The Seventh Seal

The Seventh Seal ★★★★★

***Continuing My Education: Lesson #42***

There is an aspect of myself which I try not to talk about too much, but that I feel is highly relevant to my writing about The Seventh Seal. I have a terrible and all consuming fear of death. Not the act of dying itself, I don't fear how I might die (though there are plenty of ways I'd like to avoid). No, I fear the unknowable mystery of what lies beyond the mortal veil. I consider myself a spiritual person, I have long held religious beliefs and I do believe the soul goes on to something after life. Like any person though, it is impossible not have doubts.

Thus I found it very easy to identify with Max Von Sydow's disillusioned crusader, Antonius Block, as he returns home only to be confronted by Death himself. Like many of us, Antonius isn't ready to die and challenges Death to a game of chess to prolong his life, allowing him to travel across a medieval countryside riddled with plague and strife in search of answers. Like myself, Antonius believes in promises of life after death, but he has doubts, he fears not knowing for sure. Of course there might be a Heaven, but what if there isn't, what if only oblivion awaits.

A character tells Antonius at one point, “many people never think of such things.” I do however, and I feel director Ingmar Bergman did as well. With The Seventh Seal, it feels like Bergman isn't pretending to know any great truths, he is searching for answers just like the rest of us. His film is horrifically bleak, depicting a black-and-white Europe that might as well already be Hell as the plague kills scores and the living wallow in agony or sin.

However, Bergman allows room for more then just extensional depression. He sets up hope in the form of a traveling actor troupe with a newborn son and he mixes in some humor as black as the grave. Most of the comedy comes from Antonius' loyal squire Jöns. Jöns isn't a pleasant or a good man, but he is wise, he looks at the dismal world and manages to laugh at its absurdity. Like his master, he too fears death, but he doesn't have the same faith as Antonius and thus harbors a bit more hesitancy. I would almost argue that Jöns in the main character, by being both morally complex and darkly funny, he gives the most for the audience to latch on to.

The Seventh Seal is a film that earns its masterpiece status ten times over. If you just enjoy living life and don't sweat the bigger picture, then the film offers a flawlessly crafted artistic experience with haunting cinematography and excellent performances. On the other, if you are like me and you can't keep the insidious thoughts of what awaits us all in the end out of your mind in the dark of night, then The Seventh Seal offers so much more, even if that extra impact can be endlessly chilling. For better or for worse, Bergman has found his answer by now, as we all one day will. Until then, at least he left us masterworks like this to discuss, ultimately gaining his own sort of incorporeal immortality.

Devon liked these reviews