Ordet (1955)

I’m in the middle of watching Shoah at the moment (post forthcoming), and opted for a rewatch of this as a bit of a light interlude. Of course, it’s only in such a context that Ordet can be called “light” even ironically; for the last 21 years, since I first saw it on SBS back in 1991, it’s always been kind of my supreme example of Serious and Difficult European (and More Specifically Scandinavian) Art Cinema. Carl Dreyer is someone I haven’t been in any great rush to reappraise, and indeed it’s probably been the better part of two decades since I last watched Ordet. I was so much younger then, I’m older than that now, to paraphrase that Zimmerman fellow, and I’ve gained rather more experience with the amazing world of cinema in that time. As such, I’m sure I have a greater appreciation of the artistry involved here; Ordet is a feast for fans of the long take, of which Dreyer was a clearly highly skilled proponent. And yet I admire it only at some distance. Ordet is a perplexing work by two difficult men (Dreyer and Kaj Munk; what a complicated character he seems to have been), a religious drama by an apparently not especially religious man at the end of which a madman who thinks he’s Christ resurrects the dead after he’s regained his sanity. I really don’t know what to take away from it. These days I’m inclined to agree with Wittgenstein’s opening to the Tractatus, i.e. the world is everything that is, although I think the sum total of “everything that is” is far larger than some people would have you believe. Consequently I don’t really believe in miracles of the kind the film offers at the end, at least not as supernatural events violating natural law, so I feel rather hamstrung by the climactic resurrection; the religiosity underlying the characters (and their disputes) leaves me somewhat at arm’s length from them, and the ending leaves me similarly remote from the film itself (it actually bothers me now for some reason as a 37 y.o. agnostic more than I think it did as a 16 y.o. atheist). I appreciate the film’s artistry, like I said, but I don’t know that I actually like it, never mind love it.

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