Monday, July 09, 2007

Into Great Silence


Nestled deep in the postcard-perfect French Alps, the Grande Chartreuse is considered one of the world’s most ascetic monasteries. In 1984, German filmmaker Philip Gröning wrote to the Carthusian order for permission to make a documentary about them. They said they would get back to him. Sixteen years later, they were ready. Gröning, sans crew or artificial lighting, lived in the monks’ quarters for six months—filming their daily prayers, tasks, rituals and rare outdoor excursions. This transcendent, closely observed film seeks to embody a monastery, rather than simply depict one—it has no score, no voiceover and no archival footage. What remains is stunningly elemental: time, space and light. One of the most mesmerizing and poetic chronicles of spirituality ever created, INTO GREAT SILENCE dissolves the border between screen and audience with a total immersion into the hush of monastic life. More meditation than documentary, it’s a rare, transformative theatrical experience for all.

I went to see this film recently and found it to be one of the most challenging films I've ever seen. It is 162 minutes of virtually no sound. I found myself in an emotional struggle between romanticizing the setting, feeling a sadness for the monk's lonely lifestyle, wishing the film would finally end, and a feeling of spiritual inadequacy. There are several scriptures repeatedly inserted in the film, which remind the viewer that we must give up everything to be a disciple of Christ. I couldn't help but thinking about how difficult it was to sit in silence with this film and my thoughts for a few hours, but how these monks give their whole lives to this life of contemplation. What does it mean to give up everything? It seems like so many things are gifts from God. Are we to give those up too? Perhaps some other folks will get around to watching this film eventually. I would love to hear your opinions.

Peace, Jeremy.


Beth said...

A group of us saw it some weeks ago. An amazing, challenging experience. I blogged about it at the time:

geoff and sherry said...

thanks for the review jeremy. it has been showing here in melbourne but we haven't made time to see it. in referene to this and jodie's latest merton post, i feel like i have given up contemplation - especially in the months we have been in australia. not good for me or those i love. thanks again for the review and has given me pause.


Staupostek said...

I found myself captivated by this movie. The lack of narration or dialogue forced your complete attention on what was visible on the screen, be it a monk at prayer or a cat running around. The only noise was that made by the actions or environment you saw on the screen. Their actions and the intermittent scriptures showed that everything happens according to a cycle by which they live. But they are not rushed by this scheduled way of life. The faces of the monks they showed said to me that these are not saints, but only men who are trying to follow God's will for their lives day by day, possibly minute by minute, uninterrupted by those modern "necessities" we all think we can't live without. And since they aren't special beings that we tend to think saints are, it says that we are all capable of living God's will for our lives, if we earnestly seek out that will, and then rely on God to help us live it. I didn't mean to write a novel, but I really liked this movie. The Kentucky Theater ran it for far too short of a my humble opinion.

Pax et Bonum

Alana said...

One thing the silence failed to convey was the prayers that were silently being prayed by the monks. My urge, while watching it, was to enter into those prayers with them: Either by praying the Jesus Prayer or the Rosary.