Into Great Silence Reviews
This film requires patience, make no mistake about it. And it should be noted that this might not be so much a masterpiece of film making as it is about the experience yourself. And I guess the question is whether you can enter in to that and how you enter in to that which will define what you take away from this. The film seems to bounce around from truly inspirational and humorous (see recreational activities and casual moments of conversation) to what feels to be a completely mundane and arduous viewing process. And this is the true wonder of this documentary is the way that this viewing process is most certainly intended to mimic the reality of the monastic life itself, a life that works hard to set its feet firmly in discipline so as to find true revelation in the midst of the every day and mundane.
One of the most awe inspiring aspects of this film is recognizing how these dedicated monks have given their lives to praying on our behalf. They are in the trenches doing the daily work that many of us fail to do even in small amounts in a given week. It is a true sacrifice, and one that they give their lives to. And that is a humbling experience to say the least and something we all could probably aspire to in some sense.
I must confess that my own experience with this went up and down. Yes, I found it long. I found it dragged certainly in moments. I nodded off a few times. But there were a few truly inspiring moments that made this worth it in the end. To call this an amazing film though would probably feel like I am simply giving a film a great rating on the fact that is different than the status quo. Into Great Silence is what it is. It's a rare glimpse in to a life that is sure to b foreign to most of us. It's not a film so much as it is a chance to see that and take away from it what you will. And so any final verdict on this will depend on the head space of the viewer, their sense of inspiration in the moment, and perhaps what they are able to take away from it in a particular given viewing according to their own experience.
Eventually the movie grows into boring (or a pacefull spiritual almost sleep state if you like) . Ah, the the sentences screened that are repeated through gave me a sense of sponsorization or branding , anyone else feel the same?
The Bible makes it quite clear that not everyone can live a life of praising God in the same way. Some are called in very different ways. Very, very few are called in this way--the total silence would drive me crazy, for one!--and so it seems entirely appropriate that a film of it would not appeal to everyone, either. It is true that this is a very long film. It's over two and a half hours, in fact. And, for the most part, it is silent or close to it. The only sounds are the natural sounds of the monastery--mostly the sounds of nature and the monks' sounds of praising God. There is no voiceover. There is no soundtrack. There is one scene in which the monks appear to be chatting almost casually, and indeed online references are contradictory about the existence of an actual vow of silence required by the order. Certainly these are men (there are some Carthusian nuns, but none at Grande Chartreuse) who do not speak lightly; even the chat they have is really about monastical issues--and, proving people are the same in many important ways, being snide that the Trappists aren't as strict as they themselves are.
Really, there is no story here. What we have here is Philip Gr÷ning, a German filmmaker, traveling to perhaps the most famous monastery in the world, the monastery of Grande Chartreuse (yes, there's a colour called chartreuse, yes, it's named after an alcoholic beverage, and yes, the monks are the ones who make it; the special features include a one hour documentary on the subject I didn't bother to watch), taking with him only a camera. He spent months living there with the monks, presumably himself abiding by their rules of silence. (Be it vow or tradition.) Indeed, he is essentially the only outsider to enter the monastery grounds in a very long time; they used to accept visitors and now no longer do. As such, there is no story here. There is no structure to the documentary as we think of it. It is almost a string of images, bereft of context, which just take in what it is like in this place, so distant from the modern world--though one monk does talk of traveling to Seoul.
Obviously, we never learn anything of these men. A few of them talk a little; there is that brief discussion of hand-washing and how the Trappists are hopelessly decadent in their six-basin monastery. There is, of course, prayer, hymns, and the Bible. All of these men are there for a reason, not least the filmmaker, but without dialogue, without voiceover, we do not and cannot know any of the stories. We see a pair of novices come to the monastery, but their eventual fate is not told. They are just now part of the population of silence and prayer. Oh, of course we see the men working, as they have worked for the nearly 950 years the monastery has been there, high and alone in the French Alps. There are still gardens to tend, after all. In order to glorify God, they must eat at least enough to survive--and there is the occasional ritual communal meal so that they remember that coming together is also praise for the Lord.
It probably helps, going in, to know something of at least the history of monasticism, if not the Carthusians in particular. The idea of monks living together for the greater glory of God goes back perhaps 1700 years, perhaps longer. This is especially true because a hermit is considered a type of monk. Arguably, this makes John the Baptist the first Christian monk. The Carthusian order in particular is essentially intended to be a group of hermits living in community, if that makes any sense. It's one of the reasons for the silence, actually. Alone in the wilderness, a hermit would only speak to God because there is only God to speak to. Not all monks observe this, of course; I knew a jolly Franciscan friar who occasionally preached at the 8:00 AM Sunday mass at St. Elizabeth's church (just barely) in Altadena, California. The Franciscans glorify God by working among the people; Blessed Frey Junipero Serra was a Franciscan. The Jesuits often run schools. But the Carthusians devote themselves to God and only benefit the common person by praying for humanity; the value of that, of course, depends on your worldview.
I will not decry your intelligence for not liking this film. I will not tell you to instead go watch Michael Bay movies. There are perfectly valid reasons that this film is simply not for everyone, and there's nothing wrong with that. It is very long, and there is no real plot. Some people wish there were, which I think is missing the point of the film. The point, as I see it, is not to tell us a story but to show us a world. Where it gets confusing is that we aren't looking at an ecosystem, which is where we normally expect this kind of thing. We are looking at humans, and humans have stories. Except, of course, that even stories about ecosystems tend to have narration. However, there is a reason for silence here. In order to grasp the realities of these men, there must be silence. Philip Gr÷ning seems to me to be saying that, if you want to know the history of Carthusians or what have you, you should go look it up. If you want to know what it's like to be a Carthusian, 169 minutes of stillness is a good start. [i]Die gro▀e Stille[/i] is not for everyone; not everyone wants to dwell in that stillness even for that length of time. However, it is a very soothing film--even if it puts you to sleep, that's soothing of a kind.
The second beautiful aspect of this film was its spirituality. Knowing that these men have willingly chosen this path for their lives and seeing their passion (although in a very relaxed and focused way) unfold on-screen was powerful. It's a life I know I could never lead, but I have respect for those who can. I can not honestly recommend this movie to everyone. I think it will take a certain kind of film fan to enjoy this movie. Keep in mind that it's a slow-paced, very quiet film before seeing it. But also note that the visuals and spiritual aspects are well worth watching.