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Jazzaloha

Ordet (1955)

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Persiflage,

I've thought about this some more, and I think the reason you want to focus more on Johannes role in Inger's resurrection, whereas I want to focus more on Maren's role, may be related to the divide between us, i.e. the different place each of us is "coming from." I said I would shut up about this, but it's impossible to separate it from what we're discussing now. I think you tend to want to see Johannes as the "officiant" of Inger's resurrection. Because of your beliefs, you tend to think this act of God must have a "stand-in" for Christ on earth, and you see that as Johannes. I, on the other hand, because of my beliefs, don't tend to see the necessity of an "officiant" for an act of God. I'm not saying that you and I formally think or believe these things (about an act of God), just that we probably have a tendency or predisposition to believe them.

That said, I would remind you of three things. First, Johannes, so far as we know from the film, was never ordained. This fact wouldn't matter to my side of the debate, but it's absolutely critical to your side of this debate, isn't it? Succession and all that. Second, is there a rite or ceremony in the church for resurrection? If so, I must have missed it (so there's no misunderstanding, point two is said tongue in cheek). Third, the "official" representative of God in the room where Inger is resurrected is the one trying to rise up and stop it from happening! Only to be restrained by the atheist in the room, the doctor (more subtle humor on Dreyer's part?). And yes, I know you've already raised point three yourself, but it was not at all clear to me why you think it supports your position - it seems to me to support mine.

Overall, isn't what happens in that room consistent with a Kierkegaardian interpretation (albeit not necessarily excluding other interpretations)? I think so, anyway.

Edited by tenpenny

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Without Christ, the real Christ (not Johannes who just believes he's Christ), no resurrection will occur. But, also, without Maren's great faith that it can actually happen, no resurrection will occur. Thus, (in the now explicitly qualified sense that Christ is recognized as the power behind it,) I stand by what I said: Maren is the agent of Inger's resurrection, not Johannes. Johannes' role is only intermediary because, in my view, at the penultimate moment, I believe Johannes has a doubt, when he says, "If it is possible..." Now, I grant that one could see his use of that particular phrase not as an indication of wavering faith, but simply as a formal gesture of supplication. I choose to see it as wavering faith, but you may not, I realize. Maren's faith, in any case, clearly doesn't waver.

So you've made me think more through this. Turns out I agree with you that it's the little girl's faith that is important. I still don't think a now sane Johannes' faith waivers, but it seems pretty clear that for some reason, his faith doesn't really count (sort of like prophets or apostles in the Bible, they were God's tool, but they still needed someone with faith). Naaman needed the little faith it took to dip in the river seven times, while of course Elisha believed God could do it (so Elisha's faith was unwavering, but it was Naaman's begrudging faith that mattered for the miracle).

As soon as Johannes walks into the room, he's looking for someone in the room with faith. He asks why not one of them thought of asking God for help, he says they blaspheme God with their lukewarm faith, and then asks "why is there not one among these believers who believe?" Once it looks like he can't find anyone in the room with faith, he laments the rotten times and tells them to put the lid on the coffin. Then Maren comes up to him, and it's a surprise, as if he hadn't considered the possibility that the faith of just a child would be enough. Then he tells her, "Thy faith is great, thy will shall be done ... Look now at your mother. When I say the name of Jesus, she will arise." That does seem to make it pretty clear that without the faith of Maren, Johannes would not have bothered with asking God for the miracle. Until this discussion, I hadn't really thought of this before. But Maren's faith is the one that matters, and Johannes, just like a Biblical prophet, is acting as the intermediary. So, it looks like I've found myself agreeing with you now, except for the bit about Johannes' faith wavering. For some reason, while he clearly believes God can do it, he's looking for someone else with enough faith as if he himself doesn't count. That seems pretty evident from what he says and does when he walks into the room. I'm just not quite sure why Dreyer and Munk decided to do it that way.

I stopped quoting you at exactly this point in your response, because it's clear to me now where you're coming from, and I think further debate between us on this point will probably just generate more heat than light. I'll shut up about it. Kierkegaard is insufficiently Christian. Natch.

