Returning home from the Crusades, Swedish knight Antonius Block and his squire Jöns find the land ravaged by the plague. Block finds that people everywhere are living in fear believing it is God’s punishment and that the end has come. Block has lost his faith and is looking for answers so when Death comes for him the knight challenges him to a game of chess. The countryside is bleak and many search for answers though none seem to be found. Block makes it to his home and believes he has the upper hand – but Death will have his way.
Genre: Action & Adventure, Art House & International, Classics, Drama, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Director: Ingmar Bergman
In Theaters: Wide
Runtime: 96 minutes
Studio: Janus Films
The mysteries of religion and death have long been a popular focus among artists of all media, including film. And while many films question these mysteries, they seldom provide any real insight into the world of the unknown. In Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, these mysteries are not only questioned; they are dissected, splayed, and scrutinized.
The Seventh Seal could very well serve as sort of a manifesto for existentialism. Its deep acuity and haunting imagery is powerful enough to jar even passive viewers out of their complacency and force them to examine their own reality. The delicately crafted story centers around a 14th century knight named Antonius Block and his ongoing game of chess with a shadowy, hooded figure: Death. Bergman uses this allegory not just to personify death, but to illustrate the lengths man will go to in order to avoid it. 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 skillfully we plan our moves or how determined we are to win, we can never beat Death.
In Antonius’s search for answers, he encounters a variety of very unique characters, each with their own outlook on life, death, faith, fear and love. Their commentary on such matters is often dryly funny and always brilliant, continuously and effectively challenging our perceptions of the world around us. For me, the dialogue was definitely the high point of the film, as it was extremely thought-provoking and carefully constructed throughout. Almost every line spoken is, in one way or another, daunting and unforgettable. Jöns’s description of love as “the blackest of all plagues” is a quote that will forever be engraved in my mind.
The Seventh Seal truly is a remarkable accomplishment in the world of cinema. It is a deep, mesmerizing, and darkly beautiful work of art. More importantly, it is one of those rare movies that doesn’t just entertain, but also has the power to change the way one thinks.