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Ordet (1955)

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If you want, you can check out the new British region 2 DVD. DVD Times review here.

I was a bit disappointed by the 30-minute interview with cinematographer Henning Bendtsen, but he does provide very brief commentaries on the lighting of three scenes: Peter the Tailor's chapel service, Johannes' conversation with the little girl, and the funeral.

Something I just noticed about the film...no credits! (Or very few, anyway.)

DVDBeaver comparison to the Criterion here.

Edited by Doug C

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Unless my eyes are really bad, the image quality looks to be pretty much the same between the two releases. The last screencap seems to have the daughter a little brighter in the BFI version, but I have no idea if that's a plus or minus if it's even there.

You mean there's no credits on any video version? The title frame calling the film "Kaj Munk's Ordet" always struck me as interesting.

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I amended my post. There is a title card, but apart from that, I don't remember much. I'll have to check it tonight.

The BFI is a tad less sharp, but not enough to make any difference.

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I'm trying to figure out why I never participated in this thread, having seen the film a long time ago. Perhaps I was too overwhelmed, or knew that if I started typing I might not stop.

Having watched it again this week, I'll keep my remarks to just a couple of notes, since I really need to pour my feelings and observations into a proper review....

Russ said:

... but ours is not the faith of the flesh-hating Gnostics, hating these physical bodies and pining for an incorporeal existence. It's a faith that allows us to love these bodies also.

Interesting. I agree that this is one of the film's affirmations. But when you put it like that, it sounds a lot like the semantics being debated between Peter and Morten. Peter is focused on the mortification of sin in this life, and Morten professes a faith of celebration, happiness, and fulness in this life.

It makes me wonder if, perhaps, despite his spiteful spirit, Morten's view of faith isn't slightly more profound than Peter's. Morten acknowledges sin, but he insists that the world of the flesh is full of God.

Matt Page wrote:

What I love about the Johannes character is how you see the words he speaks in such a different light when you watch the film again. The first time he seems to be clearly mad. The second time his words are so mind blowingly prophetic. Same words.

Hmm. My experience was such that I assumed he was prophetic from the beginning. It has something to do with him rising and running up that hill at the beginning (no reference to Kate Bush intended). He reminded me of young Samuel, ready and waiting to answer the call to serve.

Of course, holy fools are often my favorite characters. That's why I'm such a Gilliam fan.

SDG wrote:

I know that Jesus says some things that sound like this, and I'm well aware of the danger of rationalizing away the difficulty here. But I also can't ignore the opposite pitfall of reducing faith into an attempt to work ourselves up into a state of psychological expectancy and making particular outcomes the object and the vindication of faith.

I don't want to succumb to rationalistic logic-chopping and the reductionistic apologetical impulse to get God off the hook -- not to mention myself in the weakness of my faith. But I also don't want to nod my head sagely and say "How profound" if the faith advocated by Johannes is like the notion of virtue advocated by Job's three friends -- if you have this, you don't have to worry about bad things happening to you.

I know you don't think the film is ultimately affirming that If Man Has Enough Faith, God Will Perform Miracles. But that is definitely one of the reasons why I still fall a bit short of an ecstatic response to the conclusion of the film. I'm envious of those who find themselves caught by surprise at the end. Perhaps it comes from seeing too many movies or plays or something, but as soon as there's the slightest suggestion that Inger is unstable or unwell, I know she's going to die; and as soon as that's confirmed, I suspect that, this being a film about a crisis of faith, she will be raised up in what seems like a reward or an answer.

I do believe God answers prayer. And I have no trouble believing miracles still take place. But there's something so convenient about Inger's resurrection that, while I believe it, it doesn't move me in the way that other unanticipated revelations of God's grace in art have moved me. I'm much more deeply moved by Johannes simple, relentless speaking of the truth in the face of mockery, and by Inger's unconditional love for those around her, than by the Big Moment.

Perhaps that's just a flaw in me.

DougC said:

The father is saying, "She is dead . . . she is no longer here. She is in heaven . . ." and the son answers, "Yes, but I loved her body too. . . ."

Both times I've seen the film this line has reminded me of a very similar line spoken by Willem Dafoe's Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ, when he weeps in Gethsemane and prays:

"Father in heaven. Father on earth. The world... that You've created that we can see is beautiful, but the world that You've created that we can't see is beautiful too. I don't know. I'm sorry, Father. I don't know which is more beautiful."

He picks up the dirt in his hands, and says, "This is my body too. Together... We're going to die."

