Little Miracles in Carl Theodore Dreyer’s “Ordet”

Carl Theodore Dreyer belongs in the God-tier of film directors alongside Ozu, Bresson, Tarkovsky, Bergman, and Bunuel. The Danish master only made a handful of feature films over the course of his career, and I can only imagine how each momentous release must have felt like a historic event for film enthusiast at that time. After “The Passion of Joan of Arc” (1928), possibly the greatest silent film ever made, he would only make one feature film per decade or two. In the 1930’s, Dreyer made “Vampyr”, and in the 1940’s, “Day of Wrath” was released, both of which are masterpieces of cinema. “Ordet” is no different. It is in simplest terms, divine.⠀

“Ordet” revolves around two rural families who are constantly in dispute over theological matters, but when death looms near for one family member, everyone’s faith is put to test. The way things unfold in Dreyer’s film is truly miraculous. The characters respond to each event with a spontaneity that is rare in cinema. I was particularly drawn towards the character arc of the grandfather, Morten Borgen played by Henrik Malberg. At first, he comes across as incredibly stubborn and opinionated, but a simple turn of events changes his stance on matters of marriage and religion almost instantly. At one point his daughter in law proclaims, “I believe a lot of little miracles happen secretly.”⠀

Throughout the film, there are many religious arguments that unfold amongst a spectrum of characters with various degrees of faith. But I think Dreyer, who wasn’t very religious himself, was more interested in the idea of inner transformation, and how anything is possible depending on the circumstance life deals you. In “Ordet”, life is made up of small moments that shape who we are and how we think. I couldn’t help but feel enveloped by greatness as I watched this message being delivered in picturesque monochrome frames worthy of being placed in a museum.⠀

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