It is a bleak and hopeless period set in a cold and Danish village in 1623 when people without question still believed in the existence of witches and went about on thousands of merciless witch hunts to catch and then burn innocent people at the stake. Many of these villagers would conjure up any fantasy about a friend, lover or neighbor who might or might not be a witch, whether out of hatred, jealously or the very belief that they actually were one. Day of Wrath was directed by the legendary Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer, who is considered one of the great masters in the art form of the cinema, and like his similar masterpieces The Passion of Joan of Arc and Ordet, this film deals more about faith and spirituality, than just the fundamental basics of Christianity. Religious or Atheist, this film touches on so many universal issues that we all question and hope exist including love, faith, forgiveness and redemption, which is all the more amazing because of the poetic way Dreyer presents it to us which doesn't give out the feeling that he is merely preaching; which I believe is an extraordinary achievement. Like most of Dreyer's films Day of Wrath is a film that is shot with low ceilings and dim lighting all the while establishing characters within the fabric of its storyline. When each character speaks, everyone listens. The dialog takes its time, the pacing is very slow and rhythmic measured by its own chamber space and real-time, all the while you listen to the diegetic sounds within the environment, like the ticking of the clock, the scratching of a pen writing, or the treacherous winds outside the home. A film like this might take some getting used to, but once the dramatic events slowly unfold, Dreyer sucks you into his hypnotic world. When this film was released and premiered in 1942 it was during the darkest times of the Nazi occupation of Denmark in which several Danes were being taking away and deported to death camps. Even though you could look at this film as a historical document about the naïve, unscientific and irrational times in which people would simply accept and believe in such things as evil spirits, sorcery and witchcraft, when looking at the film at the time it was released it could be viewed more as a commentary or political allegory of the present times. When the film was released many Danes drew parallels between the witch burning and the persecution of Jews during the Nazi Party. With Nazism brainwashing thousands of people to follow a psychotic belief that an uprising Christian Aryan master race will rule the world with the persecution and extermination of all different races and religions, Dreyer's film can also be looked at as a form of irony on how even with the advancement of science and education; it still proves that we as human beings haven't evolved as much as we thought we did.
In the paper of a small Danish town in 1623 it reads: "And whereas the said Herlofs Marte is denounced as a witch by three respected and worthy citizens, we rule that she be seized and brought before the court." Two older women hear the town bell and they realize someone is being hunted and is denounced as a witch. One of the woman quickly leaves as the other woman named Herlofs Marte who is the one being hunted realizes this and shuts and locks the door hearing the chanting get closer. "She'll be put on the stake. And shall burn and burn...With smoldering flesh..." Someone starts pounding at the doors as she escapes through a small barn door.
Anne is a beautiful young woman who is married to the aged local pastor, Absalon Pedersson (Thorkild Roose)who is involved with the trials of witches, and they live in a house shared with his strict, domineering mother Meret. At the Pedersson home Meret asks Anne for the house keys and cruelly saying to her that in this house she has the keys. When Absalon walks Meret says to him and his new wife Anne, "It's not easy for an old dog to learn new tricks." Absalon says, "Nor is it easy for a young wife to come into an old household." Anne upset quickly runs out of the kitchen and Absalon believes his mother is being too hard on Anne but his mother says that she wants Anne to be a good wife to him. Meret does not approve of Anne, who is much younger than her husband, being about the same age as the son from his first marriage; and who is arriving home after being abroad for some time. "I think it is...scandalous..." she tells Absalon.
When Absalon's son Martin arrives home while Absalon is out Anne meets him for the first time and they are instantly attracted to one another. Anne says to him that it seems she has seen his face before in her thoughts many times wondering what he would say to such a young mother. Martin says that he promises to be a good son to her and she promises him the same. Absalon finally arrives home and his son wants to surprise him and so he hides in another room. When Absalon sits down and sees his son's songbook he starts to read from it as his son appears from around the corner and finishes the reading his father was reading. "This is so nice. Don't you want to give your mother a kiss?" asks Absalon. Martin gives Anne a tender kiss on her forehead as the two men excuse themselves to the study.