Hey man, we need to start up a separate Kierkegaard/Shostov/Christian existentialism thread one of these days. I'm perfectly willing to discuss it ... non-heatedly. I've slowly come around to believing that Kierkegaard and existentialism has unfortunately influenced the modern church in a number of harmful ways. There's this anti-rationalist - you just have to have faith, you just need to accept it without looking for scientific evidence, Christianity cannot be proved rationally, there are no valid proofs for the existence of God - element in the modern church, and while I feel very strongly about it, I have never had the opportunity to discuss it with someone who agrees with it AND actually knows where it comes from. While I've had evangelical Bible study teachers give me the "God's ways are beyond our understanding, you just have to sacrifice your selfish insistence on things being logical all the time and choose to just have faith" in response to my questions, hardly any of them were aware of who Kierkegaard even was (in spite of their essentially teaching his "leap into faith" idea). My vote is we discuss it on it's own sometime soon, but we should probably take it to another thread.

I've thought about this some more, and I think the reason you want to focus more on Johannes role in Inger's resurrection, whereas I want to focus more on Maren's role, is related to the divide between us, i.e. the different place each of us is "coming from." I said I would shut up about this, but it's impossible to separate it from what we're discussing now. I think you want to see Johannes as the "officiant" of Inger's resurrection. Because of your beliefs, you think this act of God must have a "stand-in" for Christ on earth, and you see that as Johannes. I, on the other hand, because of my beliefs, don't see the necessity of an officiant for an act of God.

Nope, that's not it. I don't see a necessity for an "officiant" for an act of God.

I don't give a damn if Johannes is ordained, performs any kind or rite or ceremony or not, or has to be the one whose faith in the room counts. I believe God can use people with spiritual gifts, even in modern times, without there being anything official or institutionalized about it. I only mentioned Aquinas as a contrasting example because I agree with him like I agree with C.S. Lewis in the book, Miracles. I also don't see how that has anything at all to do with Dreyer's film being Kierkegaardian. Kierkegaard's ideas went much farther than just being anti-institutionalized religion. He had very specific things to teach about epistemology, reason & logic, rationalism, faith, doubt and God. And when he taught that "truth is subjectivity," he was going far into realms Dreyer was never interested in with Ordet. Dreyer, in fact, strikes me as a much more objective, naturalistic, matter-of-fact teacher. There are a number of facts in the story that Dreyer considers established as objectively real (Inger's faith, Mikkel's loss of faith, Morten's prayers about Johannes, Johannes' identity, Johannes' inability to perform miracles under a delusion). Part of what makes Ordet so different from most other films, are the simple spiritual truths that Dreyer just accepts as reality and as a natural part of his story.

And this goes to the heart of why I appreciated Ordet so much when I first saw it. Christianity is true and Christ is working in the world all around us. Suddenly, here comes this Dreyer guy and he makes a moving story on film about a family of believers and nonbelievers, sainthood and selfishness, and doubt and faith. By the end of the film, some characters who did not believe, now believe. Why? Because of hard, objective evidence that Christianity is true, Jesus lives, and is still working in our natural world. How many of us, first watching the film, looked down upon Mikkel's faith? I disagree with Kierkegaard's main teachings, and I STILL found a part of myself thinking that Mikkel just got it easy. Mikkel, and probably also the doctor, are now Christian believers. At the very end, would you argue that Maren's faith is better in some way than Mikkel's? Heck, even I'm tempted to. He only believed when it was objectively proved to him by a miracle that changed/saved his life. And yet, Dreyer (and Ingar) considers that a beautiful thing.

Not judging Mikkel's faith is one of the challenges of this film.

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Persiflage,

I was actually still editing some of my earlier comments while/after you were replying to them. This stuff is inherently difficult to express and the risk of causing misunderstandings in this arena is high. I'm still not sure I've expressed myself with full precision.

