The Seventh Seal

"Essential"

The Seventh Seal Review


Throughout his extensive and impressive filmography, Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, who passed away in July 2007, wrestled with the existence and role of God in everyday life. From struggling with mortality toward the end of one's life in Wild Strawberries to the haunting and overbearing view of religion in Fanny and Alexander, no single film has truly captured Bergman's beef with God better than the seminal The Seventh Seal. Released in 1957, the story of a knight returning from the Holy Crusades, with nothing other than a newfound lack of faith, and playing a game of chess against Death to prologue his life long enough to find answers to his holy questions, still spiritually resonates today.

"Why must He hide amidst vague promises and invisible miracles?" the knight questions as he confesses to Death, who is incognito as a priest. The Seventh Seal thrives on these ironic contrasts in its religious investigation. The Christ imagery is inescapable -- from that of the holy monks to the "witch," who is credited with being the origin of the Black Plague -- but instead of being thematically overbearing, it is the glue holding together the earthly lost souls looking for answers. Soon after the chess game against Death begins, the knight and his squire get involved with a traveling band of merry makers. Be it the contrast between the happy-go-lucky players, one of whom has visions of the Virgin Mary, and the domineering monks parading the diseased through the streets, the dichotomy plagues the knight, as he attempts to give the actors safe passage through treacherous lands in a desperate, final good deed.

While the religious overtones are ever-present, they don't become suffocating either. The knight, played perfectly by the great Max Von Sydow, constantly engages both the religious questions by continuing his game with Death and questioning him throughout. Of course, Death is far from literal in his speech. The only concrete truth we know is that Death is absolute -- you can't beat him; you can't avoid him; and, as the knight proves by "accidentally" knocking over some chess pieces late in the game, you can't cheat him either.

True to form, Bergman provides no easy answers. As the chess game comes to an end, we, and the knight, are still left with questions, perhaps more than when we began. Like any clever filmmaker, Bergman uses the MacGuffin of a game against death to propel a story that is basically question-driven. While it might be the coolest MacGuffin in all of cinema, it doesn't make the last shot of the knight's entourage dancing hand in hand on a ridge with Death on their way over the horizon any easier to interpret. Yet there is a peace that surrounds the film -- whether it is the acceptance of life's futility or finding the answers to those questions we all ask at some point in our lives.

Aka Det Sjunde inseglet.

Why the long face?



The Seventh Seal

Facts and Figures

Genre: Horror/Suspense

Run time: 96 mins

In Theaters: Monday 13th October 1958

Distributed by: Janus Films

Production compaines: Svensk Filmindustri

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Fresh: 48 Rotten: 3

IMDB: 8.3 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer:

Starring: as Antonius Block, Gunnar Björnstrand as Jöns, Bengt Ekerot as Death, Nils Poppe as Jof, as Mia, Inga Gill as Lisa, Plog's wife, Maud Hansson as Witch, Inga Landgré as Karin, Block's wife, as Mute girl, Bertil Anderberg as Raval, Anders Ek as Monk, Åke Fridell as Plog the smith, Gunnar Olsson as Albertus Pictor, church painter, Erik Strandmark as Jonas Skat, Sten Ardenstam as Knight (uncredited), Gudrun Brost as Woman at inn (uncredited), Lars Lind as The young monk (uncredited), Benkt-Åke Benktsson as Merchant at the inn (uncredited), Tor Borong as Farmer at the inn (uncredited), Harry Asklund as The landlord (uncredited), Tommy Karlsson as Mikael, Jof and Maria's son (uncredited), Gösta Prüzelius as Man (uncredited), Tor Isedal as Man (uncredited), Mona Malm as Young pregnant woman (uncredited), Josef Norman as Old man at the inn (uncredited), Fritjof Tall as Man (uncredited), Catherine Berg as Young woman kneeling for the flagellants (uncredited), Lena Bergman as Young woman kneeling for the flagellants (uncredited), Ulf Johanson as Knight Commander (uncredited), Gordon Löwenadler as Knight (uncredited), Nils Whiten as Old man addressed by the monk (uncredited)

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