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Ordet [The Word] (1955)

Carl Theodor Dreyer's unforgettable film Ordet (The Word) had two starting point, one obvious, one less so. In the first instance, it is an adaptation of a 1925 stage play by the Lutheran vicar Kaj Munk, who died a martyr resisting the Nazi occupation of Denmark. Secondly, there is the fact that Dreyer's mother died trying to abort her child, leaving him to be adopted.

Dreyer, who preferred to use few shots anyway, keeps the film stagey, with protracted single shots, characters facing outwards and almost speaking to the "audience" instead of to each other and just a few sets. The story concerns the widower Morten Borgen, the leading landowner in a Jutland village, who deems his patrician responsibilities to include reviving the traditional Lutheran faith among his neighbors. To this end, he sent his middle son, Johannes, to seminary, but his mind was unbalanced by exposure to the ideas of Kierkegaard, and now he enacts the role of Jesus, speaking the gospels and periodically wandering off. His oldest son, Mikkel, is a man without beliefs, not even "faith in faith," but his wife, Inger, who is pregnant with a child Morten hopes will be a boy and his eventual heir, is devout and certain her husband will return to the Christian fold simply by virtue of being a good man. It is the youngest son, Anders, who sets the drama in motion because he seeks to marry the local tailor's daughter, but said father, Peter Petersen, is the leader of a fundamentalist sect and he and Morten are barely on speaking terms, each thinking the other a heretic. Morten, for this reason, announces to Inger that he will forbid the marriage, but when Peter beats him to the punch, Morten is so outraged that he storms off to demand the match occur.

The exchange between the two men has no Christian spirit to it. Morten seems only interested in the traditional form of the national church and Peter, who we see leading a rather morose service, seems to have a formulaic faith--confession of one's sins and inadequacies magically winning grace. In a terrible moment, Peter actually prays that Inger die in childbirth if it will be the miracle that makes Morten see the error of his ways. Sure enough, when Morten returns home the delivery is proving difficult.

An arrogant doctor, who believes only his science can save the day, is summoned as well as the local pastor, who does not seem to disagree. Mikkel comes stumbling out of the birthing room and Morten asks if the baby is a boy, to which comes the devastating response: “It’s lying in there — in the pail — in four pieces.” The baby has been aborted in an attempt to save Inger's life, apparently successfully. Doctor and pastor leave, smugly pleased. Morten and Mikkel are simply relieved that Inger lived, but then she too passes.

Meanwhile, Johannes has had a disturbing conversation with one of Mikkel and Inger's daughters, asking if he should pray to save her and wondering why the others have not. The answer, of course, is that it is only the madman who is truly faithful, actually believing in the power of God, prayer and miracles. He wanders off again but returns on the day of the funeral, dressed normally, instead of robed, and perhaps back in his own mind. He retains his faith though and prays for a miracle, which (spoiler alert) sees Inger sit up in her coffin, alive again.

There's clearly an element of wish fulfillment here for Dreyer, but also a vindication for Kierkegaard, who criticized Christianity for forgetting faith in favor of form, and even for Peter--in a weird sense--for the miracle he prayed for has come to pass. Most of all, it is a triumph for Johannes and for "The Word" of the title, the actual words of Jesus rather than the institutions of Man. It's not the easiest movie to get into--even if, like the Bothers Judd, you're Jutlanders--but it is richly rewarding if you make the effort.


Grade: (A+)


See also:

3857 (2 movies reviewed)

