Thoughts On: Ordet - Intangibility


Ordet - Intangibility

Thoughts On: Ordet (The Word)

Differences in religious belief whittle away at a family as tragedy wades its way through the doors of their home.


This is a film that ultimately asks the question: who's right? It asks whose word is The Word in spiritual, philosophical and emotional terms amongst those we love and those we live by. In asking this, the film is deeply sombre, precisely controlled and oddly melancholic. The melancholia of this film is imbued in its crisp yet largely invisible long shots, its everyday dialogue that produces grounded, realised characters as well as its nuance and stretch of each immersive second. The borderline irrationality of the sadness in this film is instilled through the viscous existential atmosphere it creates. It's with each curve and step in the dramatic narrative that I find myself trudging through grounds I feel I cannot escape nor explain to the point of purpose. Mystery and morally inconsolable situations are what have me trudge, are what ultimately leave me speechless. It's the question of Johannes' apparent madness, the purpose of Inger's death, her revival, the parallel running formation and loss of love and relation that are made almost unanswerable questions by this film - and are what make it great. The only way I then feel this film can be processed is personally - using your own belief systems and pragmatism to feel your way through the narrative, maybe pull it apart. By consequence of its complexity, Ordet exist in a special calibre of the cinematic library. It's amongst the works of Tarkovsky, Bergman, Lynch, Thomas Anderson, Herzog, Jodorowsky and Buñuel that Dreyer's arguable masterpiece lies. These are films experienced, not merely seen. These are the behemoths that all the film geek pretension in the world cannot sully, cannot explain, cannot better, cannot touch. These films, for the large part, speak for themselves. It's for this reason that I haven't delved too deep into this 'genre' of film before. There is always a backlash within me, a question of why? But, it was with Un Chien Andalou that I touched on this, and whilst Ordet isn't technically surreal it holds the same presence of incomprehensibility. The lasting note of An Andalusian Dog to a creator though is and was about the audience, about a personal relationship between art and consumer. This is then what I want to articulate with this post - my view and my own personal interpretation. Though this feels like it breaks the rules of the 'genre' this film exists in, I feel it can be explored with this precursing insurance: you will have your own view of this film, what I put down is fact only in that it is what makes sense to me.

So, without belief in a God, in spirituality and without theological sensibilities, this deeply religious film is, to me, about intangibility. It's about eyes that see, but only with light. Neither the Petersons nor the Borgens have the absolute answers to all life's questions. It's religious conviction, however, that supplies the illusion to each individual - and under the differing interpretations of what life on Earth is. The Petersons stand under the interpretation of life being hard with suffering, prayer or mundanity being necessary for a successful relationship with their God and for a better afterlife. The Borgens on the other hand want to believe in the beauty of life, in making the most of your time on Earth. These two interpretations of Christianity, as presented by the film, seem to come from one place - and that is hope. The Petersons hope for better when they are gone from this world, an eternal better in heaven. The Borgens have hope in the present and in tomorrow. For this reason the Borgens are accused, an even show themselves to be less faithful. It's Morten (the head of the family, the Grandfather) that is often at a loss, and when confronted by Inger on ideas of love is revealed to be little less loving and hopeful than his religion would suggest. Moreover, Mikkel (Morten's son, Inger's husband) has serious problems with his faith, feeling his belief in God is not true. What their characters suggest is a somewhat precarious set of beliefs. This is because their theological hope, unlike that of the Petersons, is based in reality, is based upon tangible day to day life. We see this reveal itself in the talks on miracles. The foundation of religious belief for millions is in Jesus: what he said, stood for and went through. It's Jesus that is accredited for the facilitation of miracles - raising the dead, purifying water, bring clay birds to life, healing the wounded, producing seemingly impossible amounts of food or harvest. But, miracles of this nature do not exist in the lives of the Petersons or Mortens. Some characters feel they must simply accept this, others (Inger) believe in miracles still existing, but on a smaller scale. Nonetheless, the debates and questions of miracles themselves are evidence for a need for confirmation, about an uncertainty in intangibility. And it's here that we begin to see the struggle of the faithful.