And then... (sorry, I can't just quote part of this prayer):

"Oh, please, Father. I've been with You for so long. I never asked You to choose me. I always did as you said. You made many miracles for others. You opened the Red Sea for Moses. You saved Noah. You took Elijah to heaven in a fiery chariot, and now You're asking me to be crucified. Can I ask You... One last time? Do I have to die? Is there any other way? You're offering me a cup, but I don't want to drink what's in it. Please... Take it away. Please, stop. Please, Father, Father. Please."

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

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Matt Page wrote:

QUOTE

What I love about the Johannes character is how you see the words he speaks in such a different light when you watch the film again. The first time he seems to be clearly mad. The second time his words are so mind blowingly prophetic. Same words.

Hmm. My experience was such that I assumed he was prophetic from the beginning. It has something to do with him rising and running up that hill at the beginning (no reference to Kate Bush intended). He reminded me of young Samuel, ready and waiting to answer the call to serve.

That's becuase you're a smart movie critic with a book in the works, and I'm just a schmo.

Matt

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I just saw Ordet for the first time about a week ago. The only other Dreyer film I had seen previously was The Passion of Joan of Arc, which I thought was amazing. But I think Ordet is even better!

In order to fully appreciate the theological differences between Morten Borgen and the tailor, Peter Petersen, I think one needs to understand more about Denmark, and its history, than is customarily the case for people who are not Danish. In Dreyer's film Ordet, besides the dialogue between the characters, which obviously tells a great deal, the main theological clues are in plain sight, and yet, so far as I can tell after having read every online review I could find, uncommented on. So I will point them out.

On the back wall of the main room of Borgen's house, where much of the film takes place, hangs a large portrait of the Danish theologian N. F. S. Grundtvig (1783-1872). Because I have studied Grundtvig, I recognized it instantly. Of course, one can enjoy the film immensely without knowing whose picture that is -- perhaps it is generally assumed to be some Borgen family patriarch -- but if one knows that it is Grundtvig, and knows who Grundtvig is, and knows how much of Denmark's modern sense of itself is owed to this man, it makes the film even richer and more textured.

Grundtvig's theology is a vast topic that can't be explicated in an online posting like this, but I will say that Grundtvig was greatly influenced by Irenaeus, a church father from the second century. Grundtvig translated part of Irenaeus' main work from Latin into Danish. And it was Irenaeus who wrote the following beautiful words:

"For the glory of God is a living man, and the life of man consists in beholding God: for if the manifestation of God through the creation affords life to all living on earth, much more does that revelation of the Father which comes through the Word give life to those who see God." (Against the Heresies, 4. 20. 7, tr. J. Behr)

This life-affirming resonance between God and man underlies the Grundtvigian outlook, which is altogether more positive and optimistic than what can be called Danish Pietism, especially with respect to man's corporeality.

In the house of the tailor, Peter Petersen, hangs a portrait of Vilhelm Beck (1829-1901), who, like many Danish Pietists, was deeply influenced by Soren Kierkegaard. Grundtvig and Kierkegaard, it should be noted, had little use for each other.

This division in Danish (Lutheran) theology between followers of Grundtvig and followers of Beck arrived in America along with the waves of Danish immigrants that arrived in America before and after 1900. The two groups were frequently referred to as Happy Danes and Sad Danes, respectively. The phenomenon has been studied and written about. For example, here is an abstract for a 1984 dissertation by Jacquelynn Sorensen (University of Nebraska - Lincoln), titled KIERKEGAARD, GRUNDTVIG, AND DANISH LITERATURE IN THE PLAINS:

"The dissertation follows the transmission to America of the philosophies of Soren Kierkegaard and Nikolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig. The philosophies were carried by two nineteenth century spiritual trends within the Danish Lutheran Church in Denmark to the United States where the factions officially separated to form two distinct Lutheran synods. I show how the divergent thought patterns ultimately affected both the intellectual and folk membership of each Church. The philosophers and religious leaders whom I study are Soren Kierkegaard, Vilhelm Beck, and P. S. Vig in the pietistic tradition, and N. F. S. Grundtvig and F. L. Grundtvig in the 'folk' tradition. These philosophical differences, in turn, were incorporated into the literature produced by four Danish-American fiction writers representing both factions. Rhetoric, theme, and content are analysed in the light of divergent Inner Mission and Grundtvigian concepts to demonstrate the overall effects of the diversity of Danish Lutheran dogma. Discussed are the dominant ideological differences with respect to religion, Nature, community building, educational enlightenment, evangelism, mission work, and perpetuation of the Danish heritage."

