We continue our survey of the twenty greatest movies of the 1950s.
For a complete listing of the greatest movies of the 20, 30s and 40s, click here.
14. Ordet (English: The Word), 1955.
On a rural Danish farm, a young man gets up from his bed in the middle of the night, wanders outside, and preaches the word of G-d. On a clothesline, laundry glows in the moonlight; the linen dances and snaps like ghosts, or, perhaps, angels.
The seamless melding of the tiny details of ordinary domestic life with questions of love, loyalty, and religious faith, make watching Ordet a most extraordinary experience.
We learn that Johannes (Preben Lerdorff Rye), has gone mad from studying Kierkegaard, and now believes himself to be Jesus. His elder brother Mikkel (Emil Hass Christensen), claims that he no longer has “faith in faith”; and the youngest brother, Anders (Cay Kristiansen), is pursuing a young woman whose sect of Christianity puts her family in conflict with the stubborn Morten Borgen (Henrik Malberg), the father of the three brothers.
And so, we wonder: is Ordet about the mad Johannes, or perhaps about the Romeo and Juliet love story. But then, slowly we realize the focus of the movie is Mikkel’s hugely pregnant wife, Inger, (Birgitte Federspiel) a luminously unglamorous beauty, whose faith, common sense, and serenity, keep the Borgen family from splitting at the seams.
Based on a 1934 play by Kaj Munk, a Lutheran minister who was martyred by the Nazis, Ordet does not have a traditional plot. On the surface, Ordet is a deceptively simple, almost leisurely narrative that seems to have no center. And yet, it is film that gradually builds to an emotionally shattering, almost unbearable climax, a deeply complex rumination on religious faith in a world that only pays lip service to the traditional Judeo Christian concept.
Director Carl Theodor Dreyer (1889—1968) was one of the finest, most rigorous directors in movie history. He was also a deeply pious Christian whose best films (The Passion of Joan of Arc, 1928 and Day of Wrath, 1943) are profound meditations on man’s turbulent relationship with man, and with G-d.
Dreyer, a rare European who crusaded against Christian Jew-hatred, was also a conservative artist who said:
I do not have anything revolutionary to say. I do not believe in revolutions. They push development backwards. I am more inclined to believe in evolution, in the small steps forward. So I only intend to point out that film has possibilities of giving artistic renewal from the inside.
The ending of Ordet—no spoilers here—is, perhaps, the most stunning moment of religious revelation ever filmed, as Dreyer affirms the living soul, and the eternal bonds of love between husband and wife.
For a revealing, eye-witness account of the filming of Ordet, Seraphic Secret recommends Carl Theodor Dreyer and Ordet: My Summer with the Danish Filmmaker by Jan Wahl.
To be continued.