The Seventh Seal

The Seventh Seal ★★★★★

The first time I was "aware" of this movie was when I was but 8 or 9. My mom had rented a big dumb action movie for me and a friend to watch from Blockbuster. Towards the end of the film, a boy goes into a movie theater and, with the help of a magical ticket, releases a whole bunch of movie characters into the real world. One of these characters was Death from some crazy black and white movie about chess, and it was played by Ian McKellen. He scared me then and he, the role Ian was having a laugh with, scares me again now that I've seen the real movie. And you might think that The Last Action Hero and The Seventh Seal are worlds apart but they're closer than you'd think. Both star a kind of weirdly fascinating European guy and both have a kind of delightful sense of humor to them in the face of existential crises. Sure, the act of dying is a little more, uh, lofty, than Schwarzenegger's realization that he's a movie character and not a real person, but you'll take what you can get when it comes to those conflicts of self.

Ok, enough about explosions and stuff, let's talk God. I know from hanging around some people that know a lot more about movies than I do that Ingmar Bergman is pretty into the religious stuff. I really didn't know what to expect here, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't a constantly questioning main character, or the ragtag group he forms around himself of do-good-ers and do-less-good-ers. It's a really fantastic little character piece, each of the 9 or so people in the film get their due time and diligence. It's a morality play, of a sort, where each character stands for some kind of virtue or way of seeing the world, and yet they also feel quite real and grounded in the strange, brutal world of plague-ridden Denmark. As a movie it is quite episodic, with only a kind of travelogue framework to hang on. Max von Sydow is returning home from the crusades and is going to die, that is until he challenges Death to a game of chess. I thought the game would be more central to the film but it really doesn't matter to the story, such as it is. No, this is a movie which goes off on little diversions, here a parade of self-flagellating religious nuts, there a nice sunset dinner (maybe the loveliest scene I've watched this year), all of which add up to a pretty spectacular, if a little confounding, movie. I like that I don't really know exactly what Bergman thinks of all of this right away. I like that he's good enough to know that some things are better left unanswered, or maybe that the questions exist solely to be asked. I like that I'm sure I'll continue to think about this movie and the characters contained within it. I like it. A lot.

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