lucius_t (lucius_t) wrote in theinferior4,

Into the Great Silence

In 1984 Phillip de Groning wrote the Carthusian Monks at the Grand Chartreuse monastery in the French Alps that he wanted to make a documentary about the cloistered life. He received his answer, a qualified yes, some sixteen years later. The qualifications were that he abide by the rules of the monastery, use only natural light, and have no crew. The result of his efforts is a two hour and forty minute film without narration or voiceover called Into The Great Silence.

I must admit to having been raised Catholic, to have been taught by nuns and Jesuits, and to have fallen away from the Church in subsequent years; so this obviously colored my view of the film, though not necessarily negatively. In any case, almost three hours is a long time to spend in a monastery, no matter how beautifully it is shot...and this is a beautifully shot film of almost otherworldly way of life, each frame incorporating the feel of the great painters of the Renaissance, detailing the modest, contemplative existence, a scenario so serene that a monk eating lunch plays as a set piece and a sprig of celery on a table seems a green shout amid the calmer colors of the monastery's interior. You gain a sense of the monks through the filter of piety and devotion, and the impression is a good one that resonates with the best traditions of the Church; but as the film moves into its third hour, I began to have impure thoughts and, ultimately, the impression I was left with was of a group of useless men, oblivious to the suffering around them, completely unmindful of any implicit duty to assist their fellow man. The film's basic mechanism is one of simple observation, so it's difficult to attribute any subversive motive to de Groning, but I wondered whether my feeling was the product of subtle manipulation. It's an interesting movie. I watched it for purposes of research, and viewed as such it's a remarkable document. But I came away with the idea that a monastic order such as the Carthusians is as purposeless as a vestigial tail and that their existence is a kind of orderly refuge.
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