Best regards,

Mike McIntyre

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Welcome Mike - awesome first post - thanks for unpacking these so helpfully. That will really give me something to think about next time I watch this.

Matt

Edited by MattPage

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Thanks for the welcome, Alan and Matt!

Yes, in Babette's Feast, the ascetic sect that the villagers belong to would be the same as, or very similar to, the tailor's pietist group in Ordet. The contrasting point of view that Babette represents would, if one can overlook the obvious Catholic versus Protestant difference, roughly correspond, in Ordet, to Borgen's Grundtvigian outlook.

Not that anyone is doubting me, but just to provide the evidence that the portraits in Ordet are, indeed, of Grundtvig and Beck, I'll provide the following online links to corresponding images:

http://www.nfs-grundtvig.dk/Galleri/Galleri1/sider/1862.htm

(Wilhem Marstrand is the artist who painted this portrait of Grundtvig)

http://www.bog-ide.dk/Files/Billeder/Books...-564-5647-6.gif

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/comm...ilhelm_beck.jpg

The Grundtvig image is indisputably the same as the portrait in Ordet.

The first Beck image, which was printed on the cover of a book, is very likely a cropped version of the portrait in Ordet. I included the second Beck image because, although it is clearly from a different portrait of Beck, it shows Beck's signature underneath it, and that signature matches the signature that is visible underneath the portrait in Ordet. Such is the quality of the transfer / reproduction of Ordet that this signature is readily visible (in the Prayer meeting scene)!

I haven't had time to formulate a coherent review of Ordet, but what follows are some random scribblings (some of them in response to postings in this thread):

I too loved the line by Mikkel where he said, "I loved her body also." This line neatly -- one might even say epigramatically -- distills the essential difference between the two theological points of view portrayed in the film (pietism holding to the idea that we are pilgrims on earth, and that our bodies are encumbrances).

The reconciliation between Morten Borgen and Peter Petersen, when it comes, is extremely moving. Indeed, I think it is almost as moving as the film's climactic moment.

I tell you, when I heard Mikkel deliver that terrible line about Inger's male foetus lying in four pieces in the bucket, it felt like a heavy punch to the gut. It was heartrending. And, in my opinion, the effect was at least doubled by our not seeing the outcome, but only hearing about it from Mikkel. Of course, the standards of the day would not have permitted images so graphic, but even if they had, the horribleness of it is made more complete, more encompassing, by our having to imagine it -- a simple lesson that many of our modern directors seem incapable of learning.

In Ordet, Dreyer's understanding of space -- his understanding of how the actors should place themselves, and how they should move, in relation to the camera -- is a directorial tour de force. His skill is evident throughout the film, but nowhere more so than in the final scene, which comes off looking utterly natural and without affectation. Amazing. Simply amazing.

It's hard for me to think of any other film where both the form and the content are so splendid.

Can you tell I am blown away by this film? :-)

I did not know such excellence was possible.

Mike

Edited by tenpenny

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Had to chuckle when I came across Paulene Kael's review today:

Carl Dreyer made two emotionally overpowering great films--THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC and DAY OF WRATH. He also made the visually and conceptually daring VAMPYR. But ORDET, which the world press greeted as his masterpiece, may be considerably less than that. Kaj Munk, author of the play, was a Danish pastor, famed for such statements as "It is better that Denmark's relations with Germany should suffer than that her relations with Jesus Christ should suffer." In 1944, the Nazis shot him through the head and tossed him in a ditch. His play, written on the text "O ye of little faith," deals with a modern Resurrection, and Dreyer treats it with extreme literalness. Some of us may find it difficult to accept the holy-madman protagonist (driven insane by too close study of Kierkegaard!), and even more difficult to accept Dreyer's use of the protagonist's home as a stage set for numerous entrances and exits, and altogether impossible to get involved in the factional strife between bright, happy Christianity and dark, gloomy Christianity--represented as they are by people sitting around drinking vast quantities of coffee.

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Thanks for sharing that, Jeffrey. Years ago a friend of mine gave me a copy of Kael's book, I lost it at the movies, which I have to admit I never fully read (but I do remember, from that book, her very favorable review of Clement's movie, Forbidden Games, a movie I also like a lot).

