Wednesday 1 May 2018 0509
A Carl Theodor Dreyer Film
Top 100 Films Ever Made –
This film is #24 in the 2012 Critics Poll and #19 in the Directors Poll.
It is agreed upon by many people from many different countries and from different filmmaking backgrounds that it is one of the greatest films ever made. Out of all those polled, 42 critics and 19 directors put this film on their Top Ten list.
Ordet (1955) is about two families in Denmark, the Borgens and the Petersens, particularly focusing on Morten Borgen, his three sons, Mikkel, Johannes and Anders, and his pregnant daughter-in-law, Inger. They all live on the Borgen farm. Inger is married to the eldest son, Mikkel, who never developed a belief in God or Jesus. She believes that one day he will come to believe in Christ and will find his faith. The middle son, Johannes, walks in and out of his bedroom intermittently spouting the words of Jesus from the four New Testament Gospels. They say that Johannes is insane and that it is the father’s fault for making him study so much because he wanted to have a pastor in the family. The father defends that criticism. He is terribly sad about what has befallen Johannes but says that Johannes was so clever, so smart and had so much potential that it made sense for him to study the bible and philosophy.
The youngest son, Anders, has fallen in love with a girl, Anne, who lives in town, the daughter of Peter Petersen, the tailor. While Morten and his family attend the local church, Peter has created his own denomination and those that follow his beliefs attend church and prayer meetings in his house. Whatever their religious differences, no doubt it is made clearer in the original play on which it is based, which I’m guessing had a lot more dialogue than remains in the film. The specific differences are unknown but whatever they are it has created a division between the two groups and they are full of bitterness and even, particularly from the Petersens, hatred. Neither side will consider the marriage of a child from each of the households although when Morten discovers that Peter has rejected Anders request to marry Anne, he is incensed and goes to visit him to discuss their differences. By far, Morten is the less abrasive of the two men, while still remaining true to his own beliefs. He has interrupted a prayer group at Petersen’s house. When the phone rings, it is news that Inger has gone into labour and that there are severe complications. The baby dies, Inger rallies, then dies. A funeral is held.
Peter becomes personally aware that his attitude towards the Borgens was unChristian and attempts to improve the relationship. Then comes the miracle that turns a realistic drama into a film about faith. It is a film that is about settling our differences and finding our commonalities; a film about forgiveness, reconciliation and belief.
All in all, though, it is a film about flawed people, and the importance of believing in God, despite belonging to different denominations. It is about finding peace. It is about the people of two denominations, all of whom are Christian, each group denouncing the other as false believers, headed for hell. The film is also about believing in, or not believing in, miracles, and forthrightly testifies to the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and ultimately the resurrection of all of those who believe in Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross. It is also about two opposing groups letting go of their petty squabbles. The end of the film shows Johannes perform a miracle. The power of that miracle breaks down the barrier between the two denominations. The film ends with Christ at the centre of Peter the Tailor and Morten Borgen’s belief, with Mikkel’s conversion to belief in God and Jesus through the power of the resurrection.
I have one question: why does Dreyer make a film that puts the words of Jesus into the mouths of an insane man? Is he expecting his audience to recognize him as Jesus? Or for the character to be rejected and ridiculed by non-believers?