Anyway, yes, we probably should discuss this in some new thread, although another reason why I haven't tried to argue in detail on Kierkegaard's behalf, besides the untopicality of it in this thread and its flammability, is because I don't by any means consider myself an expert on Kierkegaard. I kinda, sorta, do consider myself one on Shestov, because I've spent a great deal of time reading and studying him, but these two thinkers are only similar, not identical. I think your knowledge of Shestov is shallow and probably skewed by the axe you have to grind - not meaning to sound rude here, but I think it's just a fact. I have a suspicion that the same could be true of your knowledge of Kierkegaard, but I'm sure not the one who is qualified to make any judgment on that, like I am with Shestov. I know this may sound like I'm equivocating here, because I'm sure there are strong similarities between Kierkegaard and Shestov, but I come back to the fact that they are in fact two different thinkers. Also, it's worth pointing out that the amount of scholarly literature on Kierkegaard is vastly greater than that on Shestov, and thus far more time-consuming to get a handle on.

With that very important qualification established, I did just find two articles on Kierkegaard's conception of subjectivity that might challenge your opinions on the subject, here and here.

Also, not to toot my own horn, but my series of eight posts on the Fall of Man, over at my blog here (the posts are listed in reverse chronological order - read them from the bottom up), lays out using lots of extended quotes the critique of rationality that Shestov, Dostoevsky, etc., made in the context of the Fall. I have no illusions about changing your mind, but you might find it interesting.

Really liked your comments about Mikkel's faith, by the way. And I completely agree with you that the wealth of tangible spiritual elements in Ordet is a wonderful thing and makes the film endlessly discussable.

Edited by tenpenny

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Alright, the Christian Existentialist discussion is moved here, to the extent that it discusses Kierkegaard, Shestov and company alone, unrelated to Ordet.

On the other hand, go ahead and keep any further attempts to show how Ordet and its ending are somehow Kierkegaardian here, as long as the discussion is more about the film and Dreyer's point of view, than it is about the truth or falsehood of Existentialism.

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I watched this film for the first time today. I had no idea what the film held for me going into it, only knowing it was a Dreyer film and that this community holds it in high regards. Consider me a believer. There are so many layers and so many excellent quotes that it necessitates a second viewing. I think I'll invite a few friends next time I watch it, with Kierkegaard in one hand and Scripture in the other. (The line about Kierkegaard causing Johannes's madness made me grin. I'm assuming that's Dreyer's humor coming through?) I'll make some coffee too; they drink so much coffee in the film it made me long for a cup.

Providentially, today is Easter. Today marks a celebration of resurrection, faith, and new life.

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Richard Brody on Ordet:

 

By the time he made “Ordet,” the modern had become classical, and Dreyer had stripped his style of angular expressivity in favor of a still yet furious clarity that seemed to see through things to reveal their transcendent essence. That achievement is an even greater miracle—and it’s appropriate to the radical Christianity at the heart of this movie.

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Playing tonight (tomorrow morning) on TCM for you poor souls who have never scraped up enough for the DVD. (Double feature with Gertrud!)

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I happened to be googling William Friedkin tonight to see if a particular shot from The Exorcist was directly attributable to Night of the Hunter, and I not only found my answer but got this as a bonus:


 

Quote
Spoiler

Ordet
Carl Th. Dreyer

Directed by the Danish master Carl Theodor Dreyer, Ordet is yet another film made in 1955 to which I’m deeply indebted. There is a stunning scene of literal resurrection that inspired my own visual approach to The Exorcist and gave me the courage to stage a supernatural event as if it were actually happening, without scary lighting or weird angles.

 

 

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I chose for my avatar this image from the mesmerizing “rotating camera” scene in the middle of Ordet.

It’s one of my favorite scenes/shots from one of my favorite movies. I also think it’s central to the film’s meaning, In terms of the camera as well as the acting and dialogue. The first few times I watched Ordet, Morten, Inger, and Johannes seemed to be “keys” to the film, and they are (there is no central character, except perhaps God). But little Maren has since impressed me as a key figure as well in her faith, her trust, and her wisdom. She’s able to hear Johannes’ truths without accepting his delusions. In this scene, she debates Johannes as to the merits of having a living mother or a mother “in heaven,” and her affirmation of life and hope for resurrection is important to the meaning of the film. And those are also central to my own faith. Her childlike faith is something I aspire to.

