Ordet was Carl Dreyers second-to-last film. It is a great film but not an easy one to like. My viewing companion, who usually likes art and foreign movies, simply gave up part way through, turned off by the heavy religious element. Dreyer sets out to make a parable about religion and faith in the modern world. Many of the characters exist as not too much more than mouthpieces for viewpoints the two staunch old men who represent vitality and belief in life vs closeted order; the son who has lost his faith; the other son who has been driven insane by his beliefs and stumbles about making haunted pronouncements; the pastor who cheerfully does social service but is equally certain that miracles do not happen in the modern age; the doctor who represents reductionist science. The statement that miracles dont happen anymore in the modern day is repeated throughout however, the films very thesis is that of course they do.
In look, Ordet resembles very much Ingmar Bergmans films from around this era. Dreyer deliberately shoots sere, barren locations the farm is set at a cliff of windswept reeds on a flat and desolate peninsula. The very emptiness of the landscapes seems to brood. The religious element is stifling and heavy-handed. Even when it comes to Henrik Malbergs belief in a religion of life, I cannot say that this is a world I would be happy living in.
The most interesting character is that of Preben Lerdorff Ryes Johannes. Even though Ryes gaunt hollow voice become monotonous and repetitive, his prophecies and presentiments have an eerie effect that hangs over the film. The entire film builds up to the emotionally shattering last scene where [PLOT SPOILERS] we do indeed get a confirmation of a miracle as Preben Lerdorff Rye raises Birgitte Federspiel from the coffin. The scene is astonishing and Dreyer builds up to it superbly. Surely, if there is a film that is capable of convincing an agnostic such as oneself in the existence of miracles and the validity of faith, then this would be it. (Even if at the same time as you are doing a double-take at the stricture and severity of the world that it seems to imply).
The film is based on a play Ordet (which translates as The Word) by Kaj Munk, which was written in 1925 but not performed until 1932. Munk was a Lutheran pastor who was murdered in 1944 after preaching a sermon in defiance of a Nazi ban during their occupation of Denmark in World War II. An earlier Swedish version of the film was made with Ordet (1943) and there was a further tv version Ordet (1962) made in Finland. Fellow Dane Lars von Triers Breaking the Waves (1996) is a clear homage to Ordet in its concern with strict religion in a remote town and eventual arrival at a redeeming miracle.