America’s legendary documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman shot Essene 50 years ago at the height of the commune movement in the United States. Unlike his previous institutional films which showcase an insane asylum, a public high school, an inner city police force, a hospital, and a military training school, Essene's canvas is the far less turbulent terrain of a serene and austere Benedictine monastery devoted to the love and service of God and the divine spirit. This paper undertakes a close textual and hermeneutic analysis of Essene alongside an appraisal of Wiseman’s working methodology, his cinematic portrayals of character and dramaturgy, and his discursive construction of a central thesis. The film is analyzed from the tripartite perspective of the central Benedictine tenets of study, prayer, and work, alongside an application of Goffman's dramaturgical insights into the performance of social interaction within institutions. What does Wiseman's time capsule tell us about the glue that binds, and the tensions that fray intentional communities?

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.