If Pauline Kael didn't like Ordet, I'll bet she really didn't like Gertrud. :-)

I only recently bought the Criterion box set of Dreyer's Day of Wrath, Ordet, and Gertud. I hadn't seen any of these fims before. I saved Gertrud for last, and I watched it about a week ago. I also just finished reading Ray Carney's book, Speaking the language of desire : the films of Carl Dreyer. Carney's book deals primarily with these same three films. I enjoyed Carney's book and I got a lot out of it. He demonstrates the centrality of the character of Inger in Ordet. It's interesting that Kael doesn't even mention Inger. Carney also writes about the similarities of Inger and Maren. When I watched Ordet, and before I started reading Carney's book, I too had noticed the way Maren uses her hands in the scene where she is alone with Johannes. Her hands are wonderfully expressive there. But I hadn't thought about the fact, which Carney remarks upon, that Maren is simply doing many of the same things with her hands that Inger does with hers throughout the film. Truly, Maren is her mother's daughter.

I would be curious to read what others who may have read Carney's book thought of it. Although I am in basic agreement with much of what he wrote in the book, I do have to part company with him on the subject of Gertrud. I certainly didn't dislike Gertud. But I do think Gertrud was a step down for Dreyer from both Day of Wrath and Ordet. I found it frankly unbelievable that Gertrud would have men falling all over each other to get at her. There was just nothing alluring about her in my opinion. Bottom line, for me: liked the movie -- didn't love the movie. Carney, on the other hand, seemed to think it was the pi

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Possible spoiler ahead...

To continue with the similarities between Inger and Maren, there are two decisive moments in the film where first Inger, and then Maren, are asked questions that test their faith in the possibility of amazing grace, as opposed to what one might call simple grace (and I know I am probably misusing these terms in their strictly theological sense).

The first moment occurs early in the film when Inger and Mikkel are alone in their bedroom (Ch. 4, Ye of little faith, on the Criterion DVD). Mikkel here professed to have no faith, "not even faith in faith." But Inger said to him, "It will come." "Are you sure of that?" Mikkel responded. It is no small question. Mikkel is not a young man and his disbelief seems entrenched, hardened beyond the possibility of fructification. Simple grace will not be enough. Only an act of amazing grace will do. Inger, without hesitation, answered "Ja" (Yes), and the way she pronounced it is wonderful -- prolonging the word to an unusual length with her breath. I imagine it to be like the "Ja" that God uttered when he breathed life into his creation, man. The breath of life. The everlasting yes. (Notice, too, what Inger is doing with her hands during this exchange.)

The second moment occurs near the end of the film when little Maren interrupts her uncle, Johannes, who has recovered his wits, and who is standing at the foot of Inger's casket, saying "Inger, you must rot, because the times are rotten" (Ch. 30, The Word, on the Criterion CD). Johannes said this because he perceived that no one there had thought to ask God to bring Inger back to life. Prevented from doing so by their "lukewarm" faith, none believed such an act of amazing grace was possible. Except Maren. Maren believed it was possible. The only child among a roomful of devout adults, Maren stood up, tiptoed to her uncle's side, placed her hand in his, and said to him, "Hurry, now, uncle." She was prodding him to do what he had earlier promised her he would do. Johannes hesitated. He had to ask Maren the crucial question, "Do you believe I can do it?" Maren, without hesitation, answered "Yes, uncle," and with the same breathy, open-ended intonation that her mother had used in her earlier scene with Mikkel. Johannes then said to her, "Thy faith is great, thy will shall be done..."

In distinguishing amazing grace from simple grace, I don't mean to diminish the importance of the latter. The consoling words that the parson, while standing at the head of Inger's casket (from the opposite perspective that Johannes takes up at the foot of the casket), addresses to Mikkel are not, to my mind, empty. They may be practiced words, shall we say, but they do try to evoke an essentially wise and productive course. There is a kind of simple grace to them, and we can see that it does have its intended effect on Mikkel, whose thank you to the parson, for delivering them, seems sincere. But the effect of amazing grace, when it comes -- if it comes -- is something else. Something incomparable.

Dreyer brings all the interconnected threads of grace, amazing or otherwise, together in the final scene of Ordet. Mikkel finding his faith, and Inger coming back from the dead, are two gifts from God that coincide in one amazingly graceful act.

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If I may leave the strictly religious themes to the side for a moment, for me, the most emotionally affecting sequence in the film is after Inger's death but prior to the wake. On the Criterion DVD it constitutes the entirety of Ch. 25, John 13:33 (running time about 3'13"). Visually, it begins with a brief static shot of the death certificate and it ends with a slow vertically scrolling shot of the obituary notice. Throughout the sequence, and unifying it, we hear the beautiful score (by Poul Schierbeck), as well as ambient farm noise, the sounds of the livestock at Borgensgaard.

