In the End Was The Word

Carl Theodor Dreyer (1889-1968), the Danish director, is one of the most prominent figures in the history of Scandinavian cinema. He is most famous for The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) and Ordet (1955). Ordet was based on a play by Kaj Munk and won the Golden Lion of Venice Film Festival the year it was produced.

In this film, Dreyer brilliantly tells a minimalistic story in two hours. Although the story seems minimalistic, it conveys deep insights about faith and sanity. Most of this film contains long takes, and this combined with the composition of the shots, the slow movement of the camera and the dramatic performances, which are even more dramatic in the final sequence, suggest a theatrical piece. This final sequence alone is an example of a strong chamber drama, with few active characters in a limited space. Also, Schrader (1972) claims that Dreyer rejected expressionistic style self-consciously in favor of transcendental style.

Coldness, lack of decorations and minimalistic use of furniture can be considered as the room’s characteristics. This suggests what type of mindset governs the work and its characters. Carney (1989) argued that in Ordet, “the camera’s travels represent a commitment to endless exploration and discovery” (p. 228). The panning movement of the camera in most of the film’s duration avoids breaking the long scenes into shorter ones and expands the space in front of the viewer.  On the other hand, the whirling movements of the camera around the characters dictate the feelings of doubt, wandering and unsuccessful explorations; the ones that Johannes couldn’t bear.

Moreover, Carney suggested with using the mentioned style, Dreyer asks the audience to be mobile and aware as we can see in the way camera moves in order to accept the possibilities in the world. This type of camera movement also adds to the heaviness of the ambience of the sequence, and aesthetically creates some sort of background which helps the main subject catch the eyes.

One issue that may not be deducted only from viewing the final scene of Ordet is that the director chose to stick to one style, type of shots and angles in most of the film’s duration in an almost reductionist way (Bordwell, 1981).

The clock’s role is very important in most of the shots of the final sequence (and in Johannes’ words “time” is mentioned as well), and still clock handles suggests the surreal touch of the sequence, since for almost five minutes it repeatedly shows the audience that the time has stopped, which foreshadows a miracle.

Moreover, the words of the melancholic Johannes, who still seems somehow insane, represent the Gospel of John which contains resurrection, the central theme of the sequence, and Inger’s coming back to life.

Resurrection of Inger puts a smile on her child, reunites her with Mikkel, and possibly astonishes the mourners, but whose faith is right? Whose path to salvation is the right one? Such questions will still reign the minds, as they have for centuries. At the end of the movie, it is left to the audience to decide who Johannes and what the meaning of this miracle is.

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