“Into Great Silence” (2007)

by | Oct 7, 2016 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews

A magnificent and entrancing glimpse into the sounds of silence.

“Into Great Silence” (2007)

Director: Philip Gröning
Actors: The Carthusian Order
Studio: Zeitgeist Films Z1094 (10/23/07)
Video: 1.85:1, 16:9 transfer, created from hi-def elements
Audio: English, French, Latin DD 5.1
Subtitles: English
Region 1 coding
Extras: U.S. theatrical trailer

The Making of Into Great Silence : With behind-the-scenes footage,
Location photos and handwritten notes from monks
Additional scenes, including a segment on the preparation of the
Carthusian’s world-famous Chartreuse liqueur; Night Mass
The Carthusian Order: An informative guide to the rules, architecture, and daily schedules of the monks and the monasteries; Photo, poster, and press kit galleries
Producer: Shannon Attaway
Video:  for 16:9 screens, color, no music or narration (2 DVDs)
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English
No region code
Length: 162 min., Extras: 53 min.
Rating: *****

B000OYNVOY The Carthusians have always been one of the most esoteric and mythical of all the western religious orders. For those who aren’t familiar with them, they were founded by Saint Bruno of Cologne in 1084 and include both monks and nuns. They are a Catholic religious order of enclosed monastics that combines both seclusion and community life into one. The way of life that they endure has often been considered a mystery to most people since no one is allowed onto the monastic premises without permission, and the monks rarely leave the monastery, and then only with good reason.

But it is their silence that most intrigues today’s busy world. How can anyone keep silence, constantly, and still maintain some degree of sanity? Well, first of all, it is important to note that silence is a way of life during the normal hours of the day and night, but the monks are constantly occupied with work, study, and prayer. The silence is broken when praises are offered to God in the many times during the day when they meet corporately in church for the celebration of the Divine Office and Mass. Though talking is still not allowed during these periods, it is anything but quiet, even though one could argue that the soft, melismatic strains of Gregorian chant only enhance the silences instead of breaking them.

And of course there are chapter meetings where discussions are allowed, and the monks themselves get outside once a week for about an hour when they can discuss anything they want. One of the most humanizing parts of this film, a brilliant three-hour traversal that takes us into the lives of these people not in documentary style, but with more of a “real time” feeling, is to hear the monks talking about some of their rituals and whether or not they really have any significant meaning. They are not unquestioning about the things that pertain to their community, and the openness of the discussions are quite surprising. In this film we follow each of the members of the community in their daily tasks, and if you are looking for a summary presentation you need to look elsewhere, because this film makes no attempt at speeding things up. You are there in real time, and get a genuine feeling for the pace of community life.

But the best thing about this film is that it allows us to peer into a secretive community and find that things are not so impossible as they might seem, but that these are men who are not much different from all of us—they come from all walks of life, and have given up previous activities and careers to embrace the one thing needful. There is nothing odd or weird about them, and they live their lives with purpose and fulfillment, true contemplatives that stand as an antidote to the constant craziness that the rest of us experience day in and day out. This is a beautiful and important film that should be seen by many, religious or not.

—Steven Ritter

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