Faith would oblige you to trust something out of your control, something you cannot feel emotionally, touch physically, experience or truly comprehend. This is an indicator that the human mind is prepared to deal with infinites whilst being confined to a body and world bound by finites. This is an idea I've used previously to explore concepts such as success and perfection. Both of these ideas are infinites. You can always be better and you can always do better. God is, to many, also a set of infinites. God is infinitely wise, powerful and loving. But, what does that look like? What does the word of an infinitely wise being sound like? How does a universe created by an infinitely powerful being work? How does it feel to be infinitely loved? These are deep theological questions that are ultimately redundant. They are redundant for the same reason ideas of perfection and success are. Whilst you can always be better, have more money, own more things, there are only so many dollars, pounds, hunks of gold, silver and diamond on this Earth. You could have it all, but still be more successful. In the same respect you can have saved lives, you could have donated money, made lives better, but no matter what, there's always more people to help, you could have done it sooner, you could have worked harder and you could have given more. No matter how much you do, you can never be perfect. In the same respect, God may be infinitely powerful, loving and wise, but with a human mind you can never comprehend that power, that love, the words, teachings and understanding of this being of infinites. No matter how much you believe, no mater how strong your faith is, you can never know God. However, you can feel successful, perfect, faithful. But, if there is always more to attain, infinitely more to attain both materially and spiritually, there is also an infinite amount to be lost. This leaves us all on a scale. There is an infinite positive of attainability and understanding, then there is an infinite negative of attainability and understanding. Because we can never approach either extreme we are irrevocable stuck in the centre of this scale - infinitely distant from both the utmost positive and the utmost negative. Our feeling of perfection, success and faith is then a mental cap--a mental dismissal--of this scale. Instead of recognising each concept as infinite, you assume that what you have, what you understand, is enough. These are white lies we use to conjure up a feeling of comfort in life. It's recognising that we aren't perfect or the absolute best that keeps us all sane.

In knowing this, to the mind incapable of accepting the futility of the infinites, you can find yourself trapped; a donkey walking after a carrot held before his face. This, in part, is what Johannes represents. He overlooks the questions of miracles by believing he is Jesus, and so capable of inducing them. He bypasses the existential traps of perfection, success, an infinitely loving, powerful and wise God, by believing he holds power, answers and is the literal son of God. However, he is made the donkey with the carrot dangling perpetually in front of him throughout the narrative with his inability to prove himself. It's then the narrative juxtaposition between the Johannes, who represents an irrational interpretation of the intangible and infinite, against those who hold a humbled and struggling recognition of intangible and infinite (ideas such as God) that drives us toward the hugely ambiguous ending. With Inger being resurrected by Johannes, we are asked directly if we believe in miracles. I believe that this question is, however, a misdirection. This film is really about faith. It's a film about emotions and wanting answers. This is why relationships play such a huge part of the narrative. Faith, in this sense, is a defining character trait that sets up how the devastating death of a person close to them will be met. Death, by the Borgens, is seen as a tragedy. As the young daughter of Inger articulates, they'd rather want a mother in their home, than in heaven. This is a strange and almost selfish thing to feel if you truly believe in the eternal God-sent gift that is heaven. As the cliche goes, love is not just wanting someone, but also being prepared to give them up if need be. There is, of course, rational sense in the cliche, leaving us with two outcomes. It's either that Inger's daughter doesn't truly love her, doesn't love her enough to let her rest in a better place, or that heaven is a concept she's not able to comprehend to the point of letting the concept overcome her emotional attachment to her mother. The same can be said for her husband, father and even Johannes who complies in bringing her back to life. This decision is actually a very troubling one on Johannes' part. He didn't save Inger as he suggested he had the power to, nor did he care much for her death and those around him (maybe the daughter a little). Instead he is entirely focused on being believed in. This seems to be the only reasoning for him to bring Inger back to life. The only other reasoning would be of remorse, of Johannes regretting letting Inger die. However, the latter motivation is not communicated well through direction. Instead the lasting shot lingers on Inger and her husband.