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For all you other Ordet nerds, there are minor discrepancies in the English translation between the published script of the film and the Criterion subtitles, and one important one in the rotating camera scene.

***SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS***

Most significantly, near the end of the scene, right after Maren scolds Johannes not to worry about whether the others will allow him to raise Inger, she pauses and says in the Criterion subtitles “How happy I am.” What makes more sense in context is what Maren says in the published script, “Oh, I am so looking forward to it,” referring to the future resurrection of her mother. This really emphasizes her expectation of the coming resurrection. It sounds like the latter to my non-Danish ears, too.

The screenplay also has Maren say “raise her from the dead” instead of “bring her back to life” in the Criterion subtitles. The latter is a more natural translation, but the former has the religious resonance.

I think Johannes’ line in response to Maren’s asking if it’s better to have a mother in heaven “You can see that for yourself” is funny. I cringe every time at that line. And Maren’s response “That’s nonsense” is true both in Johannes’ case and in general. It’s better to have a body than not, and better to have a mother with you than not. Compared to Maren’s notions, Johannes’ prophetic ramblings make less sense—they’re too otherworldly. Maren sees the sense in the dead spiritual mother being more present with her since she won’t have to do chores, but she’d rather have her mother just the same. (Like her father, though in a very different way, she also loves her mother’s body.) In the Criterion subs, Maren says “the dead don’t have to do [chores]” whereas the screenplay has her say “Dead people miss [doing chores].” (Of course, Maren was the name of Johannes’ mother—little Maren’s namesake—AND it’s a variant of the name Mary, Jesus’ mother.)

There are some great interpretations of Maren earlier in the thread. For example:

On 2/11/2011 at 7:58 PM, tenpenny said:

You highlight Johannes' false and delusional certainty, which he has for most of the film, that he is Jesus Christ. This is, as things turn out, an important narrative element in the film, but whether Dreyer meant for it to have any theological or philosophical import seems highly doubtful. I think we can all stipulate that any dude who thinks he's JC is totally wack and inherently not that interesting. What makes it interesting here, I would submit, is the fact that it propels Johannes' belief, and his promise to Maren, that he can resurrect Inger. When Johannes tries and discovers he can't resurrect Inger, he collapses, goes wandering, regains his sanity, and recognizes that he's not JC. But what he had promised Maren, during his delusional madness, was not forgotten by her. With all her purity and innocence Maren believed her uncle could do this thing - the false basis for the belief not touching her - and she nursed her hope with faith until the time came to redeem it, and when she did, it was glorious. She was the agent for Inger's resurrection, not Johannes who, back in his right mind, wavered as to whether it was even possible, but finally asked for it, Maren's faith being so strong.

 

On 2/12/2011 at 2:02 PM, tenpenny said:

The men in the film, while critical to the narrative, are both physically and spiritually slow and clumsy. Inger is physically and spiritually graceful. She is the glue that holds the film, and the other characters in the film, together. Without her the other family members are lost. That's why her death is so catastrophic. In contrast, if Johannes in his disordered mental state had died, it would almost have been a blessing. If anyone can be said to represent Dreyer's point of view on spirituality (and it's always risky to speculate about such things), I think it's probably Inger. Especially when she's talking to Morten in the outbuilding about how God responds to our prayers and nurtures us in countless small, hardly noticeable ways (I can't recall her exact words, and I'm too lazy to run them down just now).

I see Maren as an extension of Inger, a sort of Inger-in-waiting, and therefore I see Maren as a more important character than her limited screen time would indicate. I mentioned once before, I think well back in this thread, the parallelism between the extended, breathy way that Inger pronounces "Ja" (Yes) when, near the beginning, she is assuring Mikkel that he will eventually find his faith, and the way Maren says "Ja" to her uncle, when he asks her if she believes Inger can be resurrected. I like to think of this intonation of "Ja" as being rather like how God breathed life and flesh into Adam's body of clay after He formed it with His own hands.

