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The Seventh Seal
The Seventh Seal
This film features Antonius Block, played by young, 28 year old Max Von Sydow, a knight with his squire returning from the crusades to find his native Denmark overwrought with the plague. The social structure of Denmark has collapsed due to the effects of the plague, and fear of witchcraft amongst the Danish is amok. Suddenly, on a mountainside, a figure clad in black robes appears to Antonius. Antonius recognizes this specter as Death, who has come to claim him and his squire as victims of the plague. Antonius persuades Death to first play a game of chess. If Death be the victor, then Antonius will embrace Death graciously.
What seems like a silly premise is actually a very solemn and symbolic movie from Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. We follow Antonius Block around the countryside, as he ponders the meaning of life, meets different characters, and sees the social strife the plague has caused. One can identify with Antonius as being the representation of mankind’s struggle to control his environment, one who at times questions the Divine’s reasons for doing things (if there is indeed a Divine), and who attempts to ward Death off at any cost. There is hidden meaning behind every shot. Bergman conveys a lot more in an abstract way through use of camera angles and character interactions. Further, the performance of Max von Sydow as the tortured Antonius, who at every turn of his journey finds Death waiting for him to make his next chess move, also builds on this abstract motif.
This film created quite a stir upon its initial release, some critics argued that it was a brilliant piece of cinema, while others claimed Bergman was nothing but a hack overdoing the “artist symbolism thing.” To this day, film scholars argue this very point. Bottom line, after viewing this film, you either “get it” or you “don’t.” One thing that can’t be denied after seeing this film is the impact and influence Seventh Seal has had on modern filmmaking. Its influences cover films from the mundane to the eclectic including Bill and Ted challenging Death to games of Battleship and Twister in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey and actor/director/screenwriter Paul Naschy’s use of the black plague to bring about spiritual doubt and confusion in Inquisition. The beauty of Seventh Seal is that every scene artistically stands on its own merits open to many interpretations.
The Seventh Seal (1957)
Director: Ingmar Bergman.
Cast: Max von Sydow; Gunner Bjornstrand; Anders Ek; Bibi Anderson; and Bengt Ekerot as Death.
Music by Erik Nordgren
This originally appeared in Deluded Fanzine in the Summer of 2000.