Dir. Ingmar Bergman
IMDb 8.3/10 – Rotten Tomatoes 94%
Ranked #8 in Empire magazines “The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema”
Vatican included this film in its list of its 45 “great films” for its thematic values
This is the first film from Ingmar Bergman that I have viewed. I was very interested in seeing The Seventh Seal after reading how Bergman brought his own fears and personal life into his films. At the moment I don’t know a lot about him except that he had a strong fear of death, and as a child he grew up in a religious household but lost his faith by the age of 8. Considering the fact that Hitchcock is my favorite director, I wanted to see how another director would bring fear into their movies. Although the way they do this is executed differently; I was greatly impressed by how intelligent and poetic scenes the film. I plan to check out more of Bergman’s films.
A Knight (Max von Sydow) and his Squire (Gunnar Bjornstrand) return home from the Crusades and during this time the Bubonic plague is sweeping across their country. On their way back, The Knight encounters Death (Bengt Ekerot) who is there to tell the Knight that his time living is up. However the Knight challenges Death to a game of chess for his life. The film continues with the Knight searching for answers about life, death, and the absence of God. While the Knight is on his existentialist search, the world around him is covered in fear and death by the hands of the plague.
The films biggest strength is the ability for the viewer to connect with one or more characters. The thoughts and questions brought up in this film is something all humans seek at least once during their life. From questioning, why doesn’t God show himself rather than hiding away while pain and suffering is happening on earth; to realizing the triumph of being alive in the first place. The focus was directed towards both the Knight and the Squire. You are able to feel compassion for both. The Knight was seeking answers throughout the film with intelligent thoughts, while on the contrary his squire did not pose the same questions. The Squire seemed to have accepted life for what it was and delivered some witty responses. There is a a lot of emotions in this film which allow you to connect with it.
Another great thing about this film is the character of Death. Ekerot had very strong facial expressions which set him apart from everyone else, not to forget his face was completely pale as well. That effect though was great when blended together, it was between haunting and humorous. He wore a long daunting cloak that contrasted the color of his skin which gave him that haunting look. Although when his hood was down he looked slightly clownish, but the moment the hood was back on the menacing appearance returned. A great thing Bergman did with this character was Death’s deceptive nature. The scene when the Knight was confessing inside a church, it was death hiding behind barred window with his hooded cloak impersonating a priest. That allowed Death to learn of the Knights next move in chess. Also showed an even greater absence of God and the Knight was in God’s house.
If this film has any weakness, it would have to be the actual stories execution. It was mainly the two men wondering around their homeland and encountering some people. Also The game of chess with Death is a great idea but the actual scenes of them playing chess were quick and only interesting due to expecting something significant to happen. However the dialogue carries the film in a great way though leaving the viewer to be drawn into the film. Accompanied by some great settings along the sea, and in the dark forest.
The scene that I loved the most was when the Flagellants entered the village. Moments before their arrival the villagers were watching a joyful play, but this play was interrupted by a rather chilling Gothic chant. A few of the Flagellants wore cloaks, some carried massive crosses on their backs, and the rest were whipping themselves. They were doing this because they believed the plague was a punishment from God. This is something that happened in history, so it was interesting to see it happen in the film. The Flagellants bowed down on the ground begging for mercy and crying. The facial reactions from the villagers was incredibly genuine. It attributed to the feeling this scene gave. The hysteria revolving around the plague was actualized in this scene.
Another scene that I loved is the ending when Death takes the group away. There is a long shot of the group walking while holding hands on a hill following death. It was filmed in a poetic way. The group almost looked happy to be leaving earth for whatever journey was next. Whether that be Heaven, Hell, or into the unknown. It was filmed at such a distance you can’t really tell if they were happy because their facial expressions are hidden. The end leaves the viewer open to interpret it in many different ways.
As the film begin, I wasn’t completely into it, but as it carried on I was more drawn into the story. The dialogue provoked many thoughts and some laughter, the characters were entertaining, and the film itself was a beautiful way to present the fear of death.
“Faith is a torment – did you know that? It is like loving someone who is out there in the darkness but never appears, no matter how loudly you call.”