Monday, November 12, 2007

Film Review: "Into Great Silence"

An edited transcription from a public email discussion of “Into Great Silence” indicates that this film is a winner: director Philip Groening's study of the Grande Chartreuse monastery.This is the opening email, written by Father R. and talks about the main character of the movie. Keep in mind that the film is silent, with subtitles, and that it took sixteen years for the filmmaker to receive permission to film the inner life of the monastery. Father R. writes in his message:

“Fr. Laurence Freeman…made a fascinating point, that the major character of the whole is the mysterious God, there everywhere: in the monks, in the hallways and the church, out in the fields. And the implication is that God should be the main character in our lives, in our hallways and church and fields.”

The life of a monk is one dedicated to God. “Into Great Silence” documents the events in the life of monks who live in a Carthusian monastery in France. The DVD I own has two disks, with the second disk containing a statement by Cardinal Pupard, (that is an added attraction and insightful words on the cultural merits of "Into Great Silence"). There are other interesting commentaries on the second disk. Regarding the film, which is on the first disk, I found this a powerful film.

In response to Father R., I wrote in my public email:

“Dear Father R.
"I like what you say about the film ("Into Great Silence"), for it is so apparent and yet not noticed as you've said: The mysterious God. That's part of the mystery. Thanks for the surprising observation.The photography (cinematography) is excellent, so artistic and spare, adding to the silence and simplicity. The director captures the pace of life in the monastery effectively. It helps in viewing the film. Many fine shots, like stills. This is a good documentary, and a work of art.I received my 2 CD set as a birthday gift, bought from The experience of watching the film helps me to fill out the sense of community and relationship between monks and with God. I'm lucky to be reading Aquinata Bockmann, "Expanding Our Hearts in Christ, Perspectives on the Rule of Saint Benedict." Film is a powerful help to the imagination, and this film brings outa sense of lives committed to Christ. For not only is that a message in this film, it is also a message of Sister Bockmann’s book.”

There are many special moments in this film: the changing of the seasons, the rhythm of daily life through the seasons, and even the faces of the monks looking into the camera. This series of portraits is in itself interesting. During the email discussion, Anne wrote of her delight and interest in seeing the faces of the monks:

In response to the power the film held for this religious woman, Anne a viewer of the film, said:

“What they seemed to be saying to me was -- We have found it: the thing everyone in the world looks for, the deepest longing of every human heart: we have discovered it. Their faces radiate a celestial joy and a peace from beyond themselves. Something in my soul reached back out to them in longing and recognition and love. It's a moment that makes your heart whisper a long 'yes.'”

She saw in the film men fulfilling their lives. This is a positive film, filled with a kind of awe. The awe is in the life of these monks, as how they live and what they do in their prayers and dedication. It is in their peace, and their connectedness to the Almighty.

For the individual or group interested in religious subjects, wanting to learn more about life in a monastery, or what it is to dedicate one’s life to Christ, this film is an excellent choice. For film buffs interested in an artistic and visually beautiful film, this is an excellent choice. For seekers of God who wish to see what a group of people are like who make God primary in their lives, this choice of film is helpful and edifying. In fact, in its form, style, and method, this is an edifying film.

--Peter Menkin, Pentecost 2007 (November)

This review is posted on

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