It is fairly clear that the directors and critics that voted to clear the Sight + Sound list are enormous fans of Carl Theodore Dreyer. Ordet is the first of three films by Mr. Dreyer that I will be watching. A Danish spiritual drama based on the play of the same name, written by Kaj Munk, the film is centered around the Borgen family consisting of a grandfather, his three sons, the wife of one of the sons and their children. Each of the characters can be identified by common character stereotypes defined by their relationship to Christianity.
Before I go too deep, I want to say that I thought the performances seemed wooden but I cannot speak to Danish film of the 1950s so I can’t really say if this is uncommon or just the way of things. This is also the first Dreyer film that I have viewed, so that might be a trademark of his storytelling, I don’t know. Based on a little research, the way that he rehearsed and shot the lengthy scenes may lend itself to performances far from our modern experience. It is hard for me to know.
With that out of the way, I must say that I loved this movie. While the actors were professionals, the film left me with a memory of Italian Neo-realism that captured the activity of life as it happened. A concern that I had early in the film was regarding the character Johannes Borgen, who suffered from an insane delusion that he was Jesus Christ. This plays both on my discomfort with the depictions of zealotry in films as well as mental issues. History has not played too well with the honesty of mental health so I assumed early on that Johannes would be a caricature of delusional heretics as comedic relief. I was wrong.
I want everyone to experience this film, so I am struggling to go much deeper into Ordet, knowing that whatever I say may reduce the soul-cleansing spirit of the film. It is streaming on Hulu as of January 26th, 2015, so please, go and watch it, then come back.
Welcome back. Was I right? Or, if you chose not to use two hours and seven minutes of your life to just to read a few paragraphs, you are also welcome.
The level of renewed faith that bubbled in my soul after watching this movie was something that I can honestly say has never happened to me before. Yes, in every sense the scenes could be considered corny and mind-numbing religious pandering, but as a spiritual man who has taken part in the operations of a church, I have a unique perspective on how bureaucracy or religion can choke out the uplifting faith of a child. The first thing that I did after watching this was pass my copy on to my pastor and I am very excited to hear her take on the picture.
After I spent a little more time with Johannes, I realized that he was not a humorous character but someone mindlessly prattling out spirituality while ignoring the response by the people around him, only to see him come back around once he had a moment to compose his thoughts.
Watching the fractured relationships within the town over what religious sect each person belongs to reminds me of a bizarre prejudice someone might see between a Catholic and a Protestant. It seems to me that it is akin to people arguing whether it should be called a chili-dog or a coney-dog (my spell check is not fond of either dog). This bickering does not lead anywhere constructive until there is a tragedy the brings people together beyond the boundaries of petty spiritual differences.
I knew going into this project I would not leave the same way. I assumed that my view of what I considered a great movie could be altered and that those films that I held dear to my heart may end up falling lower on my personal list. I consider Ordet to be one of the films that has achieved this; however, as it is a spiritual film it is very possible that your results may vary.