Morten Borgen is a farmer and a man of faith who awakened his region to Christianity in the spirit of Grundtvig. He has three sons: Mikkel, Johannes and Anders. Mikkel, who works the farm and is married to Inger, does not share his father’s faith. Johannes, once a student of theology, has lost his mind. Anders wants to marry Anne, the tailor’s daughter, but her family belongs to the Inner Mission, which is irreconcilable with Grundtvigianism, and so the young lovers can’t wed. Inger dies giving birth to a stillborn son. The calamity softens the two stern fathers and they give Anders and Anne permission to marry. Inger’s daughter, Maren, and Johannes, who has regained his sanity, pray by Inger’s casket for God to bring her back from the dead – and a miracle happens.
Dreyer had wanted to adapt Kaj Munk’s play Ordet ever since he saw it performed in 1932, but he only succeeded 23 years later. The film was shot in Vedersoe in West Jutland, where Munk was a pastor. The wild natural scenery lends the film tremendous authenticity, dramatically framing the families inside their tiny rooms with exposed beams. Dreyer constructed the film from long setups in combination with simple, yet intricate camera movements – a complex rhythm creating a visual purity and realism that become the strongest imaginable counterpoint to the action. Also because the miracle of resurrection is expressed with such earthy, realistic simplicity and concentrated emotional intensity. The resurrection scene remains one of the great, magical moments in cinema history.
The Word is regarded as one of Dreyer’s most important and best films. It was also his biggest commercial success, winning more acclaim and awards than all his other films combined. The Danish and international press all but unanimously hailed it as a masterpiece. A few critical voices in theological circles questioned the film’s miracle and the propriety of treating issues of Christian faith in this manner. Among other awards, the film won three Bodil statuettes (for best film and best actress and actor, Birgitte Federspiel and Emil Hass Christensen), the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and the American critics’ Golden Globe Award.