Into Great Silence

Into Great Silence

DVD. Zeitgeist Films, October 2007. 162 minutes.

Symbols play an important part in human life. In their concreteness, they have the ability to touch the whole person with all his feelings and senses. As a result, they can have a greater impact than can an abstract discussion directed to the intellect alone.

Into Great Silence can be regarded as a symbol in this sense. It is a three-hour film, mostly silent, that takes the viewer into the realm of monastic life. The director, Philip Gröning, stayed at a Carthusian monastery in the French Alps for six months and let his camera follow the monks in their daily and weekly life—all in silence.

The camera observes the hermits in their individual cells, eating their meals, chanting in the chapel, doing manual labor, and participating in the liturgical celebrations of the yearly feasts. It also depicts the lovely alpine scenery surrounding the monastery and its changes during the seasons of the year. The deep forest, the blue sky with sun and clouds, the birds flying in the air, the rushing streams, and the agricultural plots participate in the silence of the hermits and surround it with nature's beauty.

As one sits through the film for three hours and experiences the rhythm of this silent life, one realizes that this is a story of love. Supplied with the bare necessities of daily living, the monks have the freedom and time to focus on this meeting with God. The divine speaks in silence, and the audience experiences this truth in the rhythm of the film. Briefly at the very end, the film shows a monologue of a blind hermit who talks about the centrality of God in human life. His few words sum up what the audience has experienced for three hours. More words are not needed.

Robert Trabold

This reviewer has a Ph.D. in sociology with specialties in urban issues and the religious expressions of people in transition. His reflective poetry and articles on contemplative prayer have been published in Quest and other journals.