Carl Dreyer Questions Christianity in “Ordet”

At an International Cinema lecture, Dennis Packard explained the Christian themes and cinematic techniques in the Danish film Ordet.

19641422666_99fac6b1da_oPROVO, Utah (October 6, 2015)— Faith is an important part of LDS culture and Christianity in general, but people arrive at their faith in different ways. Dennis Packard, philosophy professor and former International Cinema director, presented Ordet, a Danish film that addresses the concept of faith in Christianity, in an International Cinema lecture.

The film is based on a play by Kaj Munk, a Danish Lutheran priest. It tells the story of the Borgen family in rural Denmark. The patriarch of the family has three sons: Mikkel, whose wife, Inger, is expecting their third child; Johannes, who believes he is Jesus Christ after studying Kirkegaard; and Anders, who is in love with the tailor’s daughter. When Inger experiences sudden issues with her pregnancy, the doctor is called and as he tends to her, the characters are left to examine their own faith.

Ordet is filled with motifs, many of which have a Christian basis. The film addresses the concept of the spirit and body being one, which deeply coincides with the LDS view, as well as the idea of new life.

“In my opinion, [Ordet] is the most powerful religious film ever made,” said Packard. “This film deals with the miraculous in ways that I’ve not seen any LDS film [accomplish]. It also handles religious issues in a very deep and powerful way,” said Packard.

In addition to religious themes, this film is highly regarded for director Carl Dreyer’s cinematography. Packard explained that Dreyer thought of everything in the film as rhythmic— everything is developing throughout the course of the story. In fact, Dreyer believed this film was his most harmonious.

Dreyer also succeeds in pulling viewers into the film and keeping them immersed there. He does this in many ways. One way he does this is by keeping the audience captivated when they would normally pull away, for example, by skepticism, by having the characters in a scene express skepticism the same way the audience would, which Packard said is particularly apparent at the end of the film.

Dreyer’s production design is also notable according to Packard. He explained that Dreyer brought in decorations to create the Danish farmhouse. Then—in an act of minimalism—he removed objects and left just enough to express a sense of the room. This drives the viewer to grasp for the total composition of the setting.

“We think that we’re just trying to make a copy of the world [in film], and that makes it art. He’s denying that,” said Packard. “You want to show reality, but it has to be purged of trivial details, and then it becomes poetic.”

The film ends the same way it begins: with the family searching for Johannes. Packard asked the audience to think about what that means and to pay attention to what is impressed on their minds.

The question of Kierkegaard and the film is this, “What does it take to be a Christian?” said Packard.

—Kayla Goodson (B.A. Communications and French studies ’17)

Kayla covers the Philosophy Department for the College of Humanities. She is a junior pursuing a dual degree in French studies and Journalism with a minor in international strategy and diplomacy.

Photo courtesy of pector80