into great silence

Into Great Silence

MPAA Rating: NR | Rating: ★★★★
Release year: 2005
Genre: Documentary, Spiritual Director: Gröning

The documentary Into Great Silence is about the monks at Grande Chartreuse Monastery who have taken vows of solitude and silence. At almost three hours in length, and with very little in dialogue or plot, it takes a great deal of self-control and patience to experience this film. But it is definitely a film to be experienced. I found myself in awe of the monks’ discipline in seeking God’s presence. At the one-hour mark, I was fidgeting. At 1.5 hours, I was falling asleep, drooping my head then snapping it back to attention. I had to ask myself, “If these men can devote their entire lives to worshipping God in silence, why do I struggle with devoting myself to only one hour focusing on God?” By two hours, I wanted to turn on my laptop or some music, just to get through the uncomfortable silence. Yet I chose to remain disciplined, forcing myself to stay awake and focus on the beauty of these monks worshipping God with their lives. And I think I am forever changed.

The film quotes a passage of Scripture from 1 Kings 19. God passes by Elijah on a mountain. A great wind comes and tears the mountain apart…but God was not in the wind. Then there comes an earthquake…but God was not in the earthquake. Then there is a huge fire…but God is not in the fire. And after the fire comes a gentle whisper. God does not reveal Himself in the cacophony; He reveals Himself in the silence. Psalm 46:10 says to “be still and know that I am God.” How often am I actually quiet before God, able to give Him my full attention? How often do I experience true silence in my life? What am I missing from God due to the constant distraction and noise?

This documentary is not easy to watch; it takes a great deal of self-control and focus to make it through the entire 3 hours. There is no narrative, per se. No delving into the motivations or background stories for each monk and how they arrived at such a place. When the monks do briefly speak together near the end of the film, they talk mainly of God. They’re clearly joyful in their demeanor, and are quick to laugh. The beauty of the cinematography is breathtaking and the discipline of silence is powerful. Watching the film gives a small taste of the spiritual reality these monks experience on a daily basis. Many of the shots are totally static and still, like staring at a painting or photograph, with only the slightest movements or sound indicating we are viewing a moving picture. In the stillness and quiet, the monastery and the French landscape are awe-inspiring in their visual beauty. Into Great Silence is a remarkable, immersive film that creates a sense of awe for who God is through the challenging power of silence.

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