By midlandsmovies, Oct 28 2019 09:58AM
Outside the City
Directed by Nick Hamer
A tough watch from the beginning, Outside the City starts with a very elderly and frail man in bed who talks about the power, or not, of prayer. As bells begin tolling, we are introduced to the monks of Mount St Bernard Abbey.
The Abbey’s location near the M1 and within spitting distance of the power station is a nice contrast between the modern world and the archaic life lived by these spiritual men. The film mixes old photos, talking head interviews and measured shots of the Abbey itself in its rural Leicestershire location.
With the lack of “new recruits”, the current number of monks have dwindled through the years, sadly by death mostly. A self-described “contemplative monastic community of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance” their life of “radical discipleship” means early rising, endless prayer and their reflection of life.
Ironically, I found out about this information on their very informative website and from mobility scooters to business planning, the monks decide to take the Abbey’s continuation into their own hands by planning for what lies ahead in the 21st century.
Fighting against an ever-changing contemporary world, they decide to secure a better future by changing their farmland from dairy produce to a Trappist beer brewery. Which turns into a great success – even with fantastic YouTube reviews.
A heart-breaking final few days, and subsequent death, of one of the monks is an extremely difficult watch and as you hear stories from these men, you are enlightened to a life so different to your very own.
However, my own personal partisanship on the importance (or otherwise) of religion did hamper my enjoyment of the film somewhat. Seeing each man – we’re all aware of the side-lining of women in these institutions – throw away months and years was partly soul-destroying if I’m being brutally honest.
Recently I watched “Hail Satan?” – a documentary about the Church of Satan who, rather than the name suggests, work within the community and accept a range of other alternative-leaning free-thinking men, women and transgender people. And their involvement in improving, rather than ostracization, of society was far more aligned to my own outlook it must be said.
I certainly don’t think a film in any way has to align to the views of the reviewer – quite the contrary – yet although this film successfully challenged my own beliefs, the interesting and quirky beer-brewery narrative was essentially side-lined for a bit of an eye-rolling sermon about the continuation of their old boys’ club.
However, it is certainly not my place to tell anyone how to live their own life. That’s down to each and everyone’s own “calling” and I support individualism and independent decision-making which these devout monks had in holy spades.
Despite some fundamental differences on the topic, it has to be said that the film is as much about age as it is religion. It also does address some of the conflicts they face with modern views similar to my own, which was a positive acknowledgement of their current struggles.
Outside the City therefore ends as a very respectful look at devoted men and the ever-changing world they, and we, inhabit. It is also a well put-together film contrasting the past, present and future and gives a challenging glimpse into a bygone world which certainly got a strong emotional response from this reviewer. And although maybe not the same feelings will be had, I think its poignant themes and affecting questions will resonate with most audiences too with its thought-provoking comments on religious lifestyles.