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European-American Topics - Cinema - Silence

Into Great Silence
By Jérôme Patoux

Posted March 30, 2007

Are we in search of spirituality? Or, maybe, are we in need of spirituality?

What is even more fascinating than the documentary Into Great Silence itself is the unanimous acclaim it has received all around the world. Modern movie-goers accept to watch a three-hour-long documentary, shot on grainy film with no artificial lighting, no music score, almost no talking, and embrace the resulting journey as their most exhilarating experience in years! They take a break from the recent series of action-packed, fast-paced war, spy, and political fiction movies (some of them pretty good) and find themselves fascinated, intrigued, or transformed by this silent journey into the heart of meditative spirituality. What happened? What kind of magic has been conjured? 

The German filmmaker Philip Gröning spent six months in the Grande Chartreuse of the French Alps, a monastery in which a group of monks isolate themselves in the deepest silence, in search of an authentic relationship with God and the divine. He follows their daily routine, their time for crafts and meals, and their time for prayer and meditation. The technical limitations imposed to him by the monks themselves (no artificial light, no crew, no intrusive equipment) create a gloomy atmosphere that accentuates the austerity of their ascetic life. Yet, out of the damp darkness and out of the mist of our own meditative wanderings, surprising moments of brightness and simple joy (some of them pretty funny) emerge like a spring of refreshing water. We have no words to describe our reaction, uncertain of what has been moved in the depths of our soul. 

In all times, monks (Catholic or Buddhist) have been criticized for their passivity, their self-centered preoccupation with introspection and inner peace. What good are they to the reality of suffering, war, inequity, enslavement, and poverty? What glory in the seclusion and isolation from the real world? Gröning’s documentary may offer an answer. It reaches beyond images, beyond story telling, beyond aesthetics. Its universal appeal and unanimous acclaim point to our deep inner questioning, our need for spirituality and guidance. The quest for the divine by a few, however extreme and ascetic, is a beacon for the many, a light that sends us back to the meaning of our very own existence. That light keeps shining at the Grande Chartreuse, as in many other monasteries, kept alive in silence for us to remember, to find our way back in times of darkness. Into Great Silence is fascinating indeed, and timely.


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