We watched Into Great Silence tonight. There was an oddity or two: the French text had “give up everything and follow me” to be a disciple, but the German and English translations left off the “follow me” part, for instance.
Set that aside. It was nearly three hours, and was the kind of thing you should be able to watch quietly. Laundry and monitoring children interfered somewhat. And I must confess that from time to time I checked the clock.
My first reaction to the opening shots was that this kind of focus on background was pretentious. But I got over that quickly enough: the images reflect what life is like there. Our crowded lives need loud commercials to get our attention, but when your world is stripped down and you're trying to pray, an apple on the table can be distracting. Actually, when you're trying to pray pretty near anything can be distracting. At least that's my experience.
It helps to know a bit about what's going on, because there's no commentary. If you're patient, sometimes the meaning or use of something becomes clear; like the loop of cloth hanging in the hall. Sometimes you have to puzzle it out yourself: the monk with the keyboard was practicing hitting the notes right because he was leading the singing for the group later.
Of course you can't see the major activity: prayer. You see people sitting quietly, but since you are a watcher and not a participant there's a certain distance. But Philip Gröning is respectful, and neither approves nor disapproves. The blind monk, and the dying monk are not shunted aside, but are still part of the group. Gröning doesn't celebrate that, just notices it. The outside world can be seen—in fact the monks have regular walks through the countryside and towns—but they're disconnected from it. Except for the abbot who is shown dealing with bills on a desk piled high with paperwork.
The movie covers a year, starting with new postulants in winter, and showing snippets of life: kneeling in cells, singing in chapel, digging out the garden, feeding the cats—and ends after an explanation of life by the blind monk.
My better half said “Half the time I thought what they were doing was wonderful, and the other half I was saying The world is full of people who need love and attention and you're shutting yourselves away in a mountain.
I'm too talkative for such a regimen not to have some attractiveness, but I have no calling to spend the rest of my life doing nothing but praying and chopping wood. Even if I were Catholic. I do think that the occasional fast from news and talk and everything else but prayer and physical work is a good thing for most of us, but not for more than a few days.
I wonder if the reverse is true (probably is): would Trappists benefit from spending a week or two every year making kids clean up their rooms and do their homework? They'd probably do OK at waking up at 4, and at changing diapers; but those are the easy jobs.
Watch it if you can. Read up on the Trappists first, so you can catch on quicker; and try and see it with the kids in bed and the phone turned off.