3 January 2021

Carl Theodor Dreyer's Ordet | The Word (1955)


Many film directors have been influenced by Carl Theodor Dreyer, and among those influenced by his Ordet are Bruno Dumont in Hors Satan and Denys Arcand's Jésus de MontréalOrdet was adapted from the 1932 play by Kaj Munk. Its dramatic roots are evident from the claustrophobic atmosphere of the film, shot almost entirely indoors in two homes, although even then virtually entirely in a farmhouse.

The essential story is of this farming family which is very religious. The father Morten Borgen lives with his three sons – Johannes, Mikkel and Anders, and his daughter-in-law Inger  who is married to Mikkel.

Johannes is the problem because, although his father intended him to be a pastor, his head became turned by reading Kierkegaard and he now seems to be in full nervous breakdown mode, spending time out on the sand dunes and quoting from the bible as if he were Christ.

However, Johannes states that Inger – now sleeping after her child died during labour – is now in fact dead, which is correct. And when Johannes returns from the dunes to a house full of mourners and a horse-drawn hearse outside, he says, to the consternation of those in the house, that she can be ressurrected. He asks her to awaken, which she does, then this miracle turns the atheist Mikkel into a believer. The closing scene is one of the most moving in movie history.

It sounds strange that such a film – filled as it is with religious zeal and petty religious sectarian rivalry – should have such relevance to the (serious) film industry today, but it does. Critic Robert Ebert said that Ordet is 'a difficult film to enter. But once you're inside, it is impossible to escape'.

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