Thursday, September 9, 2010

Ordet (The Word)

Carl Theodor Dreyer (1889-1968), 1955, 2 hours, Denmark

The theme of this movie is nothing short of the mystery and grandeur of human life. It is about birth, death, madness and faith. The cosmic is never far from the mundane realities of our daily life, and we share the joys and sufferings of a comfortably off family of Danish farmers.

Morton Gorden is the grandfather, a liberal Christian. He has three sons. The eldest (Mikkel) is married to Inger and has two daughters. Inger is pregnant. Mikkel is a good hearted person but refuses faith. Johannes, the middle one, has lost his mind and thinks he is Jesus, and wanders around in a daze, blessing and prophesizing and exhorting. The youngest, Anders, wants to marry the tailor's daughter. The tailor Peter won't hear of this, because he embraces a more fundamentalist version of faith, and regards the farmer's family as heretics. Morton visits Peter with the proposal and they almost come to blows.

Events veer off on a tangent from here as Inger goes into labor and both her life and the child's is endangered. The film suddenly gathers unstoppable momentum, plunging from depths of despair to triumph and reconciliation. Let me say no more of the plot except that this is a movie universal in the scope of it's concerns, a film to see and treasure.

The details of daily life (like preparing a cup of coffee) are captured lovingly and leisurely and the speech is ponderous and measured, as though the characters are speaking to the audience more than each other, with almost biblical weight. It is a picture of solid rural domesticity, in a well tended house, surrounded by the sounds of farm animals. The horse carriage races through the wind blown countryside. Johannes the Mad Seer wanders over the heath, gazing over a promontory, addressing the cloudy dome of the sky. The world of Ordet is of solid materials, unlike the quaking earth in The Passion of Joan of Arc. The rhythms are of the ordinary yet not so ordinary lives we all share.

Perhaps the message, if any, is that the mundane and the sublime are close to each other. The heaven and the earth are one.


Anonymous said...

A great film. I can't wait to revisit it again. By the way, have you watched "Silent Light"(2007)? Although the background is far different, that movie reminded me of "Ordet" a lot.

S. M. Rana said...

I glanced Ebert's review Of Silent Light and might see it, although he has only given it four stars.