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:: Into Great Silence (Große Stille, Die)

If there’s anything everyone will agree on about this film, it is that it is definitely an experience; of some sort. Into Great Silence is the first film to portray the monastic lives of the Carthusian monks of the Grand Chartreuse in the French Alps. What an incredible setting. The footage of the alps is breath-taking and the monastery, in its simplicity, is truly divine.

Except for the occasional chant and very infrequent discussion, these monks live a life of complete silence. The film’s director, Philip Groning, portrays this life effectively by making the film silent itself; an arduous task. His aim was not to make a documentary on the Grand Chartreuse, but to make the film just like the monastery; almost completely silent. Sitting in the theatre in this silence, listening to practically nothing, the film transports you to this life.

Where this silence is extremely effective, it can also be extremely excruciating. You feel at first you are going on a philosophical journey. As you watch, a million thoughts run through your mind and you realise just how much noise you make every day. You watch the monks pray, you watch them eat, you watch them ring church-bells, and every now and then, you are treated to a chant. The first time these actions are shown on the screen, it makes you contemplate the meaning of life. You ask yourself “Could I be happy living in silence? Maybe this is what I need. No work, no tax, no relationships,” and you’ve almost packed your bags. You philosophise and question everything you’ve done to get where you are. You think this film is going to help you sort out your life. It’s almost a Zen experience. You want more.

And then…the same actions are repeated. And repeated. And repeated. You see a monk ring the church bells in a 5 minute shot. Then, you see it again. You see a biblical excerpt appear on the screen. Then, you see it again. You see a monk prays. Then, you see it again. You watch the monks saw wood. You watch them clean and shovel snow. You watch them gardening. Then you go insane. After two hours, a city-dweller is truly approaching insanity. Make some noise! Do something different! Have a beer!

This film is in it’s own category. To portray a life that is the antithesis to those of the audience is an enormous challenge. To get people from a consumeristic, fast-paced, get-what-you-want society to engage with monks that rarely make a squeak is near impossible.

While this movie did eventually drive me insane, it has a lot to offer. The fact that this movie made me anxious, fidgety and completely uncomfortable is precisely the point. If you need a bit of animation in your entertainment, or even a story line as a premise, you may not get through this one. But if you are a patient, Zen-minded person and interested in the monastic way of life, I highly recommend this film.