Into Great Silence, the almost three hour long "documentary" film about life in La Grande Chartreuse, the mother-house of the Carthusian order in the French Alps is a film not to everybody's taste. But one thing is for certain, unless you are certain that you are called to that life, spending the money for the DVD might not be worth it for you. It is now showing at the Lagoon Theater in Uptown in Minneapolis.
It was a surprise hit all over Europe when it was first released two years and only now is being shown in the U.S.
This is a virtually silent movie whose memorable dialogue consists only of the sound of bells and a snippet of gossip during a recreation period about how "easy" life is in Trappist monasteries. The Carthusians, a one thousand year old order are considered to be the most strict of the Roman Catholic religious orders. They have only one sink for the men to wash their hands; the Trappists allow six sinks.
They do allow themselves some modern conveniences such as electric hair clippers, plastic watering cans, modern hiking boots, plastic hoses, and a lap top computer for handling their accounting needs, etc.
If you purchase the DVD, the temptation to read, or vacuum or web surf during the movie might be distracting with nothing but silence (and bells; did I mention bells?) to fill the void.
The Carthusians spend most of their day in their individual four room, two story "cells" and have their food brought to them. They gather for Mass and for common prayer a few times during the day where no musical instruments are allowed and Gregorian Chant is the "music." Liturgical abuse is unknown because their liturgy is extremely basic.
Life in the cells is limited to reading, meditation, contemplation and sleeping. [Observation: a high percentage of them seem to wear glasses, probably to read in the limited light in their cells].
They are allowed a four hour recreation period once a week where they may speak to each other to foster the relationship of a religious family. And they are allowed personal family visits twice a year. Attendance by laypeople is not allowed at their liturgies. It took a dozen years for getting the permission for this film to be made.
That's the plot.
But I found it rather interesting (being a bit geeky) and wish I had prepared a bit for seeing the movie by doing a bit of research.
For example, there were Carthusians shown who appeared to be more like "laborers" who cooked and farmed and did much of the "work" of the monastery. I guess they would be the equivalent of the "extern" nuns in Mother Angelica's cloistered Poor Clare monastery.
Much of their income comes from the sale of the Grand Chartreuse liqueur that is manufactured in a different abbey but whose profits are shared among all Carthusian monasteries.
Here are a few links that you should investigate before going to see the movie. They will help you understand a bit about Carthusian life:
Official Carthusian Monk Web Site
Matthew Arnold's "Stanzas from the Grand Chartreuse"
The Carthusian Order - Catholic Encyclopedia
La Grande Chartreuse - Catholic Encyclopedia
I would also think that Monsignor Callahan at the St Paul Seminary and Father Baer at the St John Vianney College Seminary should make the viewing of this film mandatory for the men in their charge when they complain about seminary discipline in St Paul. The threat of transfer to La Grande Chartreuse should be sufficient for keeping most seminarians in line.