Carl Theodor Dreyer

Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer is considered one of the great masters in the art form of the cinema. His silent masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) is one of the most extraordinary silent achievements of all celluloid. The silent actress Maria Falconetti creates an emotionally harrowing and devastating performance, with critic Pauline Kael stating, “It may be the finest performance ever recorded on film.” Dreyer used private finance to make his next film Vampyr (1932), an early experimental sound film shot mostly with sparse, cryptic dialogue. Unfortunately for Dreyer both of his early films were box office failures, and Dreyer did not make another movie until 1943. At that time Denmark was by now under Nazi occupation, and his haunting film Day of Wrath (1943) had themes which explored the paranoia surrounding witch hunts in the seventeenth century. By then Dreyer established an authentic style that would forever mark his sound films: careful compositions, stark cinematography, diegetic sounds, hypnotic long-takes and slow, rhythmic dialogue flowing with perfect precision within cinematic time and space. Each slight pause in the dialog presents a character either reacting or listening, which creates an organic and godlike quality you almost never experience in the cinema. His other masterpiece Ordet (1955) was based on the play of the same name by Kaj Munk. It explored spiritual and existential themes such as faith, redemption and miracles than just the fundamental basics of Christianity. Dreyer’s final film was Gertrud (1964), and although it is seen by some as a lesser film than its predecessors, its themes on regret, grief and love are a fitting close to Dreyer’s career. In many ways Dreyer was the stepping stone for the spiritual brooding chamber-dramas which filmmakers Bresson, Bergman and Tarkovsky would later go on to make. Even though most of Dreyer’s films focus on religion, his childhood interestingly 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. Over the years Dreyer disassociated himself from his adoptive family, but their teachings were to influence the themes of many of his films. What is extraordinary about Dreyer’s work is that if you try to simplify it, or look at the stories realistically, you will lose the strange spiritual awe that the characters and the images are trying to express on the screen. The reason meditative films like Dreyer’s don’t seem to touch people quite as easily is because the film demands the audience’s patience, love and attention to the transcendental world Dreyer created. If open to it, his films has more to offer then almost any other filmmaker I’ve seen.

Carl Theodor Dreyer
Carl Theodor Dreyer Featured Films
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Articles and Essays on Carl Theodor Dreyer

Day of Wrath (1943)

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, […]


Passion of Joan of Arc, The (1928)

In a film medium without words, where the artists believed that the essence of a character was what the camera lens captured through their face, to gaze into the eyes of Renee Maria Falconetti, you feel as if she is allowing you to delve into the deep dark depths of her soul. In Carl Dreyer’s silent […]


Ordet (1955)

Ordet, which means ‘The Word’ in English, is not only one of the greatest films ever made, but one of the most spiritual films I have ever witnessed. It 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 […]

Carl Theodor Dreyer