The Seventh Seal (1957)

The Seventh Seal 1957

“And when the Lamb had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour”.   

“Silence in heaven” — or rather the silence of God in the world — is Bergman’s grand theme. This movie contains nothing but knowledge of the unknown. Knowledge, that someone with existential crises (like me) can especially understand. Love, faith, religion, philosophy, God, death; all comes in together to make this beautiful masterpiece.

Considered a great classic of all times (and I vouch for its authenticity), The Seventh Seal can be difficult to comprehend and even more hard to stomach. It is after all a 1957, Swedish noir movie, I don’t expect the modern audience to bear it, much less like it.

It’s the ‘medieval times’, Antonius Block (Max Von Sydow), a Swedish knight returning home from the Crusades with his squire Jöns (Gunnar Bjönstrand) meets Death (Benkt Ekerot) on an abandoned beach and challenges him to a game of chess. If he wins, he lives. (Notice that only Antonius can see Death and no one else) As the story continues, Block and Jöns meet with several others who are evidence to the suffering that the Black Death (plague) has brought upon their land. They find a young girl who is considered a witch for having seen the Devil to be burned alive at the stake. They discover insanity in the eyes of everyone they meet, as each one is certain that God is angry with them and is punishing the world with the black plague. They also find a small group of traveling actors, Jof (Nils Poppe), his wife Mia (Bibi Andersson), and their infant son Mikael, who appear to be the only souls to have remained sane during these troubled times, and are trying to bring joy to others through their plays/acts.  These people may be a little dim, but they are good at heart and you can see the happiness in Antonius’ eyes when he is together with them for the first time. This goes to show that not knowing about God or Death or believing in any socially acceptable customs and religion can make you a very happy human being. It is only when you gain the knowledge of this vacuous beliefs that you start to die or, to put it more nicely; you forget how to truly live.

The game of chess continues at each interval and Antonius inquires Death about philosophically deep questions that are bothering him. Death is ambiguous in answering them. In the end, however, Death is a much better player than any of us, and though he may humor some of his opponents by letting them think that they have the advantage, the end result is inevitable: Death always wins. No matter how skilfully we plan our moves or how determined we are to win, we can never beat Death.

If I start quoting from this movie, I might end up writing the whole movie script. Personally, the dialogues were definitely the real star of the show, as these were extremely stimulating and carefully constructed throughout the film. Almost every line spoken is, in one way or another, daunting and unforgettable. From the first sentence to the last, you won’t be able to listen to your own thoughts. It is that good. I see now where Woody Allen get’s his inspiration from. He considered Bergman as the cinematic genius. And I agree.

With great performances by every actor, the scenes are truly made memorable by the cast. Beautiful cinematography work done by Gunnar Fischer. The Seventh Seal teaches you that even when you are not getting any answers, you don’t stop asking questions.

Existentially poetic, slow paced and gloomy, this Ingmar Bergman’s classic has made a special place with film royalties, inspired numerous spoofs, and exceeded the expectations of both believers and non-believers for nearly half a century. Although it is dark and grim, it still somehow manages to spark hope in you that things might turn out better. Long considered one of the greatest films of all time, Bergman’s medieval production of fighting with inner demons can be difficult to watch but is truly impossible to forget.

A must watch before you die. (There’s an existential joke for you) 😉




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