 

On 2/12/2011 at 9:07 PM, tenpenny said:

About Maren. As a child, she should not be expected to have the same understanding of Johannes' delusion that the adults have. Maren must be aware that he's not quite right in the head, but unlike the adults (Inger partially excepted), she still relates to him in a fully natural way, and nonjudgmentally. Maren is old enough to know a little bit about Jesus (she refers to him simply as "the man in the Bible"), she has a pure, childlike faith in Him, she knows that He can awaken people who are dead, and she knows that Johannes isn't Jesus (but she still loves Johannes, unconditionally). She may not understand exactly how Johannes is able to awaken people who are dead, but she is after all still a child and in any case, as I said before, I don't think that Johannes' false belief that he is Christ "touches" her.

 

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Was watching this today for the first time in several years, preparing for a class. Not much new to add--I have a deeper appreciation for Borgen's assertion that study is what drove Johannes mad. 

Perhaps because of other things I've been watching lately, I was struck by how much camera movement there was, how Dreyer often prefers panning to cutting. I assume this is primarily a financial consideration (the produciton stills in Criterion DVD show size of camera, so set up and moving it must have been a bear). 

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On 3/8/2005 at 5:26 PM, Russ said:

Quick: Somebody needs to point out something wrong with the film. Something imperfect about it. Otherwise, I'm just going to detonate with admiration.

 

Doug, is that interview from a collection of Cahiers essays or some other source?

I will confess that it still kind of rankles me the way that Anne is "given" by Peter as some sort of reward/compensation for Inger's loss. I understand and think it is important that Anne and Anders are genuinely in love. I also understand that this sort of complementarianism is typical of the time and place, but Dreyer and Munk are capable of depicting other practices/ideas, even ones that were orthodox for time and place, and criticizing them. There are even parts of Inger's character and interactions with Morten that are more progressive, that go beyond the woman on a pedestal or woman as symbol of virtue that is typical in some complementarian societies. I get all that. But I do admit to finding the treatment of Anne (and to a lesser extent, Anders) at the end to be celebrated rather than interrogated. 

I'm also not a huge fan of the slow pans, I'll be honest. Based on production photos from Crterion, I *suspect* (but don't know) that this has to do with the size of the camera, the interior setting, and the desire not to do multiple takes. Sometimes these are pans back and forth within a room, sometimes slow adjustments to center image or create a more balanced mise-en-scene for a scene. Again, I suspect, but don't know, that this contributes to the tendency of the characters (Johannes and Mikkel especially to shuffle (walk very slowly) indoors so that they don't outrun the camera. I don't mind a deliberate pace for theme's sake, but this struck me more as a technical problem, and for the first time last time, I found myself distracted at times by camera movement rather than being unaware or appreciative of it.
 

On 3/8/2005 at 6:40 PM, Darren H said:

The younger brother is kind of whiney? That's all I got.

I was actually somewhat impressed by the exchange where Morten says something to the effect that Anders *let* Peter kick him out and Andres replies that he wouldn't have done so except that he loves Anne. This actually shows a certain amount of maturity and insight, whether I parse it as him not wanting to further antagonize Peter, make things worse for Anne, or recognizes his own Christian duty to try to honor her father even when he is being a jackass.

*******
On a different note, I ordered the play but haven't read it yet. I saw a note in Wikipedia (who knows?) that the play contains a reference to a backstory of Johannes being driven mad by a failed love affair. If this is so, I think the change to him being driven mad by Kierkegaard is even more important, though I'll hold off on saying more until I confirm that detail from the play.

I had an interesting conversation this week with a professor of New Testament studies on the Gospel of John, and Ordet appears to invoke Johannine themes more than those of other gospels. (Johannes's name, the title of the play/film, the gospel verse he leaves, and the emphasis on "signs" or "miracles.") I was not aware of the debate within theology about "sign faith" (faith in response to miracles or signs rather than in response to...testimony, hearing the word, etc.) In the context of that theme, I see nothing in the film that suggests Mikkel's faith (at the end) is inferior to that of those who believe without signs (i.e. Maren). In fact, iirc, he says to Inger that he has finally found "your faith," suggesting that the faith that they share at the end is no different despite the different ways they arrived at it.

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