The new issue of Commonweal includes one columnist’s thoughts on Philip Gröning’s Into Great Silence and the Viriginia Tech massacre. The writer (I can’t find his name on the page) says,
The film has been a huge hit, not only in New York but also in allegedly secular Europe. Its success reminds me of the rave reviews given to Marilynne Robinson’s wonderful, quiet, and unabashedly Christian novel Gilead. There is a spiritual hunger that goes deep. Some of its expressions can be shallow, but the need is heartfelt and real. Many churches may not meet it, but some places and ways of life (monasteries and monasticism, for example) attract people because they offer the hope that there is an answer to an eternal, deeply felt need.
Not everyone is so enchanted by the film. Susan Dunne (Baltimore Sun) complains,
… [T]ry as I might, I could not love it, because as a piece of cinema, Into Great Silence would try the patience of a saint. … It is clear that Groning is using this structure to get viewers into the same simple, contemplative frame of mind in which the monks live day to day. But the fact is that men enter ascetic monasteries because they are that sort of person already, and in that they are uncommon. Expecting filmgoers to be that sort of person, for 164 minutes no less, is asking too much.
…this is a monastery; there aren’t 164 minutes worth of things to see.
Well, not unless you’re looking closely.
I’m sorry that the film proved so frustrating for Susan, but I’m also surprised that, as a film critic, she found it so taxing. Maybe she’ll prefer the nearly three hours of action in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, where there’s more stuff to look at in the first ten minutes than Into Great Silence can find in three hours. But will Pirates serve up even a fraction of the food for thought offered by Silence?
Gröning’s film isn’t about what we see, but rather… how we see it.
I don’t think Gröning “expects” anything. He invites. Those who have ears to hear, and eyes to see… let them hear and see. Those who have patience… let them be blessed. Those who don’t, let them miss out.
In fact, I think it would be interesting to read Susan’s comments again, and then read all of the quotes collected and arranged so perfectly last Thursday at Opus, right here.
Am I being too harsh?