While Anne is alone doing house chores in the rectory Herlofs Marte walks in and asks her to help hide her or the townspeople will burn her at the stake. "Have they denounced you as a witch?" Anne asks her. Herlofs says they have and she tells Anne that she once helped her mother be set free when she was denounced as a witch years ago. When they hear someone coming Anne grabs Herlofs and hides her. Meret enters the room and watches Anne suspiciously. When Absalon and Martin walk back into the rectory an officer walks in and asks if they seen Herlofs Marte saying that some children saw her come in here. Absalon asks Anne if she saw her but Anne lies and says no so Absalon believes Herlofs must have sneaked in.
The officer searches the area and finds blood entering the loft of the house. The family hears the footsteps of the officer in the loft and suddenly the scream of Herlofs Marte as the officer captures her. "The Lord have mercy on us, And this should have been a day of joy." says Absalon. They get a letter that says: "I order that the Notary of the Chapter the Reverend Absalon Pedersson take the said Herlof's Marte to confession. He shall diligently exhort her to confess the full truth that she may not die without penance, but her soul be saved." Anne quietly makes her way around a castle pillar and moves towards the torture chamber to overhear Herlofs Marte beg for Absalon to save her from the stake. "Only God can help you," he tells her.
Herlofs Marte asks him to do this for him because of what he did for Anne's mother saying, "You knew she was a witch, but you kept silent...for Anne's sake...." Absalon tells Herlofs Marte to take a seat and he says, "You shall not beg for your life. You should pray for your soul. Confess the truth. That you are a witch!" Herlofs Marte says that the only witch she knew was Anne's mother and he set her free. "Be quite!" says Absalon. Absalon rings a bell and dismisses her as she turns and says, "I am so terribly afraid...to die." After Anne overhears this she runs into Martin who came to listen to the singing of young children in a chorus practicing their singing for Herlofs Marte's upcoming execution, "Day of Wrath...Day of Mourning...See fulfilled...the profits warning..."
In the assembled clergy you hear the screams and torment of Herlofs Marte as she is tortured and forced to confess that she is a witch. When she finally confesses out of fear of being tortured once again she confesses to everything the assembled clergy acuse her for and when one of the judges asks her if she knows of any other witches to denounce, Herlofs Marte looks at Absalon but chooses to say nothing. Absalon says he will handle her alone and again Herlofs Marte begs for Absalon to save her. Instead he ignores her pleas and prays, "I beseech thee, O Lord, that this woman may repent and that she may turn to Thee and seek her salvation. Take courage...be strong. Take her away."
Herlofs Marte cries knowing Absalon will not help her while guards take her away. Anna and Martin take a nice stroll outside and see the villager’s already gathering firewood for the upcoming burning. Later Absalon goes to Herlofs cell to prepare Herlofs Marte for death but she believes he had failed her. He tells her that she should be getting her ready for Life Eternal. "I fear neither Heaven nor Hell. I am only afraid to die," Herlofs Marte says. "I spared Anne. And you failed me. Anne shall suffer as I suffer. If I burn at the stake, so shall Anne. No...No...If they burn me...I don't want to be burned....I don't want to...Go! Get out!"
Anne looks outside the window to see all the townspeople arriving as they already get a strong fire burning for the execution. She suddenly sees Herlofs Marte getting brought out as Martin decides to leave the crowd and not watch it. The chorus children arrive as the guards place Herlofs Marte on a wooden ladder and tie her to it. Anne starts to cry watching it from the window as Martin walks in behind her to comfort her. Herlofs Marte yells that she demands to see the Reverend Absalon.
Absalon gets the message and approaches Herlofs Marte and she says to him, "Free me from the stake...or otherwise... I will denounce Anne!" The men start to raise the ladder and Herlof decides again to not say anything and instead yells to everyone, "The Devil will get you, you hypocrite, you liar! You liar! You liar! You liar!" The chorus starts singing their disturbing song that they have rehearsed as the men push Herlofs Marte down into the flames with the sound of her screaming; and she is burned alive.
Days later Absalon's mother Meret walks into Absalon's office and hears him praying to God in a sad and guilty tone begging God for him to get out of the darkness that he is feeling deep inside himself. After the prayer he sees his mother sitting and listening and she asks what is tormenting him. "Mother, I have sinned. Sinned Against God. I lied to him." Meret asks her son to tell her everything but he tells her he must fight this battle alone. "You've changed since Herlofs Marte was arrested" Meret says to him. "And now she has burned at the stake. You've become so strange. Did she...denounce another? And you're keeping it a secret?" He tells Meret she denounced no one living. Meret than says, "Have you ever looked in Anne's eyes? Have you seen how they burn? I am thinking of her mother. Her eyes burned the same way. The day may come when you must choose between...God and Anne." Absalon says that his mother is just saying these things because he hates Anne but she tells him she is saying these things out of love for him. She tenderly hugs her son and walks out of the room leaving Absalon alone to think.
