Dreyer’s Style in ‘Ordet’

Dreyers “Ordet “ deals with the contrast of religious faith in different manifestations with human needs, represented by the characters in the coffin room. The parson is institutionalized faith, the patriarchs religious movements outside the established church – dogmatic and diametrical opposed. In Johannes we find spirituality outside of any accepted mold and innocent faith in the child. Beyond is life affirmation with its emotional and sexual needs, crossing the opposites and rescued by undogmatic spiritualism.

The style is mostly aesthetic and cold. The interior of the room is furnished scantily with objects symbolizing the inner reality of the characters. The clock as a symbol of time having come to a halt reflects the mindset of mourners, the light falling through the window hope in the face of death. The slow paces of the actors convey meaning while giving a sense of disturbing detachment.

These stylistic features let the notion of meaning and inner reality dominate the perception of the audience – and hold it in suspense [1] [2]. A natural inclination of resolving those disturbances get disposed spectators involved in creating meaning.

A similar effect have long shots and facial close-ups, commenting as mirrors of the souls“ the external on-goings: we see the child smile upon the resurrection. Emotional identification keeps the audience connected while conveying abstract concepts. [3]

Nevertheless, relationships remain crucial. Actors are shown only either as seen by others -we see Johannes entering through the eyes of the others – or in interplay with others. Isolated people are merely on their way between two places of social interaction – the coach drives are cross-cuttings between scenes of interaction. Hence, the density of characters in the coffin room accounts for the relatively high number of shots, still serving the „life of the film“ rather than the „life of the story“. [4]


[1] Casper Tybjerg: Forms of the intangible: Carl Th. Dreyer and the concept of ‘transcendental style’, 2008, page 71

[…] The vague sense of higher meaning created by the stylistic features, as we have seen, ‘tantalizes’ the spectator and encourages meaning-making; thematic elements may suggest some kinds of meaning rather than others, but they will remain spectator constructions. […]

[2] Casper Tybjerg: Forms of the intangible: Carl Th. Dreyer and the concept of ‘transcendental style’, 2008, page 64

[…] This emerges because the spectator gradually ‘senses there are deep, untapped feelings just below the surface’ (Schrader 1972: 44, original emphasis). The depth and strength of these feelings seem incompatible with the ‘cold, sparse stylization’ of the surface of the film (Schrader 1972: 161) […]

[3] Donald Skoller (publisher), Dreyer in Double Reflection: Carl Dreyer’s Writings on Film, 1973

[…] that which cannot be explained but only felt […]

[4] Casper Tybjerg: Forms of the intangible: Carl Th. Dreyer and the concept of ‘transcendental style’, 2008 page 69

[…] In the same way a painter doesn’t express himself through colours but through the relation of colours; a blue colour is blue in itself, but if it is next to a green colour, or a red, or a yellow, it is no longer the same blue: it changes. We must arrive at the point where a film plays on relations of images; there is an image, then another which has relational values, that is to say that the first one is neutral and that suddenly, in the presence of the other one, it vibrates, life bursts into it: and it’s not so much the life of the story, the characters, it is the life of the film. From the moment the image lives, you make cinema. (Bresson 1957: 4) […]

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