What this suggests is that its the emotions, the relief around the resurrection that truly matters. What we then need to bring back into the picture is hope. I don't see the resurrection as a literal image in this film. It serves no narrative purpose apart from a very weak commentary on the human reaction to the second coming of Christ. Because this is a film about opposing faiths and family, the lasting image suggests that the family, sat around Inger's corpse resort to their only hope, an idea laughed and, gestured away and scoffed at throughout the narrative. They take the idea of Johannes actually being able to help seriously. They didn't do this when Inger was dying. They called the doctor and sent Johannes to his room. It was only after the tragic delivery, Inger having survived, but her baby having died, that there was a debate over God's power and the power of science and medicine. The debate was left on the point of dismissing the tangible efforts of the doctor with a: thank you, but this was of God's work. It may even be inferred that Inger then dying after the doctor leaves is somewhat consequential. Maybe it was without recognising the deed of a fellow man that Inger was, inadvertently, doomed by her family and maybe God or Johannes (as Jesus). Whilst the juxtaposition of death teases this and a critique of religious thinking, it is not a central point of the film. Instead, we need to come to the end again. The Borgens, with Johannes stood before them, a man they saw as insane, bridge an emotional gap and resort to absolute dependence on the intangible and the impossible. This means they want to see Johannes as Jesus, they want to see him resurrect Inger - and so they do. It's because of this that it's clear that we see this film through an emotional looking glass. This is, in fact, a very interesting form of writing and direction that is rarely done without a snarky break of the fourth wall. In other words, with the emotional looking glass, we are seeing the film we want to. The narrative arc of this film is then tantamount to...

... but, much more serious - and like I said, without a snarky break of the fourth wall. In fact, the film that Ordet is very similar to is...

In the end of Scott Pilgrim we realise that everything insane and comic book-esque is the product of how the characters of this film would ideally like the world to work. This gives reason why, for a better world, Scott has to defeat himself, he has to fight his own self-loathing and figure a way out of the games he plays and back into reality. Ordet ends in a very similar way. The family fights against their questioned faith and step through a door into another reality. The question left in the end though is if it's a positive one, the Borgens now believing that Johannes is Jesus and Inger was in fact revived, or a negative one. I think your answer here will be determined by your own belief systems. If you believe in the literal revival of Christ, then it's possible that you won't see Johannes claim as impossible, more so disrespectful (though, you may) instead, a confirmation of belief - a belief that is positive. On the other  hand, you may be skeptical of how this family manages to go on after this revival. Moreover, if they only imagined Inger coming back to life, will they go on to live a life tantamount to Lars' with his real girl...

... but, much... much... much... darker?

In the end, I see the lasting take away of this film being about how we face intangibility - painful, crushing intangibility. This intangibility manifests itself in a myriad of ways. It can be a deceased relative you still love, a girl you have fallen for but can't have, a version of God's word you're striving to trust in and live by, but, to what degree should the fantasy of our perception be skewed by our emotional needs? I mean to reference my post on Fight Club here and the idea of control, the fantasy; control the fantasy. We do not have answers in this life, not all of them, nor do we have the physical or emotional power to attain all we need. That leaves us to fill in certain gaps of unknowing with, what is tantamount to, fantasy  - and for existential and emotional reasons. But, existential well being in a world that is not a perfect Matrix, a utopian simulation, has to be a balancing act. We cannot live in ultimate fantasy, which means we cannot fill in all our gaps, not with religion, not with science, not with TV, games, virtual realities, books or films. The existential plight of any believer, anyone who believes in a shade of reality, present, omnipresent, known, presumed, unknown, is balance.

When is what you believe enough? When is what you feel good enough? When, after all our toiling, will reality be bearable?

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