Monday, March 28, 2011

DAY OF WRATH (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1943, Denmark)

A chorus of Nazi Youth praise the conflagration that burns away the malignant flesh and bone of those deemed inferior, whose imaginary spell craft lead the “blessed” astray: screaming victims doomed like those cremated in the ovens of Treblinka. Carl Theodore Dreyer condemns both the Christian religion and Nazi polemic: two ideologies that share many violent attributes, kowtowing to a higher authority whose transcendental mythology outweighs the Rights of Mankind for the salvation of imaginary souls.

Dreyer’s DAY OF WRATH is set in the 17th century when superstition and religious mysticism were acceptable…and sadly not much has changed in 400 years as Christian extremists and conservatives have become the same side of a counterfeit coin. The film begins with an old woman being accused of witchcraft, the tolling bell her death knell as she escapes into the forest. She crawls through a stall door and into the pigsty, the mise-en-scene reducing her to a dirty animal, ripe for slaughter. She attempts to find refuge in the local Church, where the Priest had spared another ‘witch” years ago: this old woman begs for mercy that never arrives, only the bonfire of fascist vanity answers her prayers.

The film can be read as the condemnation of Nazi propaganda that relegates Jews to an inhuman genus, a disease that must be eradicated by a superior race. The Nazi patriarch spares Anne’s mother from the pyre so he can marry his young bride, and she becomes a tool of corrupting evil, seducing the son into betraying his Aryan nature. Of course, the son is redeemed as a good little Nazi and condemns Anne to death, as the righteous look on with pious justification. Christianity gave birth to the monstrosity of Jewish persecution, and every Christian who watches this should suffer their own day of emotional wrath, a gut-churning realization that their “good book” is a weapon of mass destruction. But this curse isn’t relegated to Christianity, it crosses the boundaries into all religions where unbelievers are either converted, ignored, or destroyed.

Dreyer’s elemental narrative equates Father Absalon with claustrophobic spaces and fire, whereas Anne is often seen cavorting in the forest near streams and rivers: this duality forever separates the two, as they cannot exist together. Either the fire is quenched, or the water is boiled away. Here, Anne is condensed into an ethereal vapor, accepting her fate without opposition, as there is no appeal to the rule of god.

Final Grade: (A)

2 comments:

Samuel Wilson said...

Amazing that it was made where and when it was. I've only seen it once but it made a powerful impression.

Chris, a librarian said...

My favorite of the Dreyer films.