Thursday, March 15, 2007


(click above for the trailer)

I viewed Into Great Silence last evening at the Film Forum on Houston Street. Held over, the movie still drew a strong crowd. However, the theatre was a revolving door. So many people left and came back or just simply left. In part it had to do with it being 162 minutes (2 hours and 42 minutes). But I wonder how much it had to do with the unfamiliarity of the content?

The Cathusians were founded by St. Bruno in 1084. They are monastic, as they live in community, but they are contemplative, too, remaining mostly silent except when necessity requires it. The film therefore also takes on this exterior silence. The director Matt Groening says of his film:

The film should become a monastery…A monastery is about getting rid of speech. Speech is constantly implying this logical way of structuring time and thought. Silence throws you into the present, in the sense of not thinking about how you
get your key out of your pocket.

The immediate object, the presence of immediate things, becomes much more luminous. It’s really like a consolation. The material world, the creation, helps you to be in the world, it’s as if God had created the world in order for us to feel at home. But that sort of future planning capacity really drops.

This is what the monastery is about; this is what I tried in the film.

(See the whole interview here:

The film indeed become a monastery as it included repetition of scripture ("O Lord you have seduced me and I was seduced." Jeremiah 20: 7), daily tasks, and liturgical rituals. Also, the rhythm of the seasons were aptly portrayed.

This sense of monasticism is lost on most of us who frankly feed on regulated time, instanteous information, and immediate feedback. This is perfect for Lent, reminding us how to see time a bit differently. We think we control time and yet time is outside of God. God only exists in the present. And perhaps this is why many of my fellow movie-goers, myself included, sat a wee bit uncomfortably in theatre. As we felt the time pass slowly during these 162 minutes, we feel as if in a perpetual present when we wanted a beginning, middle and end. How far removed I felt from what the present must be to God!

This certainly was a jarring movie that brought me out of my Lenten slump. Perhaps one of the most touching scenes in the film is a short monologue from an elderly blind monk. After nearly two and a half hours of little dialogue, his words were all the more meaningful. He says that we are happier the closer we are to God. Why should we fear? Indeed, while the film felt about an hour too long, it was a terrific reminder of the value not only of monastic life but also of remaining focused on the present in order to come closer to God.


earthmama said...

That's really interesting. I wish I had time to see it before the run ends. Especially since this sounds like something to see projected.

I seem to remember that there is a certain amount of dialogue between Catholic monastics, and Buddhist monastics. Your comments about time, the present, jogged some kind of memory there. It's a kind of common experience across traditions.

earthmama said...

Wow I sure said "kind of" a lot. Shows what posting at 2:47 am can do for your style.