Escapist Friday: The Seventh Seal (1957)

6 05 2011

Hard week? Well, time to escape for the weekend as every Friday I will be doing “Escapist Friday” where I’ll look at one Fantasy, Science-Fiction, or just any film outside this world. This week: The Seventh Seal.

Growing up, Ingmar Bergman would have been surrounded by religion for most of his youth considering that his father was a minister. This, understandingly, has greatly impacted his work as a director and The Seventh Seal is no exception. Unlike other films with heavy religious themes, The Seventh Seal investigates a question universal to everyone despite their beliefs… death. The movie follows Antonius Block (Max Von Sydow), a Crusader on his way home after an arduous journey along with his squire, the lighthearted Jons (Gunnar Bjornstrand). Antonius soon runs into the personification of death, played by Bengt Ekerot, who has come to claim his life. Antonius still has questions he wishes to have answered in life and is not ready to die, so naturally he challenges Death to a game of chess where if he wins Death agrees to allow him to live. Over the course of their game Antonius and Jons continue to make their way back to his castle and meet several people along the way. The Seventh Seal is a movie about the inevitable death that awaits us all and how one comes to terms with their beliefs in regards to that frightening thought.

“My body is ready, but I am not.”

The two major themes of The Seventh Seal involve death and faith. Antonius Block is a religious man but doubts have entered his mind after the Crusades and in the, quite literal, face of death he wants answers. In a conversation with a priest we see Antonius spells out his feelings, and I can only assume the feelings of many, he states that he wants knowledge, not faith or assumptions, just knowledge. He compares God to loving someone in the darkness, who will never come to him despite his cries. He later goes as far as asking a witch to meet the devil because if someone has knowledge of God it would be him. When considering the idea of a Godless world, he calls that life would be a “preposterous horror” if nothingness awaited them afterwards. Through his journey he and his companions consider the universal questions of religion, the purpose of life, and what lies beyond death. This makes the characters of The Seventh Seal very relatable and the way Bergman presents these questions make the journey enlightening for the viewer as well.

 “I shall remember this moment: the silence, the twilight, the bowl of strawberries, the bowl of milk.”

Just as Antonius Block attempts to remember this serene scene while in a duel with death, many of the scenes of The Seventh Seal are ingrained into the viewers memory. Ingmar Bergman uses great shots of wide scenery that is reminiscent in scope of the landscape paintings by impressionist artists. Up close, Bergman reminds me of another great director in Carl Theodor Dreyer. The way he frames the very distinct faces of his cast, Sydow’s especially, makes for several memorable images. They bring power and gravity to a topic which deserves every bit of it while also allowing for many humorous scenes to be effective as well. Quite simply what makes the The Seventh Seal so great is that not only is the topic thought provoking, but the imagery is powerful as well.

Ingmar Bergman has created an absolute classic and is as effective today as it was in 1957. It is easy to see why so many contemporary directors have been influenced by Bergman and this movie making it an essential view for any lover of cinema

Score: 99/100

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