The word (film)

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German title The word
Original title Ordet
Country of production Denmark
original language Danish
Publishing year 1955
length 126 minutes
Age rating FSK 12
Director Carl Theodor Dreyer
script Carl Th. Dreyer based on
Kaj Munk's play
production Carl Theodor Dreyer
music Poul Schierbeck
camera Henning Bendtsen
cut Edith Keys

The word is a Danish film drama by Carl Theodor Dreyer from 1955. It is based on the 1932 play Ordet by the Danish pastor Kaj Munk . The titles of the play and film allude to the biblical phrase "In the beginning was the word" ( John 1,1 ). The film was awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and is now considered a masterpiece in film history.


The proud and quite wealthy farming family Borgen lived in rural Jutland in 1925. The patriarch of the family is the widower Morten, who is considered an important man in the village and played a decisive role in the establishment of the local church community . The eldest son Mikkel is a kind-hearted and responsible man, his clever wife Inger acts as the good soul of the house and is currently pregnant with the third child. In contrast to his believing wife, however, Mikkel lacks belief in God. Morten's second son is Johannes, who obviously went insane over the works of Søren Kierkegaard while studying theology and now believes he is Jesus Christ . Johannes preaches across the courtyard and the dunes and criticizes the “lukewarm” belief in God of his family and the young, newly arrived pastor. Morten's third and youngest son is Anders, who fell in love with Anne Petersen - the village tailor's daughter.

One day Anders confesses to Mikkel and Inger that he loves Anne and wants to marry her. The problem, however, is that Anne's father - the tailor Peter - is the leader of a fundamentalist religious group in the village and has completely different ideas about the “right” Christianity than Morten, who stands behind the normal church community. Anders asked Inger for her help, that she should convince Morten to agree to the marriage. But despite Inger's work to convince him, Morten behaves stubbornly and rejects his son's marriage to the rival's daughter. Only when Anders asked Peter for his daughter's hand and was rejected on the grounds that he was not a real Christian, Morten changed his mind - hurt in his pride. In the evening, Morten himself, accompanied by Anders, drives to the Petersen's house, where they want to change the tailor's mind. In the tailor's house they feel compelled to wait for a service there to end. In the following conversation, Petersen is just as stubborn as Morten before and only wants to agree to a marriage if Morten and his family would join his sect in return. A heated discussion ensues between the older gentlemen about principles of faith, at the end of which the angry Morten becomes violent against the tailor.

Meanwhile Inger is seriously ill in the Borgens' house. Inger's unborn child has to be aborted by the doctor to save her life. Nevertheless, Johannes announces - much to Morten's annoyance - the imminent death of Inger if his father doesn't finally believe him. Since Inger's condition seems stable, the relieved men celebrate with strong coffee. But no sooner have the doctor and the pastor left than Inger dies surprisingly, as Johannes predicted. During the night Johannes disappears from the farm and despite an intensive search he cannot be found again.

Inger's funeral takes place two days later, with Mikkel in particular being devastated by the death of his wife, also because he cannot hope for a reunion with Inger due to his lack of faith. Peter Petersen now regrets that he was so hard on Morten and that he did not follow the love of enemies demanded by Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount . Morten and Petersen are reconciled at the open coffin of the laid out Inger, the tailor now also agrees to a wedding between Anne and Anders. Suddenly the missing Johannes goes to the wake. Although he now appears sane again, he still proclaims that Inger can be raised from the dead if the family is really of firm faith. Then he could ask God for it. None of the adult Christians believe his words; only Inger's daughter - a child - takes Johannes' hand and asks him if he wants to wake her mother now. John praises her filial faith and asks God. Inger begins to breathe, moves in her coffin and comes to consciousness. The obvious miracle of the resurrection impressed everyone involved and also made Morten and Peter forget their differences. Mikkel and his wife, believed to be dead, embrace passionately. He tells her that he has finally found his faith - as she always told him he would.

Production history


Kaj Munk (1944)

After his film Tag der Rache (1943), which is set during the witch burnings in Denmark in the 17th century, was a major flop, director Carl Theodor Dreyer was unable to finance a new film project for over a decade, despite his good reputation. The tide began to turn in 1952 when Dreyer was appointed by the Danish state to head a well-known art cinema in Copenhagen for life (well-deserved older artists were often recognized in Denmark in this or a similar way by the state). The profits of the cinema allowed Dreyer to finally start a new film production. The Palladium film studio, at which Dreyer produced the film, and the state film company Dansk Kulturfilm proposed a film adaptation of the play I Begyndelsen var Ordet (German: "In the beginning was the word", quotation from the Gospel according to John 1,1 ) . The priest Kaj Munk wrote the work in 1925, and it was premiered in 1932. Since Dreyer had seen the piece at its premiere and had been thinking about making it into a film since the 1930s, even writing notes about it, he agreed to the production company's proposal.

