INTO GREAT SILENCE (Philip Gröning). 162 minutes. Opens Friday (October 27). For venues and times, see Movies, page 115. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Into Great Silence is a pleasant experience if you have the stamina for it. For two hours and 42 minutes we look in on the life of the Carthusian Order of monks in the Grande Chartreuse, a monastery in the French Alps. The monks avoid speech almost entirely, spending their time in prayer, simple chores, study and meditation.
There's no narration, no exposition, only a few scriptural intertitles and one brief on-camera interview to give us any sense of what the monks are doing with their austere, simple lives.
Philip Gröning calls his film a meditation, and his goal is to give us a feel for, rather than an understanding of, the monks' lives and meditative practices. So, with a still or serenely moving camera, he dwells at great length on faces, architecture and the small details of daily life, and achieves countless beautiful images and a peaceful rhythm that makes the film work surprisingly well.
But ultimately his project is doomed. There's no way that looking at pictures of people leading meditative lives can even approach the experience of such lives or of meditation itself. It's in only one moment, when Grºning intercuts shots of a monk copying text with a ripple pattern of raindrops in a puddle, that the film transcends the literal.