening here … in all this suffering?’
I know exactly where He is. He’s right here … with these people … suffering.
His love is here, more intense and profound than I have ever felt. And my heart is here, Joe … my soul. If I leave, I think I may not find it again.
On April 11, 1994 more than 2,500 Rwandans, abandoned by the U.N. at Ecole Technique Officielle, were murdered by extremist militias.
Between April and July of that year, more than 800,000 Rwandans were killed in the nationwide genocide.
Fade to a Clinton staff member responding to reporters’ questions:
- Reporter: Is it true that you have specific guidance not to use the word ‘genocide’ in isolation, but always to preface it with the words ‘acts of’?
Staff Member: Um … I have guidance which … uh, which … which I try to use as best as I can. I’m not … I have, uh … there are formulations that we are using that we are trying to be consistent in our use of. Um, I don’t have a … an absolute, categorical prescription against something. But I have the … the definitions. I have phraseology which has been carefully examined and arrived at … as best to … as best as we can apply to exactly the situation.
Reporter: How many ‘acts of genocide’ does it take to make a genocide?
Staff Member: Uh, Adam, that’s just not a question that I’m in a position to answer. Clearly, not all of the killings that have taken place in … uh … Rwanda … uh … are killings to which you might apply that label.
It is up to the rest of us to see to it that the black evil that has occurred in places such as 1994 Rwanda is confined, if not eradicated. Refusing to do so, or turning a blind eye to the suffering of others, renders us every bit as guilty as those who wield the machetes.
I urge every reader here ... every American … to see this movie.
Don’t argue that you cannot abide witnessing the violence. Such shallow arguments mirror the media who refuse to show us that of which the terrorists are capable. They want us to sit in our easy chairs, lulled into complacency, considering ourselves somehow walled-off from those who see it as their destiny to torment and enslave.
And, when you see this movie, think long and hard about the gruesome fate that befell those 2,500 refugees inside those compound walls after the United Nations abandoned them. Then reflect on Iraq, where coalition forces are accomplishing minor miracles every day, and yet the United States congress, and the front-runner for the United States presidency, intend to withdraw American troops and prevent complete victory. Sadly, the prevention of a hard-won victory, and the declaration that those who sacrificed to obtain it will have died in vain, may well prove to be the second most powerful tragedy occurring after withdrawal. The bloodbath that will follow will have the potential to make the killing fields of Cambodia pale in comparison.