Into Great Silence (Die Grosse Stille)
In a day and age when movies whiz by at break neck speed (think the Bourne movies)—and if there are no special effects they are gone in a few weeks—this film is wholly other. Into Great Silence, three hours in length, follows the French Carthusian monks as they go about their lives of contemplation and prayer. Not a good story line for a film you might think? Well, you’d be wrong.
The glory of this film is the deliberately slow pace, the care it takes to linger and wait, the way it dares the viewers to stay with it. Director Philip Groning approached the monks about twenty years ago, asking if he could come and film them. They replied that when they were ready, they’d let him know. Sixteen years passed before Groning obtained permission for cameras to come to their secluded monastery in the French Alps.
The Carthusian’s are one of the most secluded and private of orders; so having this chance to gaze into their world is a rare treat. The camera catches the monks at prayer, eating, cutting their hair, at chapel, at play in the snow, caring for their monastery, and much more. The viewer is struck by how everything the monks do is done deliberately and without hurry.
As the seasons change around them the monk’s continue doing what they do all the time and seem completely unaffected by the world outside their monastery. After a while you begin to feel yourself slowing down and taking the time to listen, to be quiet inside, and to appreciate the life these few men have chosen. Before you realize it the film has ended and you still think there’s at least another hour to go.
With virtually no talking, no music and no sound this film’s title is to be taken literally. You enter into a great silence and come out on the other side profoundly moved. When I saw this film in the theatre I was saddened to see some people leave long before it was over. A pity. In a hustle bustle life where we’ve all but lost the ability to sit and reflect and be quiet inside the monks have much to teach us if we will but stop and wait. Experience Into Great Silence for yourself. A suggestion: turn off your cell phone and watch the film through without stopping. You’ll be glad you did.