Friday, July 06, 2007

Integrate Silence

Sometimes movies (among other things) pop into your life, seemingly by chance, and then persistently bore their way into your consciousness until you have no choice but to submit to the arising. I first read about Into Great Silence in an in-flight magazine on my way to New Zealand, and then Jenifer heard about it somewhere, and then suddenly it was showing at the Colonial Theatre, a local old-fashioned movie house. And thus we ended up seeing a fascinating film that will likely slip under the usual machinery of promotion.

A documentary on Carthusian monks dwelling in the French Alps isn’t exactly the concept you’d want to have to pitch. Indeed, filmmaker Philip Gröning waited 16 years for permission from the order to film its monks for a year. He was allowed to do so under strict dictates: no narration, no music, no artificial lighting. Only ambient sound, along with subtitles in French and German.

The monks of the Grande Chartreuse are known for their asceticism. They don’t speak, except after their weekly group meal on Sundays. They spend much of their time in little cells, leaving only to perform the chores necessary to sustain themselves. The film doesn’t investigate, doesn’t provide answers, only witnesses the contemplative life in action. And yet, even at nearly three hours long, it never fails to be interesting. Transformers this isn’t, but it nonetheless reminds us of the reasons we join together in communal solitude, and that any practice, diligently pursued, can be a spiritual path.



Blogger Brett said...

There are surely several reasons I never considered becoming a monk.

Humility, chastity, poverty, silence... the list just keeps growing and growing.

12:07 PM  
Anonymous Eric D. Lehman said...

I already ordered this at Best Video, and the owner seemed quite psyched to hear all about it.

9:49 PM  
Anonymous Eric said...

Finally saw this. Great documentary with some fantastic footage. The best part overall was the "portraits" of the monks. However, I found the lack of structure daunting and disturbing. After all, structure is something that is a HUGE part of the monks' lives. Why not make the documentary a little more structured. Show us a 'day', for example.

That being said, this was a fascinating experience. When they climb the mountain above the monastery, and then that hawk flies through the shot. Wow.

7:33 PM  

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