Into Great Silence

How patient are you?  When you go to an art museum do you like to stand and absorb the painting, or catch a quick glance and move on?  How you answer that question will likely determine your response to this film.

I’ll admit it took me four attempts before I watched the almost three hours (2:41) of film.  I finally realized I had to be patient and pay attention. I couldn’t iron and watch, or balance my checkbook and watch, or make cookies and watch. I needed to quiet myself. I had to be still. Once I was properly oriented, I loved this movie.

The Grande Chartreuse monastery in the French Alps is considered among the most ascetic of monasteries.  The monks take a vow of silence (with times to talk allowed at limited times and places).  They live a life of solitude among brothers.  Whether or not you believe this is the best way to worship God, there is much to be gained from joining them for the duration of this film.

The documentary has no voice overs, no background music, no artificial lighting.  The cinematography is exquisite in its simplicity and minimalism.  Sunlight on wood, praying in the dark morning, preparing food, repairing a shoe — all display profound beauty.  The extra-long takes allow time to focus. 

Or, the extra-long takes might put you to sleep.  My son’s only comment as he walked by was “Gripping.” 

But as the film ended, my prominent thought was “Be still and know that I am God.”  I was challenged at how little silence I allow in my life.  Media have brought noises to every corner of our daily living.  I enjoy listening to music, sermons, audio books, my family’s conversation.  But I need more time to listen to the quiet.  An occasional season of silence.

If I was teaching the Middle Ages, this movie would be required watching.  As it is, I would really like to see it again with my husband next to me.  I think we will have to wait to snuggle up on a Sunday evening in January…


11 thoughts on “Into Great Silence

  1. Maybe Curt should be sitting a chair across the room, if y’all are really going to *watch* this silent film. (giggle)No, really.  It takes maturity to enjoy silence.And about the art museum and lingering over a painting….depends on whether I’m alone or not.  The description that best explained viewing art to me was one that compared it to reading the newspaper – do you read the headlines only?  or doing you read an entire story. Both 🙂

  2. I saw this in the movie theaters.  It didn’t help that I went into it completely exhausted – so yes, my eyes slipped shut (only for a moment!!).    I came away wishing that there had been a bit of explanation for what was happening.  Not too intrusive, mind you, just something simple.

  3. When i was 12 years old my mom gave me a magnet on which was written: Lord, please give me patience; but i want it right now…i’m still a beginner in pateince. I remembered the movie The Last Samurai not for its fights and violence, but for the glimpses shown of patience – taking time to make tea, taking time to listen, taking time to do mundane things perfectly – living in the valley of life.

  4. Silence is a wonderful thing. One thing I did to prepare to interpret for a Deaf student was to watch Tom and Jerry cartoons without the sound on, with no closed captioning and with no other audible distractions. It was ‘eye’ opening, to say the least. Visual nuances come through when there are no noises distracting you. I wanted a taste of what the world was like for my student, instead her world blessed me no end. I expect I would like the movie but I bet my DH would fall asleep, or find something different to do.

  5. Hi Carol,  I used to be “gung ho” about loading up my iPod and listening to sermons and books while doing housework and mindless stuff.  “Redeem the time” was my motto.  A few months ago I realized I wasn’t having enough silent time and when we lost use of the internet (and the downloading of all those great podcasts) I was forced to make meals, clean house, etc. without any “background” noise.  I found myself singing hymns a lot more often and having quiet little praise times.  Now I’m much more careful about sticking my headphones on (in?).  Thanks for the reminder.  Yes, I’m back online as of yesterday. =)

  6. Hi Carol, I really enjoy your very thoughtful blogs.  I have this movie bookmarked on my ‘queue’ and will now make sure I watch it.  That is the one thing–sitting still to watch it.  I usually want to have some handwork going…but it will be a good discipline to sit still that long.  I agree with hopeinbrazil above.  I also like listening to sermons during the day.  But now I balance that with lots of ‘silent’ time.I played the cello too, all the way through high school.  I think about taking it up again someday.  I’m glad there is the possibility of that…

  7. @hopeinbrazil – Hope has returned!  Hooray!!  I appreciate your comments and perspective.  My husband who eschews computers regularly says the same sort of thing to my son and me.  Just listen.  Sing.  Pray.  Thanks for your comments.@dschnabel – Thank you for your kind words.  I feel like I know you since we both love your sister.  Do you use the “instant watch” feature in Netflix?  I watched Into Great Silence on my computer.  I have to connect with Internet Explorer instead of Firefox.  Fellow cello players unite!  I love that instrument.

  8. Debby and I have known a wonderful lady for 10+ years who has a wonderful ministry called “Wellspring” (check it out on the web). It started out as “Women at the Well,” but men started wanting to get in on it, thus, the name change. At any rate, Patti Pierce started this ministry as “time outs,” 4 hours in the morning for a silent retreat, usually held at Catholic retreat centers, with just a bit of direction and focus at the beginning and halfway between. Now she does whole weekends. I highly recommend that you have her come to your women’s retreat sometime to lead a morning, a day or a whole weekend. The Catholics are WAY ahead of us in this art of silent contemplation.Thanks for sharing.

  9. hello carol,i am a lurker in your blog world! i don’t remember how i found you some months ago but i enjoy “checking” in with you  often. you have given me lots of food for thought and i appreciate your provoking and enjoyable posts! after seeing this post, i ordered the movie from our inter-library loan system. i really enjoyed it. one of the ways i decide the merits of a movie is to see if i am still “ruminating” about it several days…weeks etc.  later. i am still considering this movie and the beautiful movements, rituals and lighting.  the “process” of anything is often the very thing i rush through and ignore (or even ridicule). i thank Jesus i am changing…albeit slowly:).   thank you for your thoughts each day!God bless you,julie harris

  10. @psalmnine1 – Welcome Julie.  I am humbled that you come and visit my little spot in cyberspace.  I wholeheartedly agree on the value of movies measured by ruminating time.  Even ones I may not like as much are worthwhile if they cause me to ponder.  Tell me though, did you get antsy at all watching it?  I really want my husband to watch it, but it’s going to take the right setting and some preparation.  This is the ultimate “anti-Bourne” movie. Julie, thank you for your kind words.  I truly appreciate them.Warmly,CarolPS – I like your web name.

  11. hi carol!yes, i have to admit i was a bit antsy at times thinking how can they be so seemingly satisfied plodding along with their tasks.  for example, i like to sew. i loved the portion where the man was making the younger man a cloak (not sure what it is called). he took his time measuring, smoothing, cutting etc. i would have been very haphazard i’m afraid…..but why be that way? oh i need to slow and enjoy these processes. i can’t say enough about the lovely light and shadows in this movie. my hubby glanced a couple of times at the screen and said,  “are they going to say ANYTHING?” (:) again, i really do enjoy your blog and will be more of a commenter from now on. hehe instead of a lurker….julie

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