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Jazzaloha

Ordet (1955)

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I just saw this film recently, and I really enjoyed it. I have some questions and comments about the film that I wanted to raise here.

(SPOILERS)

I wasn't quite clear about the differences in theology between Morten Borgen and the tailor, Peter. I know the two characters talked about the way Peter's beliefs were more stern and focused on the heaven, while Borgen's was supposed to be more optimistic and centered on a fulfilling life on earth. Was that the main difference? The theology didn't seem to manifest itself in the characters other than in the rhetoric of that specific scene.

Would it have been blasphemous for Borgen and his family to turn to Johannes and acknowledge that he could heal Inger and save the baby? The film seems to indicate that Borgen and the Mikkel failed in their faith by not doing so. I felt anxious for Borgen in that scene where Inger is struggling for her life because it was a moment when he had to humble himself and step out in faith by recognizing Johannes. That's was my reaction anyway. It's a strange reaction because turning to Johannes would seem to admit that he was Jesus, which is crazy and blasphemous, but I feel that was what Borgen and Mikkel was supposed to do.

One last comment. My favorite part in the movie is when Johannes returns to the viewing of Inger, and he asks if anyone has considered asking God to bring Inger back to life. His father says that he blasphemes God by asking such a question, and I loved Johannes' response: "You blaspheme God by your lukewarmedness."

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Coincidentally, after years of looking forward to this one, I finally saw it for the first time just this week, so I'm really looking forward to discussing it here!

The conventional wisdom regarding the difference between Borgen and Peter seems to be it represents the conflict between institutional religion, represented by Peter, and "personalized faith," represented by Borgen. (This dichotomy is also supposed to be at work in The Passion of Joan of Arc.)

At this point, I don't see it that way myself, and certainly I don't see the film as affirming personalized faith over against institutional religion. If anything, it seems to me that the film questions whether Borgen and Peter aren't both making more of their religious differences than is actually the case.

At first, both fathers are equally opposed to the proposed marriage of their children, and each wishes to see his own offspring marry one of his or her own religious affiliation -- but Borden's pride is stung to discover that Peter feels the same way as he does, and he rankles at the suggestion that in Peter's mind it's Borden's family and faith that aren't good enough for Peter's family, not the other way around!

There's probably an element of economic snobbery here too; Borden the landowner seems to be wealthier than Peter the tailor, judging from the respective decors of their homes -- though that might also reflect the theme that Borden's faith is supposed to be more joyful and life-affirming than Peter's more dour, somber milieu. (Not that you can tell by how they actually act, as opposed to what each says about himself!)

spoilers1.gif

For me, the thing that most struck me about the film's insight into the conflict of their two faiths is this. Peter's hard line leads him, when Borgen receives the phone call at his house, to express that horrible prophetic willingness that God should strike even Borgen's daughter if it would shatter Borgen's hard heart and bring him to the truth. Yet when God does strike Borgen's daughter, it turns out that the heart that needs breaking and is broken is not Borgen's but Peter's. Peter's words to Borgen at Borgen's house brought tears to my eyes, and remain the most powerfully resonant element of the film for me, so far in my thinking.

I'm still in the process of working through the role of Anders in the film and what it means that the faith with which he emerged from his madness was simple and powerful enough to dare to ask for and to obtain a miracle. It does seem that Anders really was mad, and I can certainly work with the idea that scholarly peering into divine mysteries can blow your mind. At the same time, it seems that he had genuine visionary experiences -- he predicted Inger's death more than once and in different ways, and even in his madness spoke of raising her to life.

I believe that miracles do still occur, but I don't believe that we can always expect them if we have sufficient faith, or that the failure to obtain or even to ask for a miracle is proof of inadequate faith. I'm also still thinking about Mikkel's newfound faith. I mean, the man received his wife back from the dead, so it's not surprising that he changed his tune, but I feel in some way that I don't get as much out of this conversion as I do Peter's moral conversion.

Much continued thought and re-watchings ahead.....

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Welcome, jazzaloha.

SPOILERS!!!

I wasn't quite clear about the differences in theology between Morten Borgen and the tailor, Peter.

Nor am I and I've seen the film at least a dozen times over the years. I've heard it described that Peter is a fundamentalist and M

Edited by Doug C

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If anything, it seems to me that the film questions whether Borgen and Peter aren't both making more of their religious differences than is actually the case.

Yes, I definitely agree.

There's probably an element of economic snobbery here too; Borden the landowner seems to be wealthier than Peter the tailor, judging from the respective decors of their homes

An excellent observation; I also think this thread runs subtley throughout. You notice that practically the first thing out of their mouths when Peter and M

Edited by Doug C

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One of the most profound events is when the previously atheist doctor, of all people, keeps the 'pious' minister from interrupting Johannes--perhaps indicating that, of all the people there, he might be the most eager and hopeful for a miracle. I think that is one of the most delicously ironic elements of just about any film.

Yes! I totally agree, Alan.