Martin and Anne come into to check on Absalon and Martin says good night to his father and leaves Anne alone with her husband. "Anne, there is something we must discuss," Absalon says to her. "It concerns your mother." Absalon tells Anne that her mother had admitted to being a witch and told him at one time that she could call up the Living and the Dead. Anne asks if it is true that he spared her mother to marry her and when he asks her if she blames him for that, she tells him no. She only wished he asked her if she ever loved him before he forced her to marry him; but he says he didn't ask because she was just a child at the time. The two hold one another as Absalon describes her eyes as childlike, pure and clear. Before leaving for bed Anne asks her husband one more time if her mother really claimed to call up the Living and the Dead and says, "I think it strange that...with the power mother had...A human being could have that power."
Absalon looks bothered by Anne being intrigued in the matter of her mother's magic powers and walks away. While alone Anne starts to quietly call out for Martin as he appears behind her from the shadows and the two of them embrace, now clearly caring for one another. "I see you through my tears, but no one comes to wipe them away," she tells him as they kiss. "No one has eyes like you," Martin tells her. She asks if they look childlike, pure and clear like Absalon always describes them. Martin says, "No...deep and mysterious. But in their depths I see a trembling quivering flame." They head out together to the birches during the night and happily embrace one another claiming their love as they head to the spring and he drinks water from her palm.
During bible reading time Anne asks her husband if she can read from the Song of Songs book and as she reads Meret rudely her that she has heard enough. Afterwards while Anne is sowing and humming a song out loud Meret tells her to be quite but Anne ignores her and leaves to her room. "Wretched woman," says Meret as Martin overhears this. Meret asks Martin what they have done to him because he seems so far apart from the family now. After Meret leaves the room Anne comes back out and Martin tells her Meret does not like her. Anne smiles and says that it doesn't matter because he likes her and when Anne asks Martin he loves her, Martin seems to feel guilty about sneaking around with his father's wife and asks her how this will all end. Anne walks up and kisses Martin but they suddenly move away once they think they hear someone coming and they both laugh about how jumpy the two of them are getting.
Absalon is upstairs with Meret and when he hears Anne laughing from downstairs he says, "It's the first time I hear Anne laugh. How's she changed? Even her voice is different. When I see those two together, I feel for the first time how old I am...And how young she is. It is good Martin came home. I will join them and be young with the young." Absalon walks down stairs and tells Anne it was good to hear her laugh but Anne and Martin were just leaving and heading to the river. Leaving Absalon all alone while the two young lovers leave, a Chaplain arrives with a message from Master Laurentius. He is dying and asks for Absalon to go over to his home and prepare his death for him.
Martin and Anne run to the river and get in a row-boat as they float down the river. While floating down the river Martin asks Anne about their future and how hard it is for him to keep this up because he sees his father all the time. "I see only you," says Anne and she takes his hand. Absalon arrives to comfort Laurentius as he is bed sick in his home. Laurentius tells Absalon that he is sick because Herlof's Marte during her interrogation put a curse on him and foretold an imminent death.
A violent storm erupts while Absalon is away comforting Laurentius at his home, while back at the Perdersson home the storm starts to get worse and Meret suggests that Martin go to meet his father halfway coming home; Anne suggests there's no use for Martin to go wandering in the dark and for them all to just wait there for Absalon. Anne heads to bed and says, "God have mercy to those at sea." When the mother says, "And to those not at sea," Anne asks her if she is thinking about Absalon but Meret says that she was thinking about her.
When Laurentius finally passes away Absalon comforts Laurentius's wife and says, "There is nothing so quiet as a heart that has ceased to beat." Absalon takes his hat and begins to leave as the Chaplain directs him home. While at the Pedersson home Meret and Martin are alone together and Meret suggests that Martin find himself a wife saying, "There is no one in the world whom I love as much as your father. In him God gave me the son I had longed for. And I shall defend him the day I lie dead in my grave."