Kaj Munk's play had already been filmed: 1943 in Sweden, directed by Gustaf Molander, with Victor Sjöström in the role of Morten. The 1943 film was only released in cinemas in Denmark after the Second World War and the producers of the Swedish film saw their commercial interests endangered if a new film was to come out again. For legal reasons, Dreyer had to postpone the start of filming until 1954. While working on the script, Dreyer remained largely true to the content and intention of the play, but deleted two thirds of Munk's text, which minimized the dialogues of the play to the essentials. He also completely dropped an earlier love affair with Johannes, which takes up some space in the piece. On the other hand, he added the opening scene with Johannes on the dunes, which does not appear in the play, but only as an idea in Munk's diary.


Carl Theodor Dreyer (1965)

The shooting of the film took place over a total of four months - two months in the film studio, two months in the village of Vedersø near Ulfborg , where Munk had worked as a pastor when the play was made. The shooting went very smoothly, as Dreyer had received both enough filming time and money. In order to make the scenes in the farmhouse as realistic as possible, Dreyer had over 100 old objects transported from farmhouses in the area around Vedersø to the film studio in Copenhagen. Here the objects were placed in the backdrop and, in a careful process, gradually removed by Dreyer, so that only about 15 objects remained. These should give the film viewer the feeling of atmosphere and authenticity, but should not distract or even disturb them. Dreyer wanted the film to appear as realistic as possible, so that the supernatural ending with the miracle seems even stronger.

Dreyer mostly turned a setting during the day. In the morning he rehearsed with the actors, paying particular attention to the movements - sometimes down to a step so that it matched the exposure. Then he set the lights and the camera before turning the settings in the evening. The actress of Inger , Birgitte Federspiel , remembered that Dreyer - if he was satisfied with the performances of the actors - never said anything, but instead have friendly smile. He even accompanied her in the search for the right costumes for her role. He also instructed the actors to speak with a light accent that was characteristic of the Vedersø area. In addition to several amateur actors in smaller roles, Dreyer had primarily hired well-known theater actors. Ejner Federspiel , Birgitte's father, who took on the role of Petersen , had already played in the original performance in 1932. The 80-year-old Henrik Malberg had some problems , who as Morten Borgen had to learn by heart what was probably the most extensive text and who found this difficult in old age. Munk had already had Malberg in mind when he wrote the play in 1925 as the preferred candidate for the role of Morten .

Twice in the film, before and after their meeting with the tailor Peter, Anders and Morten drive past a place with a memorial cross. This is where Kaj Munk was shot by the National Socialists in 1944 because he had resisted them. Kaj Munk is also the only person mentioned in the credits ; everyone else involved in the film remains unnamed, as Ordet has no classic opening or closing credits .

Film technology

For Ordet , Carl Dreyer consciously relied on a minimalist, almost theatrical staging. There is almost no musical background. Orchestral music by the composer Poul Schierbeck, who died in 1949 and which he had already composed for the Dreyer film Tag der Rache (1943), can only be heard in selected places .

In 1933 Dreyer wrote in an article on the future of film: “I believe that long shots represent the film of the future. You have to be able to make a film in six, seven, eight shots ... Short scenes, quick cuts mark the silent film for me, but the smooth medium shot - with the camera moving throughout - belongs to the sound film. ”As an example for a possible implementation of this principle, Dreyer already mentioned Munk's recently published piece Ordet in the article , which would be ideally suited for it. Even if cuts - contrary to Dreyer’s assumption from 1933 - have generally increased in the course of film history, Dreyer applied this principle 22 years later at Ordet . There are only 114 cuts in the film, which makes about one cut per minute on average. In some places there are up to seven minutes between cuts. To prevent the film from becoming static, Dreyer and the young cameraman Henning Bendtsen used numerous camera shots, which kept the film a certain dynamic. Today, Ordet is valued by critics not least for his camera work.

