Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Ordet (1955)


     In the International Cinema course I’m taking at my university this semester, I’ve been able for the first time to see a wide variety of cinema from around the world. I got to see a Bollywood epic for the first time and it fascinated me; I finally got to see “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Seven Samurai”, two popular Asian films that were also successes in the United States; and I was moved by two recent films from the Middle East, “Paradise Now” from Pakistan and “A Separation” from Iran. But the movie that has had the hugest impact on me so far is a minimalist film from Denmark called “Ordet”.

     “Ordet”, translated as “The Word”, is a 1955 Danish dramatic film based on a play by Kaj Munk (a play that I’ve never seen or heard of before watching this), directed by a filmmaker named Carl Theodor Dreyer, who is also world-renowned for his haunting, almost-lost historical masterpiece, “The Passion of Joan of Arc”. However, I found “Ordet” more appealing and more impactful—maybe it was because “Joan of Arc” was a silent film, and “Ordet” is not. But even though both films deal explicitly with religious characters and themes, I’d like to explore “Ordet” and just what is so moving about it.

     The film takes place in Denmark in 1925 on a farm, where we meet the father of the house, Morten Borgen (and I apologize for not crediting the actors, but I have a feeling none of us could identify them anyway). Morten has three sons, two of whom are grown men, but all three of them live on the property. The eldest is Mikkel, with his wife Inger pregnant with their third child. The second eldest is Johannes, who we see early on quotes the Gospels and prophesies under the belief that he is Jesus Christ returned (apparently he went crazy while studying philosophy a while back). The youngest, still really a boy, is Anders, who has a crush on a girl whose father happens to be in charge of a local Christian sect.

     (On a side note, I don’t know Danish or how to figure out Danish names into English, but I’m pretty sure all these characters are named after New Testament characters. I’m going to figure that out for sure one of these days.)

     So for the first half or so of the movie, we see the family in their daily lives and learn about each member’s religious beliefs. Morten apparently raised the children in a Lutheran home. Now, Mikkel (and Inger, I believe) live as agnostics, though still interacting with the father. Johannes obviously still has some faith in Christianity, although many times his prophesying seems more creepy than moving. Anders’ faith is never truly expressed, though the fact that he is in love with an independently Christian girl may imply that he loves not based on faith. At first, when Anders tells his father he wants to marry this girl, Anne Petersen, Morten at first refuses. But after Anders goes to Anne’s father Peter and asks but is refused by him, Morten decides (based on his pride) to go arrange a marriage himself.

     At one of Peter’s sect’s religious meetings, he and Morten get in an argument over their differences in religious beliefs, when suddenly they receive word that Inger has gone into labor and is not looking well. (Things don’t improve the argument when Peter said Inger’s bad health is a result of Morten rejecting the sect.) Morten and Anders return home to find the baby dead and Inger barely hanging on to life. Morten’s faith is briefly restored when he finds Inger alive after all, but then Johannes enters the room and tells them that death is near for her. (Inger’s eldest daughter, however, says that she is not sad about this because she is confident that Johannes will raise her from the dead.)

     Sure enough, Inger dies after all, and the family is left devastated and confused. As for Johannes, he leaves home for a time (presumably to find peace with God in his own way), and the family prepares for Inger’s visitation and funeral. At the wake, Peter and Anne actually come and reconcile with Morten and Anders, and Peter gives Anders permission to marry Anne. Then all of a sudden, Johannes comes in, seeming a little less crazy than he usually has. And as he stands above Inger’s casket, he again challenges the family:

JOHANNES: Not one of you has had the idea of asking God to give Inger back to you again.

MORTEN: Johannes, now you are blaspheming God.

JOHANNES: No. All of you blaspheme God with your lukewarm faith. …Inger, in the name of Jesus Christ, I bid thee: arise!

     And sure enough, Inger rises from the casket, Mikkel embraces her, and each one in the room has their faith restored. I’ll be honest, I have rarely been so moved by a film as religiously explicit and profound as “Ordet” is, and I feel that its simplistic production yet complex meaning is why many consider it one of the greatest films ever made.

     But it still prompts the question: do I have enough faith in my Jesus that I believe the dead can be raised to life? It’s a crazy thought, and it’s honestly pretty scary the more I think about it. But that’s the kind of faith it takes to follow Jesus. And seeing a miracle like this happen with their own eyes was what it took for many followers of Jesus to truly believe. The biggest example of this can be found in John 11, where Jesus raises his friend Lazarus from the dead.

     When the news comes to Jesus and his disciples, he tells them in verse 15, “‘For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.’” Though later he weeps for Lazarus (though not solely for Lazarus or for Mary’s sorrow, but also for sin and pain altogether), he is confident early on that Lazarus will live again. And sure enough, Jesus goes to Lazarus’ tomb, cries out for him to come out, and Lazarus the arisen dead walks right out in his grave clothes, and many of those Jews believed that day in Jesus.

     But what about us, thousands of years later having only heard about this miracle in the Scriptures and never seen anything like it in our lives? Are we following Christ simply because we grew up in the lifestyle, or because people around us are doing it? I personally have been guilty of both those reasons in my past; but I have come to a point where I had seen Jesus work in my life and heal my heart, and I truly believe that (His Will be done, of course) He has the power to raise the dead. My challenge to you is that you would come to that place of strong faith in Christ. After all, he tells Martha and us in John 11:40: “‘If you believe, you will see the glory of God.’”

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