Oscar Isaac is known the world over by his Star Wars name, Poe Dameron, but in his new movie The Promise, the actor trades in war in space for war in history. In The Promise, Isaac plays Mikael, an Armenian man who gets caught in the middle of the Armenian Genocide of the early 20th Century. The movie is based in very real events — the Armenian Genocide really did take place from 1915-1922 — but was Mikael in The Promise a real person? No. In fact, some could argue that The Promise is, overall, really more fiction than fact.
The Promise confronts a very real time in our history that far too many people have chosen to forget. The Armenian Genocide, perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire, killed over one million Armenian people, and yet many major governments, including the United States and Turkey, refuse to acknowledge its existence. But, while the Armenian Genocide was a real event that affected many young men like Mikael in The Promise, the character isn't based on any one person. Instead, Mikael was created by writers Robin Swicord and Terry George in an effort to represent the victims of the Armenian Genocide and give them an onscreen hero.
George, who also directed the film, understood from experience that, when making a film based in serious historic events, it's best that even the fictional story lines have a basis in reality. "I've learned from films like In the Name of the Father and Hotel Rwanda that everything you put on screen has to be fastidiously researched," George said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. "Even the fictional scenes that are woven throughout the real events and the real people you're portraying can't just be made up." Based on George's statements, it stands to reason that, even though Mikael the character isn't based on any one real person, his struggle in the film is very much based in reality.
With its fictional main characters and fabricated love triangle — Mikael is in love with Ana who is with an American journalist named Chris — The Promise is perhaps more of a romantic, historical fiction than a ripped from the headlines true story. But that helps to add another aspect of reality to Mikael's character. After all, there's a reason the love triangle trope is so common in film: it's true to life. Mikael's romantic journey is just as real as anyone who has fallen in love with someone unavailable. Besides, what is reality if not a matter of perspective?