Sunday, June 10, 2007

Great Silence

This unusual movie about monks whose vow of silence and solitude extends even to eating most meals in their cells came to Albuquerque, and it's been the topic of several conversations. It not only depicts the great silence, it is mostly silent; there's perhaps 15 minutes of talking in the 2 hour plus movie. It's still quite clear what is going on; postulants are accepted, meals prepared, wood chopped, psalms sung, studies, haircuts, even a bit of play. It is not an easy movie to watch, and the silence has little to do with the difficulty, what is difficult is that it is so difficult to imagine ones self living such a life.
One startling scene depicts the monks in their one weekly "communal" meal. They have washed their hands one by one, filed in to the dining hall and taken their seats. They eat in silence while one monk reads aloud from their Rule of Life. "We eat together once a week," the rule goes, "So that we may experience the joys of family life." It doesn't however, look like any family life you or I know.

In a scene that touched my heart and life, the camera shows the prior's office; alone of all the work spaces we've seen, his desk is cluttered with bills and a fund raising appeal. There is even a phone on his desk; this prior has to talk. Isn't that a capsule of religious leadership: the sacrifices are not simply material or even familial; they are spiritual.

It is a beautiful film, full of still life shots of simple things; hallways, fruit in the sun, clouds, faces. "I got it long before 2+ hours," someone said to me. "These people live in a beautiful place."

The director/cameraman (he worked virtually alone, living with the monks in silence himself) is an artist, and artists learn to see beautiful things and express them. The Monks are not in it for the beauty, at least not directly, they are attempting to develop a deep relationship with God.. God, like beauty, is here with us, if we can only learn to see, so the artist's vocation is not so different from the Monk's vocation.

You'll enjoy this silent movie more (ironically) if you know a bit of Latin and some French.


Ms. Theologian said...

I just put it in my Netflix queue. Thank you!

ms. kitty said...

Me too.