Martin asks Meret why she doesn't like Anne and Meret admits that she hates her saying, "The only grief your father has given me was bringing her into this house." Martin can't believe his grandmother would say that about a small, innocent woman and Meret says, "Innocent?" Meret is done with this discussion and gets up to go to bed leaving Martin alone at the table while Anne quietly sneaks out of the room and approaches Martin. She takes Martin's hand as the storm rages on from the outside and the two hold one another. Martin still believes it's wrong in what they are doing because she is his father's wife. "Wife, yes...I never loved him," Anne says. "Nor he me. I often think if he were dead... We will have a small house by the sea. With a kiss I wake you...than we hear from his cradle...a little Martin crying. Isn't it lovely to think about?" Martin says, "Yes. It is only a dream."
While Absalon is heading home in the storm he comes to a sudden stop and says to the Chaplain, "I felt as if Death had just brushed by me." When Absalon makes it home he sees his son and his wife up and they help him get settled in. Anne offers her husband some beer and Absalon says to his son, "I came from a man, who died in piety. But otherwise, if I think of all the sighs from other deathbeds I have sat by, I seen only sin...and sin...and sin. Oh...Lord, what lives men lead. I felt a strange uneasiness. Out there, earlier. I felt as if Death held me by the hand. I heard nothing. I saw nothing. But in my innermost soul I felt my death had been decided." Martin believes his father's nonsensical ramblings is because he is probably just tired and Martin decides to go to bed. Anne says to her husband that he shouldn't think so much of death but Absalon believes someone has wished him death.
He then asks his wife if she ever wished his death because he understands he did a great wrong by never asking her if she wished to marry him, and that is a wrong for which he could never make amends. Anne finally lets out all her brutal honesty and coldly says to her husband, "Yes, it is true. You took my youth. My joy. I burned for someone to love. I dreamed of a little child to hold in my arms....Not even that did you give me. You asked if I ever wished you were dead. I have wished it hundreds of times. I wished it when you were with me. I wished it when you left me. But never did I wish it so hard as since Martin and I...Yes. Martin and I. Now you know. Therefore I now wish you dead. Dead!" Absalon becomes frightened of her words and starts to yell for his son as he suddenly collapses and dies with Martin and Meret running down the stairs to find Absalon dead.
The next morning while the Meret is inside mourning her dead son in his coffin, Martin and Anne are outside on the property and Martin tells Anne that his father knew of them being together because she told him the night he died which is why Martin heard his father cry out his name. Anne declares that she had nothing to do with his father's death, which she sees as providential help from above to release her from her present misery and unhappy marriage and for the two of them to be happy together; but Martin doesn't want to listen and tells her he wants to be alone. Martin decides to be near his deceased father while Meret gets the funeral arrangements set. Annie walks in on Martin and believes Martin is shunning him. Martin is ashamed for the sins they both committed and tells Anne that they should both be on their knees asking for his father's forgiveness. Anne says, "I don't need to ask forgiveness for anything. But I know he would have forgiven us. For he sees how we suffer."
Martin asks Anne if she remembers what she said earlier about wishing him dead, and even though she meant is as an 'if' Martin believes she still meant it. He then starts making sudden accusations towards her and asks her if she ever had the power to wish his father's death. Anne says that what Martin is driving her say could lead her to get burned at the stake as she begs him to come to his senses because she loves him. "I love you. That is my only crime," she tells him. Martin than admits that he wished his father dead as well and then Martin has
Anne get on her knees in from of his dead father and make a swear saying, "I am not the cause of his death." When she does make that swear, Martin finally believes her and asks Anne if they will ever find each other again. Anne asks him who would prevent it and Martin says, "The dead." Anne says, "It's not the dead we should fear." She means Marty's grandmother Marte and the two agree they have sinned together but they must stand together. She asks Marty that if Meret accuses her if he will always stand by her and he promises that he will.
During the funeral, Martin makes a speech in front of all the clergymen, townspeople and family members: "As the son and heir of the dearly departed...I stand here by his coffin...and offer you his mother's, his wife's and my own thanks for coming here today. My heart is so full of grief that God gave me a father greater and better than most men. Father. Now that you have passed away, I am tormented by the grief I caused you. If you were alive now, I would be a much better son to you. Forgive me." He also announces that his wife was with him when Death came for him, and he and his mother were with him when he expired.