After the death certificate shot, from a perspective just outside the house, we see Johannes sitting in his bedroom framed by, and right next to, an open window. The camera's view is from slightly to the left of the open window, so we can only see what is behind Johannes on the right side of the room. Johannes is writing something on the top sheet of a tablet of paper. He sets the tablet down on one side of the window sill. He sets his boots down on top of the tablet. Then, with quietly precise movements, he climbs over the other side of the window sill, pausing in mid-straddle to look at something, or someone, on the left side of the room, the part of the room we cannot see. Once his feet touch the ground outside, he retrieves his boots, leaving the tablet. Johannes then moves out of frame to the right, and the camera tracks slowly to the right, into the space that Johannes has just occupied, allowing us by degrees to see the left side of the room, where we see Anders sitting in a chair asleep. Then we get a close shot of what Johannes has written. It is John 13:33 ("Yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me. Whither I go, ye cannot come."). I think it is reasonable to infer from this scene that Johannes already has his wits back. His movements in this scene are sure, not stumbling. The fact that he writes the biblical passage (whereas all his prior biblical references were spoken) may also indicate a higher capacity for reflection and self-awareness.

Next we have the scenes on the dunes, with first Morten, and then other family members and friends, and even a policeman with a dog, and finally Morten again, calling out the name "Johannes!" as they try to find him. These shots of the countryside around Borgensgaard, brief though they are, help to offset the effect that Pauline Kael complained about, i.e. "Dreyer's use of the protagonist's home as a stage set for numerous entrances and exits." (And these are not the only exterior shots in the film -- I recall, for example, the earlier shot of the horse and wagon going over a bridge, by a marshy area, with simply beautiful natural sounds on the soundtrack.) Dreyer uses interesting slow, left-to-right, "dissolves" between these shots on the dunes. And then comes the final haunting shot of Morten, standing on the top of a dune with his back to us, his two feet planted, too widely apart, his arms hanging down, but well away from his torso, his head held high -- his whole body in the shape of a star -- shouting "Jonannes!" and then again "Johannes!" but the last time with his voice choking on the final syllable. I can't help but be reminded of Lear and his suffering.

And then the just over three-minute sequence concludes with the shot of the obituary notice. At this point, if not before, I am dissolving in tears. I cannot really explain why it affects me so, but it does. Bresson's final scene in Au Hasard Balthazar has the same effect on me. In both cases, I think the music has something to do with it. It adds something that I can't put into words, so I won't try. I understand that Bresson later regretted using music in that scene, but I think, in that case, he misunderstands his own work, if I may be so presumptuous. In each sequence -- the one by Dreyer that I have just described, and the one by Bresson -- I think the director is working at the height of his powers and perhaps in ways that even he does not fully comprehend.

Mike McIntyre

Edited by tenpenny

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Something SDG expressed earlier in this thread has been nagging away at me. Ordet has long been one of my favourite films (if not my most favourite), but watching it again recently I started to wonder if Ordet isn't actually odious. Isn't the film's essential message that Christians today don't believe strongly enough? Isn't it saying that if you get seriously sick or lose a loved one that it's all your fault for not having enough conviction? Aren't we getting close here to something like karma?

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Something SDG expressed earlier in this thread has been nagging away at me. Ordet has long been one of my favourite films (if not my most favourite), but watching it again recently I started to wonder if Ordet isn't actually odious. Isn't the film's essential message that Christians today don't believe strongly enough? Isn't it saying that if you get seriously sick or lose a loved one that it's all your fault for not having enough conviction? Aren't we getting close here to something like karma?
I have hope that this question can be answered in the negative; I don't think it can be ignored. The path to understanding this film, if it can be understood, runs straight through the sanctimony of Job's three friends and the errors of the name-it-and-claim-it / health-and-wealth gospel.

FWIW, my review.

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Thank you both for your thoughtful replies. I take the point about Dreyer's work being polyphonic, but I am so weary of ambiguity, and I remain troubled by the film. In that final ten minutes we get "It is you who mock God with your half-heartedness", "Why among all the believers is there no one who believes?", and "Inger, you must rot because the times are rotten". Doesn't that sound close to emphatic?