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There's some discussion on the old board here here and particularly here as well as a handout here and some other stuff here and finally here (although that might be the same as one of the others)

Boy did that take some clicking. And now I've just noticed that already 3 more posts have gone up so I'm going to read those first (My clicking hand actually hurts!)

Matt

Edited by MattPage

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Wow, a trip down memory lane. Thanks, Matt.

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spoilers1.gif

I'd always thought that the point was that the two faiths were incredibly similar. Both Danish reformed churches and they actually find very little to disagree on - particularly compared to the diversity of churches attended by us here. In fact its almost like the main thing that defines their faiths is the fact that they disagree with the other persons.

As for Johannes, I think to really appreciate his role you really have to re-watch the film. Someone had spoiled the film for me the first time I watched it (Jazzaloha - I would change you spoiler tag from small "spoilers" to just "spoilers" or even "pretty big stonking spoilers"), which meant that actually when I re-visited what Johannes says in the opening scenes I was blown away by what he says.

I think the other thing with Ordet is (and I'm indebted to someone else from this site for this observation) is that it isn't necessarily about trying to work out whether Johannes is Jesus or whether he isn't and if so what he is. I don't think Dreyer is as concerned with his precise role as he is with creating a context that is perfect for looking at the issues of true faith, and in some ways (provided you've not had it spoilt) is sufficiently disorientating to us that it gives us the closet feel a film can give us of what it must have been like to witness the risen Jesus, particularly when Jeus was also considered by some to be mad.

Matt

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Thanks for the welcome, Doug.

I enjoyed reading the response so far. I agree with much of what is said, and I, too liked the quotes and scenes that Alan and Doug brought up.

(SPOILERS)

SDG, in your post are you talking about Johannes instead of Anders? The scene of repentance and reconciliation brought tears to my eyes, too. Peter's intial recognition of his wrongdoing and his determination to apologize and reconcile is also very moving. (It's incredibly moving to see someone else do it, but when you're faced with that situation, it can be incredibly difficult and painful to one's pride!) And thanks for bringing up the point about institutional versus personal approach to Chrisitianity. I can see that (as well as in Passion of Joan of Arc), but, like you, I don't know if that's the main difference.

I think their differences are not as significant as the differences between their approach to faith and Johannes' faith. After reading the posts and thinking about it more, I think Dreyer is saying that Johannes' passion (despite or partly because of his irrationality) makes the differences between Peter and Borgen irrelevant, mere theological quibbling. Johannes' overwhelming passion and faith demands a respect even from science, as the scene Alan brought up seems to indicate. And the fact that Johannes believes in things we would say make him insane, also make his faith that much more passionate. He reminds me of the character of Bess in Breaking the Waves and the situation she's in. God asks Bess to do things that are not only illogical, but immoral as well! It takes an incredible faith and conviction to follow such a command. Theology, the intellect, science all pale in comparison to this kind of passionate faith. It's very Kierkegaardian (I laughed at the line about Johannes losing his mind after studying SK.), and I am very sympathetic to Kierkegaard's thought and writing.

One final comment (at least in this post). I found the blatant expression of Christianity in this film so refreshing. It happens so infrequently (but not with the Scandinavian filmmakers, as I'm quickly discovering) in film. (I've also recently watched The Addiction, and when these blatant--and positive!--treatment of Christianity appear, I am pleasantly surprised.)

Edited by Jazzaloha

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After reading the posts and thinking about it more, I think Dreyer is saying that
Edited by Doug C

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Incidentally, our best thread about Ordet on one of the old boards can be found here.

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Omigoodness, Doug. That old thread is wonderful, and yet, it's not Ordet I now want to re-watch: It's Babette's Feast, which I hadn't seen at the time of the previous thread but have since, oblivious to its connections to Ordet.

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Yes, thanks for the link to the old thread, Doug.

Btw, I agree that the film works because of its authenticity. As a Christian for me the characters and the manifestations and expressions of faith seem authentic based on my own experience. It's interesting that non-believers find the film so moving, too. I guess, I was initially surprised to hear that, but when I think about seeing or hearing expressions of faith from other religions, I think I could get a sense if these expressions were authentic or not.

I agree the film is slow, but, having first watched Passion of Joan of Arc, I felt Ordet had a stronger narrative and, therefore, more of a "drive" to the scenes. Still, it is a slow film, and someone in the older thread talked about Dreyer's purpose for this. I'm interested in hearing an expansion on this from others.

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: Von Trier has openly cited Ordet as his inspiration for Breaking the Waves.

Wow really - I felt similar emotions watching both endings - posssibly more intense with BTW as I didn't know what was going to happen, but I then read someone analysis that wasn't sure whether it being technically artificial was linked to it somehow being emotionally artificial. And so I've been puzzling over which it is and also the knock-on effects of what that would mean to Dogville as well.

So that is really interesting.

