DVD Picks & Passes 10.21.2007

Into Great Silence (2005) - Pick

For me, this week’s two-disc release of Into Great Silence is the DVD of the year. No other film this year, and possibly in my years as a film critic, has had so transforming an effect on me. I plan to watch Into Great Silence every Lent, possibly for the rest of my life.

Like life in a Carthusian monastery, with its strict asceticism and deep spirituality, Into Great Silence is an exercise in rigor and discipline that becomes a euphoric experience of joy and inner peace. Shooting for more than six months in 2002 in the Grande Chartreuse monastery in the French Alps, the head monastery of the Carthusian order, filmmaker Philip Groning limited himself entirely of the images and sounds of monastic life, reflecting the rhythm of work and prayer, day and night, winter and spring. There is no voiceover narration, no score or soundtrack of added music to steer viewer emotions.

The result is more than a documentary of monastic life. It is a spiritual voyage, a pilgrimage into the inner meaning and experience of monastic life, of the rigors and joys of contemplative life.

Like a litany, the film returns again and again to the same Scripture texts, the same places, the same themes. Yet there is also a sense of unfolding, of revelation. The film moves from winter through spring and summer and back to winter, but the experience of the second winter is profoundly different from the first.

Into Great Silence is not simply about spiritual rigor or inner peace. It is about nothing less than the object of faith, God himself. Many spiritually aware films paint a picture of God (like Ecclesiastes) largely in silhouette, through a sense of his felt absence, silence, or hiddenness. Into Great Silence movingly affirms God’s findability, if you will, for those who seek him.

What can a film about cloistered monks have to say to our overcaffeinated, information-saturated 24/7 world? A great deal.

Into Great Silence was a great success in secular Europe and a smash hit in New York City. In our post-everything Western world, it’s a wholly unexpected witness to the continuing power of the historic structures of our shared Christian heritage to speak to us today.

The two-disc set comes with a number of extras, including nearly two hours of additional scenes. There’s a 53-minute Night Prayer video and a segment on the making of the Chartreuse liqueurs. In a surprisingly chatty interview, a monk at the distillery reveals that the monks use more than 130 different plants before clamming up: “There is no need to seek to know more — we’re not supposed to tell.” There’s also extended footage of the interview with the blind monk emphasizing love of God and neighbor — and musing about the environmental dangers of nuclear power plants.

Other extras include an insightful video statement on the film by Cardinal Paul Poupard, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture and background information on the Carthusian order.


Nothing objectionable.

Pope Francis waves to pilgrims during his Angelus address August 30, 2020.

Pope Francis: The Path to Holiness Requires Spiritual Combat

Reflecting on Sunday’s Gospel, the pope said that “living a Christian life is not made up of dreams or beautiful aspirations, but of concrete commitments, in order to open ourselves ever more to God's will and to love for our brothers and sisters.”