philosophic inquiry into life and meaning

...if truth were not for man the desire for truth would not be as a burning unrest in his heart...

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Into Great Silence movie cover shows monks in monasteryInto Great Silence (2005), also called Die große Stille in German, is a documentary about life as lived by an order of Carthusian monks. The Grande Chartreuse, is located in the French alps and is home to this order of monks who live life by very austere rules in religious service and worship.


The movie pulls you into their world with no narrator, no archival footage, no anything you would normally associate with a documentary. This one stands on its own footage and audio to set the scene. Little things like the wind blowing or insects buzzing in the background stand out and are noticed as completing the scene in making this more absorbing. Of course there is the monks talking and chanting and other noises, so this film is not a silent film despite the name. The silence the films speaks of is more the quiet way of life lead by these monks -- the monks are silent for the most part -- especially inside the monastery walls.

The creator of the film, Philip Gröning, asked to be allowed to film the monks in their daily lives. At first they said no. Sixteen years pass... In 2002, Gröning receives a phone call from the monks saying they will allow him to film them. He and his crew spend six months with the monks recording their rites, rituals, and way of life. This includes the ringing of the bells, communal meals, prayer and song, dealing with the trials of the snows outside the monastery, getting haircuts, chopping wood, and many more facets of their austere but alluringly simple life.


In one part of the movie the monks talk about their rituals:


"In Sèlignac, they have not been washing their hands before the refectory for 20 years now. Do you think we should stop washing our hands -- No, but it wouldn't be a big deal to get rid of the something useless. Our entire life, the whole liturgy, and everything ceremonial are symbols. If you abolish the symbols, then you tear down the walls of your own house. "


They are very strict about keeping their traditions as well as their schedule, running time and ringing the bells at certain periods of the day for their various tasks. See here for their schedule (originally from


Interspersed throughout the film are quotes from the bible and Meister Eckhart:


Anyone who does not give up all he has cannot be my disciple.

O Lord, you have seduced me, and I was seduced.

Behold, I have become human. If you should not want to join me in becoming
God, you would do me wrong.

You shall seek me, and you shall find me. Because you seek me with all your
heart, I will let myself be found.


The movie plays out like a meditation and reminds me of Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East (1989) in it's pacing and story told by the direct view into the life of the main characters. Though in this film, as opposed to Bodhi-Darma, the monks really are living rather than acting and the film captures their actions as reality rather than superimposing a reality on a fiction. These guys are the real deal.


Much of their time is spend in solitude and prayer, reading and study. I wonder how far they really go in their practices or if they're living out their own constructed 'reality' through mutual cooperation. Are they deluding themselves with their beliefs?


One monk, who is blind, tells his tale and what he thinks about life close to death: "...And when God sees us, he always sees our entire life. And because he is an infinitely good being, he eternally seeks our well-being." This is saying and assuming much about God. The monk's faith is unquestionable and his mind content, but his worldview of life and being blind may necessitate a 'God harmed me for bettering my soul' attitude which may overlook the harsher realities in life -- perhaps life and God are not always seeking our 'well-being.'


Anyway, the movie brings up much to think about. How would life be like if that were me? Would I, could I, put my doubts aside and live in perfect faith? Is the monk's life the best way to live? Are they avoiding something rather than facing it?


I have much respect for these monks who are living their beliefs, not just talking about them, not just piddling...they are living their beliefs which is to be commended in this society of wishy-washy politically-correct bull-shit. To these monks, there is a Higher Power and He is within reach.