Matt

Edited by MattPage

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Sorry to pull up an old thread, but I've just seen Ordet myself and desperately needed somewhere to sing its praises. I've watched it twice so far, and got misty both times.

One of the things I loved (visually) was the way that Inger, in her relations to Borgen, was constantly pictured in an angelic role. At least five times, she stands between him and a window, like a mediating figure. At least once, in the pig-pen, the camera calls attention to it. Amazing.

I don't think the element of Providence has been mentioned here, yet (though of course, miracles and Providence are closely connected.) Perhaps it's because I saw Signs recently, but on my second viewing, it seemed to me that Ordet was in some ways dealing with the same idea of God's government through misfortune, et cetera. Of course, Ordet accomplishes its effect much more grandly, and genuinely, than Signs.

Peter's words to Borgen at Borgen's house brought tears to my eyes, and remain the most powerfully resonant element of the film for me, so far in my thinking.

Ooh, yes.

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Sorry to pull up an old thread, but I've just seen Ordet myself and desperately needed somewhere to sing its praises. I've watched it twice so far, and got misty both times.

No need to apologize! Thanks for bringing it back up! We should have some sort of calendar that resuscitates this thread every 45 or 60 days, for our own good.

And my film group watched Ordet jus this past Sunday, so I'd wanted to revisit what I'd read and said earlier.

I'll add more later. Needless to say, I'm more knocked-out by the film each time I see it, and I'm glad to hear you reacted similarly. Typically, I cry a significant amount right about when Mikkel breaks down after Anders says that Anne will be their sunshine, and then it really unhinges when Inger is brought back.

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Typically, I cry a significant amount right about when Mikkel breaks down after Anders says that Anne will be their sunshine, and then it really unhinges when Inger is brought back.

Yep. Or when the little girl and Johannes share moments where she believes.

Ordet is so cool I'd like to name a band after it.

-s.

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I quite like my old review of Ordet and don't know if I've ever had the guts to post it on previous threads, but for the record,

Here it is.

-s.

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Typically, I cry a significant amount right about when Mikkel breaks down after Anders says that Anne will be their sunshine, and then it really unhinges when Inger is brought back.

The film's amazingly powerful--I don't think I've ever seen a more delicately impacting one. Though, of course, I'm just starting to watch great films.

Johannes...I find it interesting how his name is connected to the saint. Beloved disciple, "closer to God than any of us," et cetera?

Quick question: [spoilers, but I suppose that doesn't matter by now] : neither my brother nor I can figure out exactly what happened to the baby. Did it die in the womb, or did they have to destroy it to save Inger? Or is it left purposely blank?

[Edit: That's a great review, stef.]

[second Edit: for clarity.]

Edited by NBooth

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Wow, how did we all watch this film at the same time? I just watched it last week. I thought it was powerful in the way a good play is powerful... like a great performance of Our Town. Plenty of food for thought in this one. I like how the specifics of the denominational gap between the two families are never mentioned... it's irrelevant simply because there is a gap in the first place. I like the thoughts about Johannes as a prophet, and how even after he "regains his wits", it's clear that he's the only living adult that had any wits the whole time.

Sadly the film very obviously had its roots in the stage. The acting and the script made this movie powerful, neither of which are specific to the medium of film itself. I don't think this is a weakness, really, just something that bugs me a little. I want to see my alma mater put on the play now, actually.

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Sadly the film very obviously had its roots in the stage.

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I, of course, noticed none of that, which is probably an indication that it was done well. I do recall noticing the balance in the scene when Anders and Morten are in the room alone with the coffin and the camera faces the windows. The scene was just slightly unbalanced. I usually don't attach much significance to things like that, especially when battling things like overscan on TVs, though that wasn't a problem in this case. I thought this shot was superb visually, but like I said, I didn't attach any narrative significance to it.

As far as theatricality, I specifically recall instances in the final scene that made me very aware of the theatrical origins of the script. For instance, after Anne is introduced, we have a wonderfully rapturous moment before Anders and Anne walk off to the corner together... for no apparent reason other than their lines are done. It was very reminiscent of theater I've seen in that characters were still present in the scene, but without any remaining lines their presence and actions seemed forced and unnatural. It was true of the other characters in the room as well, specifically the doctor and preacher.

That said, I'm starting to really enjoy movies that are adapted from plays. If it wasn't 1:30AM I could probably name another one that really touched me recently that was from a play.

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I can't say I really noticed how theatrical it was--must have had my blinders on. Or perhaps (not having seen any Dreyer before this,) I just accepted it as part and parcel of his style. (And yes, it's foreign--to me it's foreign--and so I expected it to be alien in some way. I havn't, so far, had much experience with non-English-language films.)

Doug C, that's an interesting post. What book are you quoting? (re: Bordwell)

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That was from his excellent (but dense) book, The Films of Carl-Theodor Dreyer (1981). I don't think it's in print anymore, but you can still find it used.

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As far as theatricality, I specifically recall instances in the final scene that made me very aware of the theatrical origins of the script.

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