Direction and Screenplay: Ingmar Bergman
Cast: Max von Sydow, Nils Poppe, Bibi Andersson
Genre: Drama, Fantasy
A knight named Antonius Block enters a church that was open in his Swedish homeland suffering from the plague, to seek answers about the existence of God after serving ten fruitless years in the Crusades. Here he encounters the specter of Death, whom he challenges to a game of chess. The outcome of the game will determine Antonius’s fate and that of others around him with regard to Death. As the end nears, he feels that he has one more important act in his life. Adapted and developed from Bergman’s own play ‘Wood Painting’ which was played on public radio in 1954, ‘The Seventh Seal’ takes its title from the Book of Revelations 8:1 and approaches head-on the so called ‘Silence of God’. Here, Bergman expresses his feelings about faith after being raised by a strict Lutheran dad, and about a period of emptiness during his adolescent years.
This piece of work would have led to a poetic movement in films if it was released now. It was released too early and didn’t get the reception it deserved back then. This stands unique from Bergman’s other theses as it gave filmmakers, especially in Europe the chance to drive towards the modernization of scripts as it contained a combination of the medieval and modern world. I feel that the plague shown in the film known as ‘The Black Death’ led to the formation of the grim reaper that personifies the character of Death. The figures of the Holy Family (Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus), Devil and Last Supper depicted in this thesis of faith, more than religion excited me. It also showed the feelings of people and their development towards the so called holy faith during the post-holocaust periods. The scene where the knight goes to confess haunted me for days, as I had heard a close person experienced something very similar to it. It also gave me interpretations of an encounter with a Death Angel before the end of our lives. This is why it makes me think about that film even now.
Looking at the technical side, the cinematography was mint, in a period where these aspects were taken lightly. Max von Sydow’s performance as the knight won him international acclaim and is often considered one of the best roles in his career. The abundance of real time art, painting and literature enriched the script even more especially the part where it ends. Man questioning God in certain scenes through allegory resembles the freedom of expression that is limited within him. Although the film doesn’t explicitly draw the connection, the quest for God and meaning are really two sides of the same coin. Overall, this film was intense, thought provoking and a classic without doubt. It also opens up an array of possibilities that we don’t or can’t know, which instead invites us to imagine an existence without them.
Verdict: 6/7 stars.