    -WIKIPEDIA: Carl Theodor Dreyer
    -WEBSITE: Carl TH Dreyer
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Carl Theodor Dreyer (IMDB)
    -ENTRY: Carl Theodor Dreyer Danish director (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -ENTRY: Dreyer, Carl Theodor (Senses of Cinema)
    -ESSAY: Realized Mysticism in The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Theodor Dreyer, Criterion)
    -EXCERPT: Thoughts on My Métier (Dreyer in Double Reflection, Carl Dreyer’s Writings on Film. Edited with commentary by Donald Skoller)
    -WIKIPEDIA: Ordet
    -FILM SITE: Ordet (The Word) (
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Ordet (Rotten Tomatoes)
    -ENTRY: Ordet (
    -ESSAY: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Carl Dreyer (Criterion)JUN 10, 2010)
    -ESSAY: Where to begin with Carl Dreyer (Alex Barrett, BFI)
    -PODCAST: CARL THEODOR DREYER’S THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (Ryan Gallagher, August 5, 2009, Criterion Cast)
    -ESSAY: Carl Th. Dreyer (Armond White, AUG 20, 2001, Criterion)
    -ESSAY: The Incarnate Transcendence of Ordet (Thomas Beltzer October 2003, Bright Lights Film Journal)
    -ESSAY: Approaching and Transcending the Limit: The Experience of Death and Possibilities of Renewal in Carlos Reygadas’ Silent Light and Dreyer’s Ordet (Ian Tan, April 23, 2015, Bright Lights Film Journal)
    -ESSAY: Denounced, Cut, and Burned: The Passion of Joan of Arc (Gary Morris, January 1, 2000, Bright Lights Film Journal)
    -ESSAY: Watch with mother: The extraordinary films of Carl Dreyer are informed by his parent's terrible death. But the strict religious observance of his adoptive family is a myth (Jonathan Rosenbaum, 30 May 2003, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: Joan of Arc: striking the right note for a silent film classic: Film director Carl Theodor Dreyer never settled on a score to accompany his 1928 silent masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc. Will the Orlando Consort’s a cappella version – using medieval songs composed in the saint’s lifetime – prove a more fitting soundtrack? (Donald Greig, 7 Jul 2015, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: Carl Dreyer Questions Christianity in “Ordet”: At an International Cinema lecture, Dennis Packard explained the Christian themes and cinematic techniques in the Danish film Ordet. (Kayla Goodson, October 6, 2015, BYU Humanities)
    -ESSAY: Mise en Scène as Miracle in Dreyer’s Ordet (Jonathan Rosenbaum)
    -ESSAY: Never Too Late [on a Carl Dreyer retrospective] (Jonathan Rosenbaum, March 13, 2009, Artforum)
    -ESSAY: An Old Film in a New Light: Lighting as the Key to Johannine Identity in "Ordet" (Richard V. Goodwin, University of Otago, Journal of Religion & Film)
    -ESSAY: The Fullness of Time: Kierkegaardian Themes in Dreyer’s Ordet (Daniel Watts, School of Philosophy and Art History, University of Essex, Colchester)
    -ESSAY: ‘Ordet’ by Carl Theodor Dreyer a Kierkegaardian movie? (Igor Tavilla, June 2018, European Journal of Science and Theology)
    -ESSAY: The Unbelievable: Carl-Theodor Dreyer’s Ordet (Katerina Virvidaki, Testing Coherence in Narrative Film)
    -ESSAY: Filming a miracle: Ordet, Silent Light, and the spirit of contemplative cinema (Rick Warner, Critical Quarterly)
    -ESSAY: Why Carl Theodor Dreyer is one of cinema’s greatest ever directors: To mark the release of the BFI’s new Blu-ray collection, revisit four works by the Danish master. (PAUL RISKER, Little White Lies)
    -ESSAY: Christian’s Cinematic Syntax: Faith and “Ordet” (Christian Mietus, Jet Fuel Review)
    -ESSAY: “I Bid Thee Arise!”: Reverse-Editing and Reversal Miracles in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Ordet (Justin Ponder, Religion and the Arts)
    -ESSAY: The Beginner’s Guide: Carl Theodor Dreyer, Director (Film Inquiry, MARCH 2, 2018)
    -ESSAY: Re-sounding Carl Theodor Dreyer’s La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (Donald Greig, The Oxford Handbook of Music and Medievalism)
    -ESSAY: ‘Ordet’ by Carl Theodor Dreyer a Kierkegaardian movie? (Igor Tavilla, June 2018, European Journal of Science and Theology)
    -ESSAY: A guide to rescoring a silent classic: Portishead’s Adrian Utley and Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory discuss writing new music for The Passion of Joan of Arc. (LARA C CORY, Little White Lies)
    -ESSAY: Carl Theodor Dr Carl Theodor Dreyer's Response to Anti-Semitism in His Unfilmed Jesus Film Scenario (Peter G. Christensen, 2006, The Bridge)
    -ESSAY: Space, Shadow and Light: The Films of Carl Theodor Dreyer (Bobby Seal, 2/12/15, Psychogeographic Review)
    -ESSAY: ‘Voices of Light’ and Joan of Arc illuminate mystery of faith (Rick Schultz, October 14, 2014, Jewish Journal)
    -ESSAY: The Beginner’s Guide: Carl Theodor Dreyer, Director (Benjamin Wang, MARCH 2, 2018, Film Inquiry)
    -ESSAY: Filmmaker Retrospective: The Spiritual Cinema of Carl Theodor Dreyer (Jorge Diez, February 9, 2015, Taste of Cinema)
