Archive for June 16th, 2010

There is a film that was made a few years back by Phillip Groning called Into Great Silence.  It is a documentary that was filmed over a year at the Grand Chartreuse Monastery in an awe-inspiring setting in the French Alps, home to the Carthusian Order which dates back to the year 1084 and remains fairly unchanged from that time to the present.   It is an order that maintains silence at all times in the monastery.

I came across this a few nights back as I scanned the channels and only caught a short bit of it near its end.   It is a film that is silent but for the sounds of the monks movements that echo in the ancient spaces of the monastery.   The sound of footfalls down a long stoned hallway.  The sound of the monastery bell.  The sound of their Gregorian chants from the sanctuary. The filming is in natural light so there is a quality to all the scenes, combined with the surroundings, that gives the film the feel of a medieval painting– dark and quiet.  It moves beautifully with a spellbinding quality and a rhythmic quietness  that seems the antithesis of  most  modern films.  No car crashes here. 

 No cars.

There is one segment where the camera follows a group of monks as they head out into the snow outside the monastery in their flowing robes.  It is shot from a distance so you can’t hear anything specific but you suddenly realize they are chatting away, almost excitedly, once they leave the boundaries of the monastery.  They come to a smaller hill set among the higher, sharp peaks of the Alps.  You sit watching and wondering what they might be doing as the scene unfolds, the camera set several hundred feet back so the monks are small in the frame.  And with a faint laugh that carries across the distance, they are sliding down the hill as though their feet were  snowboards.  They would whoosh for a bit then often tumble through the snow to the accompaniment of guffaws that seem startling in the context of the rest of the  film.  It is a moment of pure but simple joy and gives the monks a more human quality, lets the viewer identify with them and see them not only as dedicated men of  their faith.

This film and its imagery have haunted me since I saw the small part of it that I did that night.  I have always claimed to be seeking Big Silence and these men seem to have found it.  And it appears just as I hoped it might.

Do I want to be a monk?

No.  I don’t have the faith or belief that must be required.  Not even sure I could live with so many others, even without words. 

 But that silence.  There is something there in the void of words, something that speaks volumes, that gives us a peek into the chasm of time that we all seek and fear.  And not too many of us are willing to take that leap into great silence… 

Here’s the US trailer for the film-

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