Sunday, November 21, 2010

The best film about male religious.... ever

I finally saw Into Great Silence last night.

The documentary about male monks of the Carthusian order in the French Alps been has been on my to-see list since it was released in 2005.

It was everything I'd hoped it would be, and more.

Here's the back story:

In 1984, German filmmaker Philip Gröning wrote to the Carthusian order for permission to make a documentary about them. They said they would get back to him. Sixteen years later, they were ready.

Gröning, sans crew or artificial lighting, lived in the monks quarters for six months filming their daily prayers, tasks, rituals and rare outdoor excursions. This transcendent, closely observed film seeks to embody a monastery, rather than simply depict one it has no score, no voiceover and no archival footage. What remains is stunningly elemental: time, space and light. One of the most mesmerizing and poetic chronicles of spirituality ever created, INTO GREAT SILENCE dissolves the border between screen and audience with a total immersion into the hush of monastic life. More meditation than documentary, it s a rare, transformative experience for all.

They spend most of their time alone in their rooms, in contemplation. There are specific times when they get together for meals, mass, and chanting, but most of their time is spent alone. There are also scheduled two-hour walks in the stunningly beautiful countryside, when they may informally speak. But they have zero contact with householders - whom they refer to as seculars. It sounds like heaven to me.

The film, which has little dialog, kept showing a few quotes, including:

"Anyone who does not give up all he has can't be my disciple."


"You have seduced me, I was seduced."


"I am the ONE who is."

How it made the heart melt!

Here is a quote about silence and solitude, from their counterparts in Vermont:

For, as you know, in the Old Testament, and still more so in the New, almost all God’s secrets of major importance and hidden meaning, were revealed to his servants, not in the turbulence of the crowd but in the silence of solitude; and you know, too, that these same servants of God, when they wished to penetrate more profoundly some spiritual truth, or to pray with greater freedom, or to become a stranger to things earthly in an ardent elevation of the soul, nearly always fled the hindrance of the multitude for the benefits of solitude.

Now, of course, I'm a little bit obsessed with the Carthusian Order.

The one in the French Alps only takes men between the ages of 23 and 40.

Maybe next (life)time...


  1. C.K.

    I got this DVD when it first came out. I have watched it numerous times – it is so peaceful without any sound except the natural background sound, interviews, etc.

    I came to the Carthusian’s through ‘The Seven Storey Mountain’ by the late Trappist monk, Thomas Merton – truly a modern spiritual classic. If you haven’t read any of Merton, start with ‘The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton’.

    You’re probably aware that the Dalai Lama was a very close spiritual friend of Thomas Merton. When I heard HHDL speak some years ago, he talked a lot about Merton.

    Ralph from DeKalb

  2. I think it probably is heaven and that is why I am not there.

    Mr. D wants to go live on the ashram and I think it is a cop out. In some ways it is so easy to find peace and loving compassion when one is in silence and spending long periods of time alone or with spiritual seekers or the guru.

    The hardest thing in life is to face oneself in the challenge of the other. This is also a path.

  3. The Dalai Lama's interpreter was on the radio yesterday. He was a monk and then a householder, and spoke of how difficult it is to have an intimate relationship to someone else - and how having children can help you cultivate compassion like nothing else. He also said that the things he learns at the monastery have served him well in the outside world. It's worth a listen. You can hear it here.

  4. RHH - I've heard the name but haven't read anything. Thank you - I'll put 'em on the last!

  5. the release of this movie in NYC was a peculiar hit, it stayed longer than expected,. most did not expect it to do so well. loved the scenery of the movie --ed