Longing for the Promised Land

Review of The Syrian Bride, Directed by Eran Riklis

By KENDRICK KUO

Not a terribly famous movie, The Syrian Bride is mainly in Arabic with occasional Hebrew and is directed by an Israeli. The very context of the film is fascinating. It takes place in the Golan Heights, a hotly contested area between Israel and Syria, where residents have an “undefined” nationality. Mona, a young Druze woman, is arranged to marry a famous Syrian actor, knowing that to cross into Syria means that she will never be able to return.

The story takes place after Syrian President Hafez al-Assad has died, and his son, the current President Bashar al-Assad, has ascended to take his father’s place. Demonstrators flood the streets of Golan Heights to show their solidarity with the Syrians and their desire to be united with the north. And it is on a day of massive marches that Mona is getting married.

Mona’s father is a pro-Syrian activist who has spent time in an Israeli prison for his work. One of her brothers has married a Russian woman and thus is an outcast from the village. Her other brother is a worldly businessman who cuts shady deals and apparently lives in Italy. Mona’s sister, Amal, is her closest friend, and in many ways Amal is the main character, overshadowing Mona. Amal’s daughter is in a relationship with a boy that Amal’s husband disapproves of, while Amal herself is seeking to enter a social work program in an Israeli university despite her husband’s opposition.

A Study of the Modern Family

The days are far-gone when it was the norm for someone to grow up, get married, and grow old, all in the same city. This is not only the case in the United States; globalization has affected the lives of many around the world. The dysfunction in Mona’s family largely stems from this issue of conflicting identities. What the film teaches, however, is that family trumps nationality. At the end of the film, the schism between Mona’s Russian-marrying brother and her father is bridged and the broken relationship between Amal and her husband is somewhat mended.

This unity in diversity is a mark of the modern family and the mark of a healthy church. The gaping differences between family members cannot undermine the bedrock of their commitment to one another. In the same way, Christians are united in Christ and, despite their significant differences, they are utterly committed to one another.

The Persistence of Geography

The Christian vision of paradise is God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule. We still await that day when we will reside in that city whose architect is God, that Heavenly Jerusalem. In the United States, I think it’s easy for us to not have a true sense of location, of geographic gravity. We pick up and move as needed. We may miss our friends, but we don’t broadly feel an organic unity with the location itself, beyond sentimental attachment or love for a city’s unique culture or benefits.

And yet, in many places, geography still matters a big deal. Maybe we’ve lost this sense since our border disputes have long been settled and we now consider the internationalist as sophisticated while the inward-focused as a jingoist (I’m clearly painting in broad strokes here). In any case, developing countries maintain a strong sense of “place,” which is reminiscent of what we read in Scripture.

The Syrian Bride presents a moving account of the heart-wrenching emotions that beset someone torn away from her homeland. It reminded me of the scene in The Kite Runner where the main character’s father scoops up some of the soil from Afghanistan to take with him as he flees invading Russians. In the same way, Christians wait for God to bring them into the Promised Land, as the Hebrews did in the Old Testament. Though the Christian does not long for a place in this fallen world, the Christian should still cultivate a yearning for that “Happy Land far, far away, where saints in glory stand, bright, bright as day.”


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