Meret stands up before the funeral service comes to an end and asks to speak. Meret says, "If his son will not tell the truth, then his mother must. My son lies on his coffin murdered. And she who murdered him sits there. I claim a life for a life." After Marte points to Anne denounces her Martin tells the clergy men not to believe Meret and that he will answer for his father's wife. Martin says, "Believe me. Would I let my father lie unavenged if...." Meret interrupts and says, "Yes, you would. For you are under her spell yourself. With the aid of the Evil One she ensnared you. With the aid of the Evil One she killed her husband. I denounce her as a witch. Let her deny it if she dares." Martin is shocked and surprised by his grandmother's harsh accusations of Anne being a witch, and the clergy men orders Anne to put her hand upon the dead and take an oath because of the accusation. Anne initially denies the charge, but when she sees Martin going back on the promise he made to her and decides to side with his grandmother she is faced with the loss of his love and trust. She decides to then make a confession and walks up to her dead husband’s corpse. A tear runs down her face as she says, "I testify...I testify...So you have your revenge. I killed you with the Evil Ones help. And with the Evil Ones help I lured your son into my power. Now you know. Now you know... I see through my tears but no one comes to wipe them away."
I first encountered Carl Dreyer’s work in my teens, but it wasn’t until my forties that I began to be ready for it. I mainly had to rely on lousy 16-millimeter prints, so ruinous to the sounds and images of Day of Wrath that I could look at that film only as a form of painterly academicism, a repressed view of repression. The film defeated me with its unalleviated gloom and dull pacing, which I associated with Dreyer’s strict Lutheran upbringing.
All this was sheer nonsense, as I discovered once I had access to better prints, information, and reflexes. For one thing, contrary to many reference works, Dreyer’s upbringing was neither strict nor Lutheran. Born out of wedlock in 1889 to a Swedish servant (who died horribly a year and a half later trying to abort a second child), he was adopted by the Dreyers in Copenhagen, who gave him a nonreligious upbringing and whom he grew up despising. (According to biographer Maurice Drouzy, he worshiped his real mother and hated his adopted one, and good as well as bad mother figures abound in his work.) What I had taken to be religious beliefs were actually calculated challenges, and according to what Dreyer’s friend Ib Monty once told me, he wasn’t especially religious at all. What’s great about Day of Wrath is a passionate ambiguity that leaves all major questions frustratingly unresolved yet vibrantly open, quivering and radiant with life and meaning. The slow pacing is necessary for the intensity and the sexiness under the gloom to register. Freely adapted from a Norwegian play—Hans Wiers-Jenssen’s Anne Pedersdotter—that Dreyer had first seen in 1909, Day of Wrath looks today more cinematically advanced than any other movie released in 1943.
The film’s handling of period is unparalleled, achieving a narrative richness that may initially seem confusing. Set in 1623, when people still believed without question in witches, the film views that world from a contemporary perspective without for a moment dispelling our sense of what it felt like from the inside. Dreyer pulls off this difficult task through his singular style, involving a sensual form of camera movement he invented: the camera gliding on unseen tracks in one direction while uncannily panning in another direction. It’s difficult to imagine—a three-dimensional kind of transport that somehow combines coming and going in the same complex journey—but a hypnotic experience to follow. The film’s first real taste of it comes fairly early, when we follow Anne in her sinuous progress towards the torture chamber where Herlof’s Marte is being interrogated. The camera tracking with Anne around a pillar prompts our involvement while its simultaneous swiveling away from her establishes our detachment. And enhancing the strange sense of presence that results is Dreyer’s rare employment of direct sound rather than studio post-synching—giving scenes an almost carnal impact that becomes lost in smudgy and staticky prints.
There are many ways of interpreting the eerie story. We can believe that the characters, oppressed by sexual repression, conjure up fantasies about witches; or we can believe that witches really exist, and this story is showing us how one particular society, working through the church, produces them. Either way, Dreyer’s hatred for intolerance and institutions is evident throughout, though all the characters can be said to have their own reasons, and simple hypocrisy is never an issue. Meret, who resembles W.C. Fields at odd moments, might be the closest thing in the film to a villain, but her assessment of what’s going on may actually be more correct than anyone else’s. And we accept Absolon as a good man—struggling to be responsible about his own sense of virtue and justice—at the same time that we feel complicit with his son and wife betraying him, caught up in their blazing passion for one another.
