An A&F Candidate for Top 100 2010
There are very few films that fill me with such righteous indignation as Day of Wrath. That the characters may be understood by the system they are bound in creates an even greater justification for my anger. It's a system that reeks of insulting and offensive religious intolerance. It's a system not outdated, but more subtle and still in place. It makes the marrow in my bones want to scream through this skin.
That it makes my blood boil makes it no less a filmic masterpiece. Like Nicholas Hytner's The Crucible, and many stories on the Salem trials, it centers on a religious community persuaded that there are witches in their midst. Witches that are in this case living in Demark, in 1623. Witches that are destined to be burned alive. In one of the awful and agonizing first acts in Day of Wrath, an elderly woman named Herlofs Marte is burned at the stake while the community boy's choir sings of her scalding flesh.
How groupthink prevails, and how the mystical trumps the natural, are where the story transcends our own. There are those who even today believe that the hunt for another's sin is a greater cause than stalking and defeating their own. Today it is illegal to burn or kill another for the sake of their sin, and we don't often see the cringe-inducing hardships faced in Dreyer's story. But it doesn't mean that pronouncements aren't made -- that pain and guilt aren't still inflicted, that people aren't hurt from authorities that lord over them, and that the point of the Gospel isn't missed.
Dave Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen's The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse is a help to those caught in the clasp of communal self-righteousness. It's a book which reminds us that Dreyer isn't stretching in this grizzled and seasoned script. Written and filmed over sixty-five years ago, Day of Wrath is a reminder that it's OK, and sometimes right, to be filled to the rim with seething anger. That when those in power can administer their brutal rule over those who have no way to oppose it, the very fabric of our humanity is in jeopardy.