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Carl Theodor Dreyer and OrdetMy Summer with the Danish Filmmaker$

Jan Wahl

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780813136189

Published to Kentucky Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.5810/kentucky/9780813136189.001.0001

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(p.103) Appendix B Plot Summary of Ordet

(p.103) Appendix B Plot Summary of Ordet

Carl Theodor Dreyer and Ordet
University Press of Kentucky

This is a modified version of the official plot summary from the publicity developed by Palladium Studios.

Although The Word deals with a miracle, it is through and through a realistic film—about those who are weak in faith. The hoped-for miracle does not occur until one who has faith, the True Faith, arrives.

The action takes place among country folk living in a small, outlying parish on Jutland's west coast. It pictures the struggle between two different sides of Christian faith—a bright, happy Christianity and its contrast, a dark fanaticism, hostile to life.

The bright faith we find on a large old farm known as (p.104) Borgensgaard. The dark faith is in the modest home of the village tailor, where the gloom-sayers assemble for devotional meetings.

Borgensgaard's owner is old Morten Borgen, who has worked for the encouragement of the cheerful, life-affirming Christianity; many look up to him as their spiritual leader. But now doubt has begun to steal upon him: sorrow and disappointment have prepared the way. He has lost his wife, and of his three sons, the one to whom he was most deeply attached and of whom he expected the most is suffering from mental derangement. All three of his sons live on the farm.

The oldest son, Mikkel, works the farm. He also has caused his father grief; he does not share in the old man's belief. His wife, Inger, tries to convert him, but in vain. However, she satisfies herself by knowing he is a good and honest husband who loves her and their two little girls. She is expecting their third child—which they both earnestly hope will be a boy.

The next son, who is of unsound mind, is Johannes. His father encouraged him to study theology in the hope that he would carry on the religious traditions of the home. But the intensity of his religious studies causes a religious crisis and a nervous breakdown, ending in a mental disease. He now believes he is the Christ. His talk is nebulous, and he makes frequent use of quotations from the Gospels.

The youngest son, Anders, also causes his father grief because he has fallen in love with the very young Anne, daughter of the village tailor. Things are not easy for these two young people because they know all too well the implacability of their fathers. Encouraged by his brother Mikkel, (p.105) Anders has made up his mind to take the bull by the horns. He will go have a serious talk with Peter Tailor while Inger, his sister-in-law, promises to plead on his behalf with old Borgen.

Neither Anders nor Inger succeeds. Peter Tailor refuses to accept the connection between his pure and innocent daughter Anne and Anders, son of that heathen at Borgensgaard—and he shows Anders the door. Inger has fought hard against her father-in-law's country pride and his strong contempt for the “gloom-sayers” who gather at Peter Tailor's home.

Nevertheless, Morten Borgen is nearly at the point of succumbing to Inger's persuasions. Then Anders returns home from his unsuccessful offer of marriage. In a broken voice, he relates the disastrous defeat. When Morten Borgen learns that his son has been rejected by Peter Tailor—who ought to count himself lucky to be related to the people at Borgensgaard—his pride again takes hold. He orders Anders to drive with him to Peter Tailor's, declaring that Anders will get his Anne, just as sure as Morten's name is Morten.

The old man and his young son arrive just as Peter Tailor has called his flock together for a devotional meeting. Not until the meeting is finished can the two men talk.

Although old Borgen proceeds cautiously, Peter Tailor is not to be swayed. In his opinion, his daughter would become a “child of sin” the day she might move to Borgensgaard as the wife of Anders. There is a stormy scene between the two stubborn men: faith against faith. When the altercation reaches its highest point, the telephone rings. It is a message from Borgensgaard: Inger is in birth pangs, and it is feared (p.106) her life is in danger. Peter Tailor is triumphant. God has put to the test those who will not bend to God's will. Morten Borgen loses his head because Peter wishes for the death of Inger. Unable to control his anger, he hits the tailor and leaves this “haunt of the gloomy men.”

At Borgensgaard, there is apprehension and despair. The child, so fervently wished for, was born dead—and the mother has lost so much blood the worst is to be feared. At first, it looks as if Inger may survive, but then her condition changes, and she quietly slips into death.

When Mikkel brings the message that his wife has died, the insane Johannes quotes Jesus's words: “She is not dead, she only sleeps.” He enters the death chamber. Just as Jesus raised the daughter of Jairi from the dead, he attempts to call Inger back to life but fails because he has forgotten to beg God for the power, without which miracles are not possible.

Instead of conquering death, Johannes falls into a deathlike faint. His brothers carry him away. When he awakens from his faint, he sneaks away from the farm and hides himself.

The day before the burial, a funereal solemnity takes over at Borgensgaard. The coffin containing the lifeless Inger is in the best parlor; only the clergyman and the nearest relatives are permitted to say good-bye to her there. In the other rooms, the inhabitants of the parish have gathered together to express their sympathy. Inger was loved by all. The last comers—Peter Tailor, his wife, and daughter—arrive and walk straight into the best parlor because Peter Tailor has come for a reconciliation with Morten Borgen. As proof of his sincerity, he makes what is to him the ultimate sacrifice: he permits his daughter Anne to marry Anders.

(p.107) Just as the order is given by old Borgen to close the coffin, Johannes enters. Has he recovered his senses? He begins by reproaching those present for their lack of faith. Why have none of them prayed to God to give Inger back to them? He answers: because among the “believers,” not a single true believer can be found! They all speak of wonders and miracles, yet no one believes in them. But now the others' lack of faith has weakened his faith.

The small hand of a child is put into his. It belongs to one of Inger's daughters. Johannes had promised to awaken her mother from death, and the child's voice says: “You must hurry!” The child's faith in him gives Johannes his own faith back, and he steps forward to the coffin. Johannes prays to God to give him the Word—the creative, life-giving Word.

And to the dead, Johannes says: “In the name of Jesus Christ, as God wills it, return to life. I say unto you, ‘Woman, arise.’” Inger opens her eyes and sits upright in the coffin. She lives. The miraculous has happened because nothing is impossible for one who positively believes. (p.108)