Some combination of all the above is operative at every moment, lending a multidimensional impact to each gesture, word, and emotion. We bear the frightening knowledge that genuine evil resides in this confined world, but without a capacity to locate it in literal sorcery, we paranoiacally find it everywhere and nowhere—in a kind of collective virus infecting a whole community without ever being clearly traceable to a single individual.
This film was made and premiered during the darkest days of the Nazi occupation of Denmark, when Jews were being deported. Drouzy surmises that Dreyer may have cast a blond actress as Anne to avoid charges that he was making a political allegory—though the message wasn’t lost on the Danish underground at the time, and today it clearly registers as one of the great Resistance films. Yet according to critic Tom Milne, Dreyer “always insisted that any such political overtones to the film were strictly unintentional”—meaning that Day of Wrath may be the reverse of a conscious allegory like Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (almost certainly influenced by Dreyer’s film). But this only suggests that some works of art ultimately know and say more than their makers. Like one of the characters in his masterpiece, Dreyer was trapped in his obsessions, yet he remained so faithful to his art that he may have wound up saying more about his own times than most direct commentators.
Day of Wrath was a film adaptation of Anne Pedersdotter by the Norwegian playwright Hans Wiers-Jenssen, based on an actual Norwegian case in the sixteenth century. The film was Carl Theoder Dreyer's first film since 1932. He had spent the previous eleven years working as a journalist and unsuccessfully attempting to launch such several film projects. Dreyer had first seen Wiers-Jenssen's play Anne Pedersdotter in 1925 and had wanted to adapt it to the screen for several years. The film differs slightly from the original play, such as the scene where Anne and Martin first meet and kiss. In Wiers-Jenssen's play they are hesitant and shy, while in Dreyer's film they are bluntly sexual. Dreyer's producers had wanted him to cast Eyvind Johan-Svendsen in the role of Absalon, but Dreyer thought the actor was too much of a Renaissance man and preferred to cast an actor that could project the austerity that he wanted. Although both this film and most of Dreyer's other films have been criticized as being too slow, Dreyer explained that neither his pacing nor his editing were slow, but that the movements of the characters on the screen were slow in order to build tension.
The film premiered at the World Cinema in Copenhagen on November 13, 1943 and received poor reviews and was unsuccessful financially, with many Danes complaining about the film's slow pace. It later gained a better critical reputation after World War II. Many Danes saw a parallel between the witch burning and the persecution of Jews during the Nazi occupation, which had begun on August 29. Dreyer always denied the film as being analogous to persecution of Jews. However, on the advice of many of his friends he left Denmark on the pretext of selling Day of Wrath in foreign markets and spend the rest of the war in Sweden shortly after the film's release. However, in some cases the film received immediate praise.
The New Yorker called the film "one of the best ever made." A. Bertrand Channon called the film a "masterpiece" that will be "discussed long after Greer Garson, Bette Davis, and Ida Lupino have joined the company of Ruthe Chatterton, Norma Talmadge, and Norma Shearer." Life magazine called it "one of the most remarkable movies of recent years" and noted that a campaign by a group of critics led to the film being shown again four months later in August 1948. Years after its release, film critic Robin Wood called it "Dreyer's richest work...because it expresses most fully the ambiguities inherent in his vision of the world." Jean Semolue said that "the interest in Dreyer's films resides not in the depiction of events, nor the predetermined characters, but in the depiction of the changes wrought on characters by events.
Most of Dreyer's early work were in silent films. His greatest and most famous of them all is his masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc which is considered one of the greatest silent films of all time and is on my top 10 films list. There is also his horror film Vampyr which actually was Dreyer's first film in sound. So I can see the tone similarities from this film and from his early silent work because of the several long dead quite moments and the pace of the story. Dreyer then made his masterpiece Ordet in 1955 which tells the story about a family on a Danish farm who all are struggling with their faith in different ways and it all comes apart when there is a sudden death in the family. Ordet is now considered next to The Passion of Joan of Arc one of the most spiritual films in the world and one of Dreyer's very best. His last film was Gertrud which tells a story of a woman and her unfulfilling marriage and how she goes on a journey to find ideal love.
