Into Great Silence

Into Great Silence


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

If silence is golden, then the Carthusian monks in the Chartreuse monastery are rich beyond measure. They live their lives in a remote part of the French Alps and, for the most part, register only on the public consciousness because of the herbal liquor they brew.

The Carthusian order “seek God in solitude”, to which end they pass their days, largely, in silence, with the exception of singing liturgy, a weekly walk “to strengthen mutual affection and stimulate the union of the hearts, while also ensuring proper physical relaxation” and twice yearly visits from relatives.

Copy picture

Sixteen years after first meeting the present general prior of the Carthusian Order, filmmaker Philip Gröning was granted access to the monastery, to film the monks’ way of life. His invitation was not without restrictions, however. There were to be no interviews, only natural light and no commentaries. What emerges is a more of a contemplation of life as a monk, than a documentary in the usual mode and, like monastic life itself, Into Great Silence will not appeal to everyone.

Gröning lived with the monks for several months and tracked their lives. The result is more akin to walking through a gallery, than watching a film. Gröning's camera lingers in, and on, the silence, inviting you to contemplate everyday objects, such as kitchen paraphernalia, a dandelion clock, a candle flickering, just as the monks also contemplate. Many of the scenes resemble a Vermeer portrait, others something more impressionistic, like Monet in motion. The result is mesmeric, his lens holding a focus, daring you to see something over and above your initial impression.

Despite his restrictions, Gröning finds light and shade, contrasting the natural – more chaotic world – with the regimented life within the cloister. He also captures moments of surprising levity, such as when the monks on their weekly walk play about in the snow or another, when one of their number is captured chatting to their cats.

Speeded up scudding clouds, rain falling on a pond, the change of the seasons – all accompanied by the monk’s repetitive routine – give you a real sense of time passing… although at almost three hours in length you may also get a sense of your bum becoming welded to the cinema seat. Gröning undoubtably has an eye for beauty and captures the essence of solitude but he offers no easy answers. As he himself has said: “The monks endeavor to deepen their understanding of things. I can only hope that the viewer also experiences something like this.”

Reviewed on: 11 Jan 2007
Share this with others on...
Into Great Silence packshot
A contemplation of the Chartreuse Monastery.
Amazon link

Director: Philip Gröning

Writer: Philip Gröning

Year: 2005

Runtime: 164 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: France/Switzerland/Germany

Search database:

If you like this, try:

No Greater Love