Sunday, 15 November 2015

I've Just Seen: Ordet (1955)

Ordet (1955)

Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer

Religion's relationship with cinema fascinates me; to some extent this is because of my own beliefs, which are Christian with a huge tendency towards the philosophical and metaphorical side of things. I find the films of Bergman, Tarkovsky and even Kieslowski wonderful in their explorations of the human desire to make sense of the world and the at times miraculous and terrible things in it. I can now add Dreyer to this list as well.

I have seen Dreyer's Joan of Arc, which is a beautiful depiction of pure faith in its gentlest form. Ordet explores how the divine and extraordinary exists beside everyday existence. At the film's start the Borgen family are at odds with each other and another family, the Petersens. All have different approaches to religion: some are devout, one has been driven mad by it, one doesn't believe anymore, and the Borgens and the Petersens espouse different ways to God. The Borgens are more bright and liberal, while the Petersens are more strict and denying. The story could easily be a small family drama that borders on soap opera except for two aspects: the ending, and Dreyer's style.

Mark Cousins, and I assume many others, see Dreyer as the director most interested in white on screen. His films feel more like they are shadows playing on a white background, a rather beautiful effect. It is matched by the simplicity of the sets, which Dreyer apparently had dressed, then removed all but the essentials.

The ending is incredibly moving for a number of reasons. Dreyer stages the miracle in the most unshowy way, a simple movement of the hand with no sweeping music cue, greeted by gentle whispers of surprise and joy. What elevates it and makes it even more miraculous is the reconciliation this event has brought about between the two families. Before it happens the two heads of the homes ask for forgiveness, which is a miracle in and of itself, the everyday type that is just as life changing as the one that happens right after.

This is a very beautiful film that doesn't require you to believe in the religion of the characters. Its central idea is about how transformative and important love, understanding and forgiveness for people, and Dreyer presents this in a deep and profound way. Clearly I liked this, and much more could be written about the theological ideas presented in it. However, it is also a film that should simply be experienced, especially if you can do so without knowing the ending (so if you have read this before seeing it, I can only apologise for potentially spoiling it for you).


  1. I am happy you liked this one. Religion is a big theme in this movie and I think you got more out of that part than I did. I found it thought provoking that so many attitudes to religion and its implications are represented and yet it is the crazy guy and the child that turn out to be right. I think Dreyer was opposed to dogmatism.
    For me however it was the emotional rollercoaster that was the big sell her. I got under the skin of these people and felt pain, joy and despair and all the other feelings going through them.

    1. I'm glad you liked it too! I think Dreyer got the balance between characters and theme just right. While they could have all turned into types, Dreyer and the actors infused everyone with genuine feeling, and the loss and their response to it is very relatable.
      I agree about Dreyer's approach to dogmatism (something I certainly relate to); you can also see it in Joan of Arc. I love that he uses the idea of simplicity and love to cut through the petty complexities of life.