Monday, April 16, 2007

Movie Review - Into Great Silence

Last Friday, I went to go see "Into Great Silence" with dadwithnoisykids and his family (including Histor the Wise), with TheEngineer's family, and Fr. X.

dadwithnoisykids has his own movie review and I just saw that Histor the Wise has his review up also.

I think my viewing of this movie is going to be a bit different from most peoples, because I have stayed in a Carthusian Monastery on a vocation retreat, so I have experienced their life first hand. And from that, I can say this movie is excellent in showing Carthusian life.

There were several little details I noticed. Here's a few:

For instance, when the monks gather in the chapel, as each monk comes in, they will take charge ringing the bell until another monk comes in.

I also noticed the "Carthusian prostration" which is a bit different from the typical lie-down-on-your-stomach-with-your-face-to-the-floor-prostration we think of when we hear that. Carthusians will lie down pretty much on their right side. It almost looks like they are just reclining.

At the end of a Psalm, they will also sing the Gloria Patri much more slowly and deliberately than the regular pace of the Psalms.

The monks' cells at the Grande Chartreuse are similar to the ones at the Charterhouse of the Transfiguration in Vermont. It is not quite what you would consider a typical monastic cell. It is in fact more like a small house. It has two levels. The bottom level contains a work area (usually where the monk will cut and chop his firewood out of the large pieces of wood that are brought to his cell by the lay brothers) which opens out onto a small outdoor garden which is completely surrounded by walls.
The upper level is the actual living space of the monk, where his bed, work table, and chapel will be. I have descibed this in a previous post.

One thing that suprised me was that this movie is one of the few times you will actually see a Carthusian's face. Even in the vocational liturature I got from them, all the pictures of monks had them with their hood on or in a shadow so you could not see their face. However, several times, the director will just have a monk look right into the camera for about 30 seconds to a minute. It's almost awkward, but it does make them seem much more real and you realize they are men just like anyone else.

The only thing that was not conveyed was the intensity of that silence and solitude. It's one thing to sit through a 3 hour movie that is basically silent, but it is quite another thing to be sitting in a cell completely alone with God for most of your day. That to me is what makes their vocation so heroic. I am sure it is something you do get used to and do fall in love with if that is your vocation, but it really is hard to imagine it until you experience it.
The other reason the solitude is not conveyed well is because you feel like you are right there with the monk. So in a way, you, as a viewer, do not feel alone. It's not a problem with the director's filming, it is just something that is intrinsic to the process.

But I do have to give the director credit. This movie is rich in details, and shows a lot about the life of the monks. It shows both the activities of the priest monks and the lay brothers. It shows their manual labor and their prayer life. It shows their solitude and their community life too. The director did a supurb job of allowing the viewer to enter into the life of the monastery without it feeling like a documentary or some avante guarde art piece.

Overall, this movie is excellent and I highly recommend it. I don't think you can get more a more candid and authentic view of the Carthusians without actually experiencing it firsthand. This is what vocational videos should be like.

I can't wait to get it on DVD.


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