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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Into Great Silence: a meditation

On Monday night, I went into the Cinema Nova in Lygon Street, Carlton to see the much awarded Into Great Silence.

Into Great Silence is a documentary. Having said that, though, filmgoers need to be warned. This is not the usual sort of documentary. There is no dialogue. No explanations, no explanatory structure or mechanism. There is no film music. The only music is the Gregorian chant of the Liturgy of the Hours. It is long. 2 hrs 40minutes. The film itself is a meditation with the theatre and its patrons quiet, silent. This is an insight into the life of Carthusian fathers and brothers - arguably the most ascetic order of monks in the whole world - living in Le Grand Chartreuse (yes, they of the famous liqueur - Chartreuse) high in the French Alps near Grenoble. There. Be warned. If you can wear all this and still front up to the theatre, you are almost certain to find this film a positive experience.

The film varies from grainy celluloid style to high quality. Some scenes are great art - to take your breath away and wonder if you are in a movie house or an art gallery. There is an overall structure to the film. It relies on the seasons: winter-spring-summer-autumn-winter as the macro theme. Within that seasonal structure is the daily life of the inhabitants of the monastery: rising and going to choir through to the deep of night office. We see the young and the old: the newcomers and the old, old men. We see the eremetic life lived in the cells and we see the active and practical lives of the brothers who cook, who feed, who garden, who manage the livestock.

We are watching men who have sought the better portion. They have left all, as Jesus commanded, to follow him into a greater reality removed from a world of human made distraction.

An excellent review is here and here is more about the Carthusians which is helpful in dealing with some of queries people have unanswered in the movie. The Anchoress has a review here.

John Garvey, an Orthodox priest, has an interesting piece in the Commonweal of May 18. John saw the movie close to the period of the massacre at Virginia Tech. He threads both together. Here is a quote from his article that I found significant:
A lot of what followed the Virginia Tech massacre was predictable: editorials about gun control and the treatment of mental illness, interviews with people about the need for reaching out. Some students expressed their concern that they may not have done enough to help Cho, though it is not at all clear that they could have. All I can think about are the human extremes here: monks who spend their time in solitary silence before God, listening deeply; and someone weeping in his own howling, desperate isolation, one that turns to evil rage and the destruction of other lives. This is the range of human possibility: you can be a person who moves through silence toward the light, or you can be destroyed by darkness. There is nothing here about morality or moral choices. This is about what we are called to be, and about those things that assist or prevent us from getting there.

As I have said in the title. This film is a meditation. It tells, it displays, an alternative story: an alternative way of being in the world. We may not all enter the cell or live behind a monastery wall but many of us who see this film will resolve once again to be who we are created to be, to serve as we are created to serve, to love as we are created to love, and to live as we are created too live.

1 comment:

  1. Miss Eagle,

    You have written about the documentary "Into Great Silence", Monastic Life, Meditation and "Distractions of Modern Culture".

    In this context I want to post a part from my article which examines the impact of Speed, Overstimulation, Consumerism and Industrialization on our Minds and environment. Please read.

    Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment.

    The fast-paced, consumerist lifestyle of Industrial Society is causing exponential rise in psychological problems besides destroying the environment. All issues are interlinked. Our Minds cannot be peaceful when attention-spans are down to nanoseconds, microseconds and milliseconds. Our Minds cannot be peaceful if we destroy Nature.

    The link between Mind and Social / Environmental-Issues.

    Subject : In a fast society slow emotions become extinct.
    Subject : A thinking mind cannot feel.
    Subject : Scientific/ Industrial/ Financial thinking destroys the planet.
    Subject : Environment can never be saved as long as cities exist.

    Emotion is what we experience during gaps in our thinking.

    If there are no gaps there is no emotion.

    Today people are thinking all the time and are mistaking thought (words/ language) for emotion.

    When society switches-over from physical work (agriculture) to mental work (scientific/ industrial/ financial/ fast visuals/ fast words ) the speed of thinking keeps on accelerating and the gaps between thinking go on decreasing.

    There comes a time when there are almost no gaps.

    People become incapable of experiencing/ tolerating gaps.

    Emotion ends.

    Man becomes machine.

    A society that speeds up mentally experiences every mental slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

    A ( travelling )society that speeds up physically experiences every physical slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

    A society that entertains itself daily experiences every non-entertaining moment as Depression / Anxiety.

    Fast visuals/ words make slow emotions extinct.

    Scientific/ Industrial/ Financial thinking destroys emotional circuits.

    A fast (large) society cannot feel pain / remorse / empathy.

    A fast (large) society will always be cruel to Animals/ Trees/ Air/ Water/ Land and to Itself.

    To read the complete article please follow any of these links :