Cinematographer Bendtsen later said that every film image was composed as carefully as a painting. Ordinary film directors used only one or two lights to illuminate, but Dreyer and Bendtsen often used up to 20 lights. Dreyer did without light meters and decided on the exposure mainly according to the judgment of his own eye. Birgitte Federspiel later commented: “Exposure was his great gift and he did it with expertise. He sharpened the light as artfully as a sculptor or painter would do it. ”Another special feature are Inger's loud screams in the abortion scene, which was daring at the time. Birgitte Federspiel, like her character, was pregnant during filming and agreed to Dreyer's proposal to include her screams during the birth of her child for the abortion scene in the film. Since the mother of Carl Theodor Dreyer died one and a half years after his birth while performing an abortion by hand on her next child, this scene is often assigned an autobiographical background. Dreyer may have imagined that he was the aborted child.

Content analysis

"This is a subject that suits me - the triumph of faith in the skeptical 20th century over science and rationality."

The film has a comparatively slow narrative pace, which only gains momentum as the film progresses, but which, according to Roger Ebert, seems even stronger at the end of the film . In the first half the film would introduce the characters and locations as well as lay the foundations for the end of the film. At the end the film takes a turn when Johannes performs an obvious miracle by awakening Inger.

"The penultimate film by the Danish master Carl Theodor Dreyer is a parable about the power of faith, played in a secluded religious community," writes Sight & Sound about the film. The extinction of belief in transcendent occurrences such as miracles in the globalized, capitalist world of the 20th century plays an important role in terms of content. Even in the rural village, belief in miracles has largely died out: Morten says that miracles can no longer happen today and doubts the power of faith; even the young pastor restricts that God could theoretically work miracles but would no longer do so in practice. The end of the film with the miracle could easily be misinterpreted in the sense that any kind of miracle healing could be accomplished if the faith was only as firm as in John's. But: “Belief does not mean that we get what we want, or that we believe whatever anyone tells us, even a madman. But it means realizing that not everything that seems crazy is really crazy. Superstition and wishful thinking make us see signs from God where there are none; but it is also possible that we are blinded by skepticism and doubt about signs that are really there. ”The ending is considered an allegory for the power of (not necessarily only religious) faith, which even creates the seemingly impossible. Dreyer presents this ending to the viewer; whether one buys this ending from him or is dissatisfied with it says the most about the viewer himself.

The film contrasts different types of beliefs in the carefully crafted characters, which is particularly evident in the conversation between Morten and Peter. Like the pastor, Morten stands for institutionalized religion, whose faith, however, seems rather limp and static, especially since they only regard Johannes as a madman until the end of the film - they believe in the Messiah 2000 years ago, but not in the Messiah today could still appear. Dreyer was a spiritual Christian and wanted to make the supernatural tangible with his films, but he was also a critic of the church as an institution. On the other hand, Schneider Petersen embodies with his newly founded sect a non-conformist, more personal approach to belief, which, however, in its radicalism causes intolerance, for example when Peter Morten denies being a real Christian. Both patriarchs embody an oppressive religious approach in their own way, which can only be overcome at the end of the film through reconciliation and mutual tolerance. In his madness John stands for the mystical but completely turned away from the world. Other figures, such as Mikkel or the scientifically thinking doctor, have lost their faith entirely. For Dreyer, Inger seems to be the most convincing Christian, because in the course of the film, through her kindness, her faith and her ultimate awakening, she saves or reconciles the male characters who have either sunk into an unworldly faith - like Johannes - or with one Satisfy materialistic, lukewarm faith - like Morten. Inger's lifesaver is Johannes, a madman, and Inger's daughter, a child. They have a trusting, childlike belief that is not determined by the rules of modern rationality.


The German dubbing was created in 1967 for ZDF at ifage film production based on dialogue direction and a dialogue book by Erich Ebert .

role actor Voice actor
Morten Borgen Henrik Malberg Klaus W. Krause
Mikkel Borgen Emil Hass Christensen Harald Leipnitz
Inger Borgen, Mikkel's wife Birgitte Federspiel Rosemarie Fendel
Borgen is different Cay Kristiansen Michael Ande
Peter Petersen A spring game Werner Lieven
pastor Ove Rud Thomas Reiner
doctor Henry Skjaer Bum Kruger


When publishing

Ordet premiered on January 10, 1955 at Dagmar Teatret in Copenhagen . In Denmark, the country of production, the film was not only an asset to film critics, but also commercially. Indeed, in Carl Theodor Dreyer's long career , Ordet became the only one of his films that was immediately successful with both critics and audiences upon release.

