Shhhh: ‘Into Great Silence’ will test your concentration

  • By Robert Horton / Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, March 29, 2007 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

The idea of “Into Great Silence” is an intriguing, risky one: This movie goes inside a famous monastery in France and, for nearly three hours of screen time, simply observes the daily life of the monks.

Their existence is almost entirely speechless. Indeed, the opening 20 minutes of this movie go by without a word being spoken. I found myself wondering whether we would hear any words at all, at which point a liturgical chant suddenly breaks the silence.

German filmmaker Philip Groning spent six months filming inside and outside the monastery of Grand Chartreuse, which is located in an unbelievably picturesque corner of the Alps. He applies no storyline to the life there. We watch the rounds of contemplative existence for the monks.

Some of these actions are expected: praying, studying sacred texts, gathering for Mass in a darkened chapel.

Other daily chores are more humdrum, although there’s something about watching a monk prepare food that is somehow different from the way I make turkey chili. And there’s an oddly charming sequence where a monk goes out in the snow to uncover patches of garden for early seed planting.

Groning could not use artificial lighting within the monastery, which actually works to his advantage. The soft light coming in through windows looks like a painting, the visual equivalent of the hushed sound within the thick stone walls of the place.

He also uses the darkness of the chapel at night to emphasize what a single candle looks like aglow in a large dark room, an eerie vision that underlines the spiritual purpose of these solitary men keeping the light of their God illuminated.

Scenes of the monks taking a break from their most rigorous obligations are almost giddy by contrast. Once a week, the elder monks break for an hour of conversation, during which they sound, well, like guys who’ve been waiting a week to talk.

At 162 minutes, “Into Great Silence” wants to completely immerse you in its experience. I have to confess I felt restive toward the end; the film truly provides no semblance of story, except perhaps the gradual change from winter to spring.

Trying to watch the film on DVD would probably be fruitless, because it’s too easy to break the spell in your home. The film’s meditative state forces you to appreciate things – like the way silence isn’t really silence, but a rich world of footsteps and wind and snow melting into rivulets of water.

The Grand Chartreuse monastery in France is the scene for “Into Great Silence.”

Talk to us

More in Life

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay walks into the Prohibition Grille along Hewitt Avenue in Everett Wednesday Dec. 5, 2012 while reportedly filming an episode of Kitchen Nightmares at the Everett restaurant. (Mark Mulligan / The Herald)
Even more films and TV shows filmed in Snohomish County

Readers point out projects previously missed in this series, from reality television to low-budget indie films.

Daniella Beccaria / for The Herald

15-month-old Kantu attempts to climb a pumpkin at Stocker Farms in Snohomish on Sunday, September 20th, 2015. Stocker Farms offers a U-pick patch, farm animals and a corn maze.
Best pumpkin patch in Snohomish County

You voted, we tallied, here are the results.

Local musician Alex Johnston, whose newest album "Daylight Fooldream" pairs with short film he made with help from his partner Mikaela Henderson, sits with his morning coffee on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023, at Narrative Coffee in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Folktronica musician shoots 37-minute visual album on iPhone in Everett

Alex Johnston, 31, describes his music as ”if Coldplay and Bon Iver had a love child.”

Death of parent with child. Piece of paper with parents and children is torn in half.
Helping children cope with the hard realities of divorce

I’s important to set aside one’s feelings and find a way to make this challenging transition as comfortable for children as you can.

In Belgium, each type of beer has its own glass – whether wide, tall, or fluted – to show off its distinct qualities.
Rick Steves’ Europe: Bruges brews lift a weary traveler’s spirits

The Belgian city is a mecca for beer lovers from around the world.

Children’s author Barbara Herkert to lead Story Time at Edmonds Bookshop, Friday September 29th, 9:30-10:00 am!
Author to read her new kids book at Edmonds bookstore

Author Barbara Herkert will read “This Old Madrone Tree” Friday at Edmonds Bookshop.

Flowering knotweed Persicaria amplexicaulis firetail in the morning light.
Save for one infamous variety, fleece flowers are easy to fall in love with

This long-blooming, easy-to-grow perennial comes in many desirable varieties. But watch out: One is an invasive knotweed.

Can he get the fare difference refunded after he was downgraded?

American Airlines downgrades Thomas Sennett and his family to economy class on their flights from Boston to Phoenix. Why isn’t it refunding the fare difference?

From left, Elora Coble, Carol Richmond, David Hayes, Karli Reinbold, Giovanna Cossalter Walters, Landon Whitbread in a scene from Edmonds Driftwood Players' production of "Murder on the Orient Express." (Dale Sutton / Magic Photography)
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Edmonds Driftwood Players opens its 65th season with Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express.”

Most Read