Something happened that kind of pulled "Ordet" into focus for me (or perhaps out of focus; I'm not sure). I was visited by my cousin, who is (and always has been) an atheist. Recently he has had to come to terms with losing both of his parents - his mother died of cancer at the age of 64 and his father passed away a few years later of something close to a broken heart. He said that one of his colleagues (a Christian - possibly a Jehovah's Witness) had told him that God might be punishing him for his lack of belief. I told my cousin that God doesn't work like that; but my attempts to explain my faith in terms that might make some sort of sense to him were an utter failure as I seldom get any practice in discussing these things with anyone face to face (I spend a lot of time alone with a pile of books for company). Shortly after his visit I went back to Dreyer.

Truth is, the deeper I go into my faith, and the more I read about things like postmodernism, the more I find myself completely uninterested in secular culture. It is corrupt and corrupting. Most movies aren't about me; they aren't meant for me; they might even be subtly insulting me or attempting to lead me astray. Where are the truly Christian films? I am sick of academic exercises and intellectual games. I am sick of having to bend things to make them fit. So many of the Christian movie critics that I read appear to be in a state of permanent desperation - scouring all manner of mediocre entertainments for a few crumbs of Christian understanding, the odd faint glimmer of God. Having read SDG's review of "Ordet", I clicked on his link to the Vatican's film list, but even the Vatican cannot find many proper Christian movies, it seems (their list bizarrely includes Kubrick's "2001", Kurosawa's "Dersu Uzala" and Bunuel's "Nazarin").

By the way, in case you didn't notice my comment in the thread on Postmodernism, Ken, let me just say that I appreciated some of the things that you and Michael Todd said in the thread on "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest". You guys (along with SDG here in "Ordet") have got me thinking. :)

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Thank you both for your thoughtful replies. I take the point about Dreyer's work being polyphonic, but I am so weary of ambiguity, and I remain troubled by the film. In that final ten minutes we get "It is you who mock God with your half-heartedness", "Why among all the believers is there no one who believes?", and "Inger, you must rot because the times are rotten". Doesn't that sound close to emphatic?

One of Ordet's great beauties is that it challenges believers as much as it does non-believers; it's not a simple, feel-good tract for Christian consumption. Don't you think that lukewarm, or even a lack of, faith can exist among Christians? Particularly those who have lost their first love and replaced their faith with custom or self-interest? During the film's final moments, it is the "athiest" doctor who restrains the outraged pastor from silencing Johannes because what he's saying doesn't adhere to the pastor's theology--not, as we might expect, the other way around. Maybe the "wait and see" reflexes of a rationalist prove to be more appropriate in this case?

Dreyer is making a fictional film about a miraculous moment (in more ways than one). In no way is he suggesting a functional recipe for miracles. To read his film in that way is schematic and reductionistic and undermines its poetry as well as its sensitivity to human (Christian as well as non-Christian) fallibility and our genuine inability to put God in a stale box of presumption. I know more Christians who have "theological" problems with the "implications" of the ending than non-believers, who seem far more willing to simply accept the film as an emblem--rather than a recipe--of faith. Dreyer knew fully well that his ending would make some Christians squirm in their seats, and not just because it trumps religious hypocrisy with a faith that can move mountains--and truth be told, that should make all of us tremble.

Dreyer is not suggesting that true faith will always result in what we want. Nothing in this film makes me think that. Nor is that true in life. I visited a church in Korea whose entire congregation had deserted their pastor after his wife had died of cancer because their faith wasn't deep or humble enough to allow room for God's unfathomable will or their own disappointment; they simply assumed that if their pastor couldn't keep his wife alive with his faith, he must not have any faith at all. Life is ambiguous and if we can't accept that, we're going to have problems.

I also wouldn't put too much stock in what Johannes says before the final scene as he is clearly somewhat insane. Too much stock, that is--clearly, he is tapping into something profound. Therein lies only one of the film's points of ambiguity and beauty; we must search within the film and within ourselves to determine where the dividing line is for Johannes, not merely have it drawn for us. This is why ambiguity is so important in good art--it compels personal searching and discernment and remains humble (rather than presumptive or prescriptive) before life's genuine mysteries and paradoxes.

As to your other points about cultural engagement and finding the Spirit implicit in art that is true and beautiful, we'll simply have to disagree. Although I'm surprised that you find the inclusion of 2001 "bizarre" for you at this point given that I've already offered you a lengthy defense of that film many months ago. ;)

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I don't know the history of where and when the word "Christian" began to be used as an adjective, but I'm almost certain that at its inception it was used to describe a person and not a way to look at the morality of something. This is what scares me about describing something as "Christian," whether it be a bookstore or a film or any other form of art. It diminishes the artistic expression. It limits the work itself. Even Ordet. I just don't think I could call it a "Christian" film. I see your point, IM, but doesn't it get tiring to look at life that way?