    -ESSAY: Hygge, noir or both? The Films of Carl Theodor Dreyer (Susan Halstead, 20 MARCH 2018, British Library)
    -ESSAY: Techniques Of Terror: Carl Dreyer's Danish Gothic Dissected (Siobhan McKeown , March 14th, 2012, The Quietus)
    -ESSAY: Film Studies: Ready for your close-up? Well, sure, as long as it's a Carl Dreyer (David Thomson, 1 June 2003, Independent)
    -ESSAY: “Life. Yes. Life.”: Editing and Miracles in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Ordet (Justin Ponder, 20 October 2017, Art Cinema and Theology)
    -ESSAY: Carl Theodor Dreyer and Ordet: How "The Passion of Joan of Arc" filmmaker anticipated Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" by 50 years (Todd McCarthy, 11/13/2012, Hollywood Reporter)
    -DISCUSSION: The Stunning, Faith-Testing Strangeness of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s ‘The Word’ (Landon Palmer and Scott Beggs, Film School Rejects)
    -WIKIPEDIA: Kaj Munk
    -ETEXT: Attack Upon Christendom (Soren Kierkegaard)
    -ESSAY: Kierkegaard's anti-ecclesiology: the attack on ‘Christendom’, 1854–1855 (David R. Law, 27 Apr 2007, International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church)
    -ARCHIVES: dreyer (Jonathan Rosenbaum)
    -ARCHIVES: Carl Theodor Dreyer (Strictly Film School)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Carl Dreyer: Day of Wrath, Ordet, Gertrud on VHS (Gary Morris, July 1, 2000, Bright Lights Film Journal)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ordet (Chris Fujiwara, Criterion)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ordet (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ordet (Strictly Film School)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ordet (Philip French, The Guardian)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ordet (Roger Ebert)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ordet (NY Times, Dec. 16, 1957)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ordet (David Blakeslee, Criterion Reflections)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ordet (Decent Films)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ordet (Gary Morris, Images Journal)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ordet (Keith Phipps, AV Club)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ordet (Philippa Hawker, The Age)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ordet (Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ordet (Time Out)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ordet (Larsen on Film)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ordet (Tim Brayton, Alternate Ending)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ordet (Charles Silver, MOMA: Inside/Out)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ordet (The Culturium)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ordet (Richard Brody, The New Yorker)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ordet (douglas Buck, Offscreen)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ordet (The Film Sufi)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ordet (Matthew, Classic Art Films)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ordet (Douglas Messerli, World Cinema Review)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ordet (Film Capsule)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ordet (Landon Palmer and Scott Beggs, Film School Rejects)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ordet (Darren Hughes, Arts & Faith)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ordet (James Travers, French Films)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ordet (Dennis Grunes)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ordet (Life and Nothing More)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ordet (Paul Schrader, Criterion)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ordet (Culturium)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ordet (Douglas Buck, Off Screen)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ordet (Donald Levit, Reel Talk)
    -FILM REVIEW: Day of Wrath (Derek Malcolm, The Guardian)
    -FILM REVIEW: Day of Wrath (Jonathan Rosenbaum)
    -FILM REVIEW: Vampyr (Anne Billson, The Guardian))
    -FILM REVIEW: Passion of Joan of Arc (Philip French, The Guardian)
    -FILM REVIEW: Passion of Joan of Arc (Roger Ebert)
    -FILM REVIEW: Passion of Joan of Arc (Gary Morris, Images Journal)
    -FILM REVIEW: Passion of Joan of Arc (Larsen on Film)
    -FILM REVIEW: Passion of Joan of Arc (Tim Brayton, Alternate Ending)
    -REVIEW: of The Films of Carl-Theodor Dreyer by David Bordwell (Jonathan Rosenbaum)
    -REVIEW: of Gertrud (Elsa Gress Wright, Film Quarterly)
    -REVIEW: of Michael (Eric Henderson, Slant)
    -REVIEW: of The Parson's Widow (Silent London)
    -REVIEW: of The President (Time Out)
    -REVIEW: of Carl Theodor Dreyer and Ordet: My Summer With the Danish Filmmaker by Jan Wahl (Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter)