Into Great Silence... A Review
"Lord, you have seduced me..." says Saint Augustine, "... and I have been seduced."
Seductive truly sums up the experience of this wonderful film by director Philip Groning, who first went to the Carthusian monastery of La Grande Chartreuse over 16 years before the making of the film to ask them for permission to film it. It was only after that time that the abbot allowed him to film. Carthusian spirituality is perhaps the most austere and ascetic expression of Christian monasticism, and I have always been fascinated by its ideals. But, there hasn't been a great deal of exposure recently for it, as Carthusians typically keep to themselves.
After the first 45 minutes, the film begins to suck you in, you become gripped by the whole feel of it. The only thing I found myself wishing is that the technology for producing smells in theaters was available. Having made brief stays in monastic environments, the smells of a monastery can be intoxicating - the smells of unfinished pine floors, fresh bread, old books, and of course, food. This would probably only be accentuated in the Carthusian realm, with most meals being served directly to the cells.
Nevertheless, the audio/visual experience is one of finding yourself embraced by simplicity, so strange when we usually think of striving for simplicity. Over the course of 3 hours, it is really this way - the simplicity embraces the viewer. In fact, the only thing ornate in the movie are things like icons, and monstrances, and crucifixes. The rest is unflinchingly simple - beds with springs popping through, wooden tables, wooden forks and spoons, steel bowls, enamelware pitchers. The fact brought to immediate attention is the vastness of God, and man's utter simplicity before Him. The film is wrapped up rather nicely by the words of a blind monk who is thankful that God allowed him to become blind, because he was brought to recognize his utter dependence. He displayed so vividly the simplicity of detachment, abandonment to the Divine Will, and the lack of worry made so prominent in monasticism.
The thing I am glad of, though, is that the film does not exclude the viewer from the experience of this simplicity, but rather gives you the impression that you are truly a part of it, raking out a garden, eating bread, reading books, chanting canticles. My hope is not that this film will fertilize vocations to monasticism, but that it will be used to inspire Christians leading complicated lives to be embraced by simplicity - to be seduced by the Lord.
If you're in Dallas, this film is showing at The Inwood at 1:45p.m. most days of the week. But, in June, it will come to the Fort Worth Museum of Modern Art, beginning on the 22nd. Should be a great venue. Pax.