-s.

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Sometimes God works mercifully in spite of our half-heartedness and lack of belief. That's the thing I like about Ordet.

Indeed, Ordet is largely about how spiritual realities can confound, but also exceed, the expectations of non-believers and believers alike. It's a lesson in humility for all; I'd say the film definitely comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable (I haven't heard that clich

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One other note in passing, I think the subtitle to this thread is misdirecting. Ordet isn't about "questions about theology" so much as "questions about human interaction with theology and with each other." To treat the film as a theological tract rather than a human commentary is missing the point.

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Ken, thanks for spelling out your thoughts between classes. :)

[i realize having listed several films that many care passionately about, I've perhaps inevitably invited a flame war; l do like some of the films on that list, I'm making a descriptive point rather than a judgment.]
Not by me; these films aren't above analysis/criticism or they're not serious works to begin with.

I confess that in my example, I was actually thinking about A Man Escaped as an example from the A&F Top 100 in comparison to other films on the Top 100 or that get a lot of play in these halls--Magnolia, The Mission, Dogville, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Dead Man Walking--films that not only have a lot of ambiguity but also (in my opinion) are a bit more cynical in their ambiguity; films that use ambiguity to deride the complacency of institutional or conventional religion more frequently than to celebrate the alternatives or to show me a "more excellent way."

I guess more mediocre examples would be Dogma, The Big Kahuna, or Saved!; I don't know if any of those films are still on the A&F list, but they always struck me as more venerated here simply because of their obvious-yet-hedged cynicism toward certain aspects of faith culture than any genuine artistic qualities.

I'd also put Ordet into your second, more pro-faith category, even if it does emphasize the fallibility of religious culture. It's pretty unique in that regard, as is much of Dreyer's work. Can we think of a film that is more critical of religious suppression and celebratory of personal faith than The Passion of Joan of Arc?

Conversely, there are films on the Top 100 or that are championed around these parts that are positive towards Christianity, that are faith affirming (imo) but tend towards the didactic and don't invite me to see faith as rich, complex, or ineffable: The Miracle Maker, A Man For All Seasons, The Passion of the Christ, Chariots of Fire, Hotel Rwanda, To Kill a Mockingbird. [Again, there are some fine films, and even one personal favorite on that list.]

I'd also highlight The Flowers of St. Francis. Yet that film also maintains an ambiguous balance between foolishness and joy that is provocative and inspiring (if we let it be).

I guess the point I was trying to make is that IM said he was tired of ambiguity, and I'm sympathetic to that, especially after hearing his reasons.
I can imagine being tired of ambiguity, but I don't see how that's a legitimate critique or a cover for "odious" meaning. It's downright dangerous to equate ambiguity that is true-to-life (or while we're at it, academicism and intellectualism) with falsehood, or oppose it to "truly Christian" art. In that regard, I appreciate your efforts to tease out the meaning of the word.

Do we need to distinguish between "polyphony" and "ambiguity"? Ken, your comment about Dreyer's polyphony was exactly correct, so I guess the ambiguity comes about when we have to weigh the multitude of voices/explanations Dreyer provides?

I guess I see Ordet as portraying spirituality as complex and deep, but the story's context, its characters' grounding in conventional religious institutions, makes me walk away from it focused more on the complexity of God's word and the impossibility of ever truly understanding it perfectly, which is differnt from my response to AME. In the latter, I walk away thinking about the parts of our (my?) relationship with God (and, particularly, the Holy Spirit) that are ineffable, that I can see or recognize, but that are spiritually discerned and lived and can only be witnessed or experienced rather than spoken.

That's a very good distinction...but how does it relate to IM's misgivings, again?

P.S. Regarding the subtitle of the thread, I've always assumed whoever started it did so because of a theological question and that it just was given squatting rights over discussion of the film rather than someone starting a thread of general discussion of the film.

You're probably right, but it kind of establishes a critical lens for the film, too, one that dismisses Dreyer's profound human focus and encourages a discussion that gets bogged down in the theological nuances of the film...which isn't all that removed from Morten and Peter the Tailor's initial blindness, of course. One of the amazing things about Ordet is that it upholds the primacy of human relationships even while it refuses to reduce the spiritual realities of which the characters debate.

