Essential Film – The Seventh Seal

Essential Film - Seventh Seal

By Paul Rodger


Not having the greatest of tastes for religious films, The Seventh Seal however provided an insightful and refreshing watch. Released in 1957 and directed by Ingmar Bergman, this Swedish drama-fantasy classic delves into questions surrounding life, death and faith. The story follows Antonius Block (Max von Sydow), a knight returning to Sweden after fighting in the Crusades, and his morose squire Jöns (Gunnar Bjornstrand). Discovering that the plague has reached Sweden, Block comes across the Grim Reaper (Bengt Ekerot) – known as Death – on the beach. Seeking to escape his demise, Block challenges Death to a game of chess: where if Block wins, he lives. Like an adult’s fairytale, the narrative flows with Block and Jöns travelling through the countryside, heading for Block’s castle, meeting characters of charismatic and corrupt nature along the way. Consistently juxtaposing solemn, surreal religious scenes with comedic effect, this is exemplified when, after arriving in a town, a small performing group is interrupted by the entrance to the town centre by a march of Christian flagellants. Upon congregating in the square, the priest sardonically denounces the townsfolk as he preaches the impending arrival of the plague. Having left the town to continue on their travels, Block comes across a girl who had previously been condemned to death for devil worshipping. Yearning to meet Satan to enlighten himself about God, he asks the girl to help him. With his search unfulfilling, the girl is burned. Wanting to know who will look after her when she dies, Jöns asks Block: “Who will take care of that child? Is it the angels or God or Satan or just emptiness?” He continues: “We stand powerless with hanging arms, as we see what she sees. Our fears and hers are the same.” One of the most striking pieces of dialogue in the film, this depicts the struggle, both in evading death and understanding it, through characters alive and one facing their impending end. As the narrative continues, the group of Antonius, Jöns, their servant girl, and Jof and his wife Mia come across Raval as they rest in the woods, an unscrupulous theologian who steals jewelry from the bodies of plague victims and who threatens Jof with a knife earlier in the film. Dying of the plague, he asks for pity and water. One of the central themes of the film is the silence of God. As he staggers in pain, he cries: “I’m scared of dying. Can you take pity on me? Help me…At least talk to me!” Faced with a moral-rational dilemma in aiding another human in their time of need, Jöns dissuades the servant girl, telling her giving him water would be pointless. As the film reaches its climax, Block returns to his castle and his wife. Having sat out a storm the night before, the following day Jof and Mia sit outside as Jof has another apparition of the knight and his followers being led over the hill by Death in a macabre dance of death. Establishing demanding issues allegorically and forming existential factors with a curious, Nietzschean angle, The Seventh Seal is a memorable film that grasps the viewer throughout and cunningly asks questions under a veil of brilliantly executed black comedy.if (document.currentScript) {