The Seventh Seal (1957)
May 29, 2015, 9:55 am
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The Seventh Seal (1957)
Directed by: Ingmar Bergman

The hardest films to review are the ones considered masterpieces. There are a lot of words on the internet; a lot of fevered opinions. Average-Joe-Film-Buff spouting off with authority on a film like The Seventh Seal? There’s no real authority there. It’s just hollow words wearing a mask of authority. And those words hide behind ‘personal opinion’. Because you can’t argue against that. (“You can’t say that my review is wrong, because it’s just my opinion.”) But your opinion can be wrong. Your opinion can also carry no weight.

Keep that in consideration going forward.

The Seventh Seal has some of the most striking imagery on film. It tells the story of Antonius Block, a knight returning from the Crusades. He finds his country pervaded by plague. Death appears to take him, but in a plea for respite he convinces Death to play for his soul. The two begin a game of chess that will determine the knight’s fate.

The respite affords Block and his companions time to navigate the plague-lands. They encounter people dying of disease, of starvation and of man’s fear.

The central theme is direct in questioning the absence of God. It is angry in knowing that every man must face the inevitability of death, with no knowledge of what, if anything, comes after. In the scene of his confession, Block remarks “I want knowledge! Not faith, not assumptions, but knowledge. I want God to stretch out His hand, uncover His face and speak to me.” And Death responds “But He remains silent.”

For a film of grand philosophy, Bergman punctuates it with detrimental comic relief. There are times when it is witty, or when it is in keeping with the irony of death. And there are times when it is inappropriate to the tone of the film. The spindle ticks back and forth in tonal shift between bleak and comedy. This is the only let down in a film that is otherwise a meaningful exploration of faith.

The film ends with one of the most arresting images of the danse macabre. As Death leads the trail of companions into the unknown. “We must make an idol of our fear, and call it God.”