The film was also praised by international film critics. The weekly newspaper Die Zeit noted in its report on the Venice Film Festival on September 15, 1955: “The award-winning film with the Lion of San Marco was ultimately the Danish film 'Ordet' (The Word) , although it was not a new artistic revelation from the tried and tested director Theodor Dreyer , but a good job that shows that he is not ready to sacrifice his independence and his conscience to iron business pressure. "The New York Times was far more positive at the American premiere in 1957:" This film is both emotional and intellectual hypnotic, and some parts of it nail the viewer to their seat. ”The New York Times highlighted the shocking power of the abortion scene and the performance of Henrik Malberg as Morten, among other things. It should be noted in Dreyer's film that the director spent a quarter of a century thinking about the filming of the material. The film offers a "rigid but powerful mixture of dialogues and faces," according to the New York Times .

Awards and mentions

Ordet was awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in September 1955 . In 1956 he received a Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film , and in 1957 the National Board of Review Prize for Best Foreign Language Film. At the Danish Film Prize Bodil , Ordet was awarded in the categories of Best Danish Film (together with Sven Methlings Der kom en dag ), Best Actor (Emil Hass Christensen) and Best Actress (Birgitte Federspiel).

Probably the most important international vote for the “best film of all time” is carried out every ten years by the British magazine Sight & Sound among film critics and directors. In the last election in 2012, Ordet was ranked 24th among the critics of the best films of all time, and ranked 19th among directors. In 1995, Ordet was selected in the Vatican's 45 films list of particularly recommended films . In 2011, Image magazine presented Arts and Faith's list of the 100 largest films of faith, where Ordet ranks 3rd (Dreyer's The Passion of the Maid of Orléans is 1st ).

Today's reception

source rating
Rotten tomatoes

Today, film critics almost unanimously see Ordet positively and consider it a great work in film history.

The film reporter wrote about Dreyer's work: “The filmmaker entangles five storylines in a religious discourse. The urgency of the images, the intensity of the feelings and the masterful staging of the search for God make Ordet a classic of European cinema. " Dave Kehr remarked:" The film is extremely sensual in its sparse, a paradox that is always at the center of Dreyer's work . ”Dave Calhoun of TimeOut gave the film the highest rating, writing,“ Ordet reminds us how little we end up knowing about the mysteries of life. Dreyer manages to say all of this in the context of a strange, wondrous, and shocking piece of work. Once seen, it will probably never leave you. ” Roger Ebert rated the film four out of four stars:“ For the ordinary movie viewer, and that's where I count myself, ' Ordet ' is a difficult film to come in. But once you're inside, it's impossible to escape. Modest, quiet, deeply serious, populated with strange religious obsessions (...). " Jonathan Rosenbaum called Ordet one of the" greatest films of all time "and said:" The key word in all of this is paradoxical , because Ordet , both the play and the film, argues mainly in favor of the principles of rational skepticism, only to be overturned in the closing moments of history. "

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Biography of Carl Theodor Dreyer at
  2. Dreyer, Carl Theodor. Four screenplays. Bloomington & London: Indiana University Press. 1970. ISBN 0-253-12740-8 . Pp. 239-298.
  3. ^ Ordet (1943) at the Internet Movie Database
  4. a b c Ordet at the Danish Film Institute
  5. Dreyer, Carl Theodor. Four screenplays. Bloomington & London: Indiana University Press. 1970. ISBN 0-253-12740-8 . P. 20
  6. a b c d e criticism ( memento of the original from August 20, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. by Jonathan Rosenbaum  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  7. a b Ordet . DVD extras. Interview with Birgitte Federspiel
  8. Film review by Philip French in The Guardian , (English)
  9. a b Article at the Museum of Modern Art . Quote: “This is a theme that suits me — Faith's triumph in the skeptical twentieth century over Science and Rationalism.”
  10. ^ A b Roger Ebert's “Great Movies”: Ordet
  11. a b Choice of film critics at Sight & Sound
  12. a b c Ordet at Senses of Cinema
  13. a b c d Ordet at DecentFilms
  14. LeFilm Guide to Ordet  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /  
  15. ^ The word at the German synchronous card index
  16. Article in Die Zeit : In the beginning was the word
  17. ^ Review in the New York Times of December 16, 1957
  18. Choice of directors at Sight & Sound
  19. Top 100 election by “Arts and Faith” ( Memento of the original from March 3, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  20. Order at the Rotten Tomatoes critic portal
  21. ^ The word with the film reporter
  22. ^ Order at the Chicago Reader
  23. Ordet at TimeOut