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.