P.P.S. Speaking of the Top 100, anyone know why some films (i.e. Le Fils, Ikiru, Ordet) take their foreign language title and others, (A Man Escaped, Money, Balthazar) appear to take their English title?

A convention exists that original languages should be used for one-word titles. I've never seen "Money" or "Balthazar" used as official titles in any reputable publication, but we've already suggested Alan change those at some point or another.

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A short reply before bed.

I have been a Christian for less than a decade and I find my new world-view to be both liberating and exciting. My disappointment stems from the fact that few film-makers seem to share that excitement, and, as I said before, the few that do tend to fog things up with ambiguity. Ambiguity may stimulate the old grey matter, but it is also a cop-out, in my view. I personally have no use for films that challenge my faith. The whole damn world challenges my faith! Gimme something I can use! It really seems like film-makers are too ashamed to come right out and tell it like it is. Mel Gibson is an exception, I suppose, but The Passion of the Christ was just so awful!

By the way, I called Ordet odious for what I think it is saying in that final scene, and not for its ambiguity.

Edited by The Invisible Man

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Thanks for your reply, IM. I always appreciate your honest reflections.

My disappointment stems from the fact that few film-makers seem to share that excitement...

Sounds like somebody needs to start making films, then! ;)

...and, as I said before, the few that do tend to fog things up with ambiguity.

Well, I accept that this is true for you. For myself, I have faith, but I nevertheless see spirituality as being an ambiguous realm--believing in things unseen. It's a gift. Film is a visual medium; it can only represent what is physical and tangible or it becomes artificial, make-believe fantasy. Personally, I respect and adore filmmakers who attempt to address spirituality while remaining true to the medium's inherent literalness--their films help me to see ordinary, ambiguous life in extraordinary ways. If the spiritual realm was obvious and recordable, it wouldn't require faith. In my life, spirituality is ambiguous and multifaceted, God is implicit, I don't presume to know all the answers, and I live in a great deal of mystery in the face of the Unknown. My hope and faith provide me a context for engaging that ambiguity, but I won't be surprised if some of my working assumptions/interpretations of experiences turn out to be false, either.

Ambiguity also allows artists to pose stories and images that open dialogue rather than close it.

Ambiguity may stimulate the old grey matter, but it is also a cop-out, in my view. I personally have no use for films that challenge my faith. The whole damn world challenges my faith!

Ha. Ambiguity can be a brain teaser, but it can also be poetry, it can be beauty, it can be an adventure waiting to be lived. Personally, I'm glad I don't have all the answers--the world would be a very boring place if I did; I would only be passing time until I died. Mystery is a wonderful thing.

Having said that, I think it is possible for filmmakers to be too calculating about ambiguity in a variety of ways. At the Toronto film festival, for example, Ken remarked that as much as he liked Requiem, it almost seemed too calculatingly ambiguous, as if the filmmaker didn't have a perspective whatsoever. Fortunately, I don't think Dreyer succumbs to that temptation.

By the way, I called Ordet odious for what I think it is saying in that final scene, and not for its ambiguity.

That's right, thanks for the clarification. Although I hope I've made my case clear as to why I don't believe that is, in fact, Dreyer's message!

Edited by Doug C

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I think it had something to do with why I could understand a weariness at ambiguity because of the murkiness or mushiness that passes for polyphony today, and why, even though I could have used Ordet as an example, I thought of AME first when making that point.

Perhaps you could've used Requiem?

But I think in spiritual development it is okay to have (st)ages of concentration as well as (st)ages of expansion, to crib a phrase from Matthew Arnold, So I'm not too quick to jump to conclusions if someone is at a place where they are like, "i don't want to be challenged to go higher up and higher in right now, I'd rather consolidate my understanding of where I am and what I know."

I agree, which is why I said I can understand being tired of ambiguity, depending on where we're at and how long we've been there. But there's a difference between saying "I'm not at a place to appreciate this film" versus "This film is not Christian/truthful/worthy because it's not where I'm at." (Although I realize IM was also criticizing a thematic reading.) I spend most of my moviegoing time engaging challenging art films because I enjoy them and the conversations they inspire and find the experience beneficial to my life, but there are definitely times when I just want to watch a classical Hollywood comedy and be reassured by nostalgia, unambiguous meanings, predictable narratives, and recognizable forms. It's important to pace ourselves and respect each other's unique developmental journeys. :)

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