Ach du lieber! I’ve been Sundanced again! This is what I get for not reading movie reviews. They might have told me that Into Great Silence had been awarded the prestigious I Am Bored to Death by this Stilted Example of Why Films Should Not Be Made With Art Grants Money, But I Think Everyone Else Likes It So I’d Better Vote For It Too Award at the Sundance Film Festival. I could have avoided the thing instead of bailing after fifteen minutes.
Into Great Silence is a German documentary (its title in German is Zum Große Boomennichte) meant to immerse the sporting viewer in the life of Carthusian monks. They’ve taken vows of silence; also of immobility to judge by the portion I endured. The filmmakers, in empathy, took vows of non-focus.
The interminable opening shot was of a monk’s head. His eyes are closed, his head bent. The wide shot following reveals he’s kneeling on a prie dieu, deep in, well, prayer, I suppose. Yep, there his is: praying. He sure is silent! Quiet, too. And immobile. Quiet and immobile. And silent. Greatly silent. Hmm… He sure is praying a lot… Well, of course, he’s a monk. It’s his job in a way. Monks pray…I mean when they’re not chanting, of course. Gotta pray. Just look at him… Pray. Pray. Pray. WHOAH! A sudden return to the close-up of his head! Geez, you could have warned me, filmmakers! I almost had a heart attack!
If you’ve read anything about the monastic life — try Thomas Merton, for example — you have some idea of the intensity of that world; in the social complications of men managing life together, and in the internal struggles of the sprititual life. To reduce that to close-ups of a shaven head is like doing a documentary on a great author by showing a series of ten-minute close-ups of his face while he chews his pen and files his nails and stares out the window. It misses the action.
Well, don’t go by me. I ducked out. Into Big Stillness may be the finest movie ever made, but I’ve been out of school long enough to have completely shed that academically inculcated belief that putting up with dullness is a hallmark of intelligence. The theater is not a classroom. You can leave without penalty.