The Dark Night (Spanish: La noche oscura) is a 1989 Spanish drama film directed by Carlos Saura. It is about Saint John of the Cross, a Catholic priest important to the Counter-Reformation, in solitary confinement in the Carmelite monastery in Toledo, Spain.
Saint John of the Cross was a member of the Carmelite order and a follower of Saint Teresa of Jesus’ teachings. Teresa of Jesus wanted to reform the Order to emphasize poverty, austerity, and seclusion. Additionally, Teresa wanted to reimplement observation of the Primitive Rule that Pope Eugene IV relaxed in 1432 within the Carmelites. The Primitive Rule calls for more time for recitation, devotional studies and readings and puts more emphasis on evangelizing the population. Observers were not allowed to eat meat and had to fast periodically between the Feast of the Cross in September and Easter. Together with Saint John of the Cross, Saint Teresa founded the Order of the Discalced Carmelites. “Discalced” is a Latin word that means “without shoes” and comes from the Discalced Carmelites’ tradition of dressing simply and without shoes.
The reforms were very controversial among the Carmelites in the 1570s. A group of Carmelites captured John on 2 December 1576 in his dwelling in Ávila and brought him to the monastery in Toledo. There, the priests jailed John. He spent 9 months in a small room in horrible conditions with limited light, food, and contact with the outside world. During his time in the monastery, he suffered greatly. The movie tells the story of the nine months that he spent in solitary confinement in the monastery between December 1576 and July 1577.
John of the Cross was a famous Spanish poet celebrated for his works that include “Spiritual Canticles” and “Dark Night of the Soul.” The title of the movie comes from his poem. His mystical works are about the development of the soul and of the relationship between the soul and God. During his time in the monastery, he memorized 31 verses of his work “Spiritual Canticles.” Many years later, he finished his piece. He wrote all of his works between 1577 and his death in 1591; therefore, his time in the monastery influenced all of his works.
In 1726, Pope Benedict XIII named John as a saint. Saint John of the Cross is one of the 36 doctors of the Church.
Saura both wrote the screenplay and directed the film. Andrés Vicente Gómez is the producer. Juan Diego plays the role of Saint John of the Cross. The film was entered in the 39th Berlin International Film Festival.