The Seventh Seal

A man seeks answers about life, death, and the existence of God as he plays chess against the Grim Reaper during the Black Plague. (IMDB)

Writer:  Ingmar Bergman
Director:  Ingmar Bergman
Stars:  Max von Sydow, Gunnar Björnstrand and Bengt Ekerot
Runtime/Rating:  97 Minutes/NR
Popcorn Score:  Large Popcorn with Butter

“Faith is a torment. It is like loving someone who is out there in the darkness but never appears, no matter how loudly you call.”

“To believe {In God} is to suffer.  It is like loving someone in the dark who never answers.”

“Love is as contagious as a cold. It eats away at your strength, morale… If everything is imperfect in this world,  love is perfect in its imperfection.”

These are the lines that struck me the most as I watched “The Seventh Seal” for the first time last night, quite late to the party might I add.  This 1957 classic by Swedish director Ingmar Bergman successfully takes on subject matter that is rarely even attempted by other film makers.  The absence of God is what the hero, self-reflecting Antonius Block is concerned with in his life.  A knight traveling home after 10 years of battle in the crusades nears his country to find it overtaken with the Black Death, an infamous episode of the bubonic plague.  In a beautiful opening scene on an isolated beach he encounters Death, hoping it is not yet his time, he challenges Death to a chess match waging his life for the winner.  This match for life and death involving moving pieces on a board in the most strategic of all games parallels all of the difficult decisions, and the approach we take to situations we face in our lives each day.

Coupled with that haunting and awesome premise is the background of a destroyed population in the European Middle Ages.  A vast community of people across multiple countries that were watching their family members and neighbors die a horrible death.  Many people clung to religion.  In a powerful scene we see a clan of infected people bearing crosses and walking aimlessly through the countryside whipping one another as a frightening man chants out prayers.  Walking to no end, they believe that the plague was brought on by the devil so if they battle it by whipping, crushing and praying the infection out of one another they will be accepted by God once they perish.

As the journey continues The Knight, with his squire always by his side encounters an array of characters.   They meet and befriend a family of performers.  A husband and wife named Joseph and Mary with a child along with Joseph’s brother.  Joseph has a unique ability to see spirits, at one point seeing the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus, and later seeing The Knight across the chess table with Death, Mary is skeptical of these visions.  The Knight and his Squire also meet and witness a young girl who is to be burned because it is thought that she has the devil within her.  When the knight approaches her to look her in the eyes so he can see the devil, he says all he can see is terror.  He is again left without proof.More than anything else this contemplative tale about a man who is lost and feels purposeless even after all he has done, is about his wonderment about God and why he does not show himself more clearly.   It is an issue that people have questioned forever and as long as humans have faith they will continue to speculate.  That, I believe is the main reason among many why “The Seventh Seal” is one of the most groundbreaking films ever and deserves its recognition as one of the true masterpieces of all time.

Large Popcorn with Butter.

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  1. on 11/08/2012 at 8:02 pm