Like most of Dreyer's films Day of Wrath is a film that is shot with low ceilings and low lighting and is usually very dark, with not many character's in the film, and yet the way Dreyer has these characters get established and grounds them all in the fabric of the storyline is amazing. When each character speaks, everyone listens. The dialog takes its time, the pace is very slow and measured by its own chamber space and time, and the sounds you hear in the background are very subtle like the clock-ticking, the scratching of a pen writing, or the treacherous storm and wind outside the home. The slowness in the film is domestic rhythms and by pacing the film slowly, each pause in the dialog is filled with a movement or a character reacting and listening; something you almost never see in films. It might be difficult to get used to the pace and style at first but the way the events slowly unfold, sucks you into Dreyer's hypnotic world.
The characters are all very fleshed out and each have strong character traits. Most of them can be found even likable even though the character's live in a brutal time of such violence and hate; and yet most of their actions have their reasons. Reverend Absalon has very unlikable flaws and he was cowardly to not try to save the life of Herlofs Marte, however you could think of it as him trying not to expose his family and to accidentally place them in any immediate danger. (Any of the townspeople could denounce someone out of any shred of suspicion which would make anyone cautious.)Even though he saved Anne's mother's life from her getting burned at the stake you realize he did it out of selfish reasons for his own gain; which was to obtain and marry Anne a girl who clearly was too young as it is and not even let her decide what she felt about it. And yet, before his death you truly feel for him and how his son and wife had betrayed him and you can see that he truly does feel very sorry for snatching Anne's youth and childhood away from her. Martin seems to be a very strong and caring young man who falls for his father's young wife and you can see the pain and guilt he struggles with everyday. And yet, he lies and betrays Anne at the end of the film, either out of fear and cowardliness of not wanting to side with someone that he knows the townpeople clearly look at as a witch, or because he really does believe his grandmother's accusations. Anne is a women whose whole childhood was taking away from her and she is forced to love an older man who she doesn't even care for. And yet when she reveals all her hate towards Absalon right after his heartfelt apology, you feel that she acted out very coldly and somewhat unfair. When she first learned about the supposed powers that were mother had she seemed very intrigued and fascinated about it. I wouldn't be surprised that she herself believed that she could have inherited the same type of power her mother was said to have, especially when she repeatedly wishes for Absalon to 'die'; you get the feeling from the tone of her voice that she is truly trying to see if she can actually use some of that power and make it come true. The character of Meret is the obvious villain in the story, and seems to be the bitch of a controlling mother that is seen in most Alfred Hitchcock films. She would be happy to condemn an innocent person that she hates to be burned at the stake and yet if it was revealed that her own son was a witch, she would do as much as she could to not have him rightly punished. Like Dreyer's other film Ordet which explores the spiritual mysteries of religion, there are many different ways to interpret Day of Wrath. We can look at it as a story of a sexually repressed town who use their fears, hatred and ignorance to fabricate these witches with the help of the church and their blind faith to condemn and kill the sexual feelings they cannot be allowed to act out on. And if we look at it as that witches really do exist than as unlikable as Meret is as a character, she actually could be the only one who really knows what's going on and her accusation at the end could be a correct one. Even though most of Dreyer's films focus on religion, his childhood interesting enough was neither strict or religious. He was actually born out of wedlock in 1889 to a Swedish servant and was later adopted by the Dreyer family in Copenhagen. His adoptive family gave him a non religious upbringing and it was said by many close to him that he wasn't really religious at all. So what attracted him to these type of films that explored the complex themes of organized religion and faith? Maybe to Dreyer they were stories that seemed challenging to him and these complex stories that so many intelligent and rational people believe in like miracles, healing and rising from the dead, was something that greatly interested him; which could be why he enjoyed exploring those themes in his films. Whether he was religious or not he clearly never intended his films to preach a certain message, but instead ask questions. Dreyer's films are difficult films to start out with, but once you get dissolved in the world that Dreyer has created for you, you become engrossed. There is no denying that Dreyer was the stepping stone for other amazing director's with similar bleak films that focused on the questions of God like Ingmar Bergman, Robert Bresson and Andrei Tarkovksy. These are directors whose styles and themes feel greatly similar to Dreyer's and Dreyer clearly set the stepping stone for these directors to follow in his footsteps and ask their own spiritual questions; and at the same time developing a unique style of their own.
"Day of Wrath, for pity's sake. My sins away from Satan's grasp and bear up my soul to Heaven at last. Day of Wrath, hear our bidding, Sorrowful, heavenly flood of tears. Save us, Jesus, with your blood."