Ingmar Bergman’s dark masterpiece “The Seventh Seal” is unambiguously and long considered one of the greatest films of all time in it’s quintessential, brazenly poetic and for sure can effortlessly challenge any pragmatists or the satirists to their untarnished moral seriousness. This movie is no mere intellectual exercise, or tirade, but a brilliant and compelling examination of mankind’s gray spots for nearly sixty years of its release.
I saw this movie last night. Watching it seemed so shrank and hard to remember what the flash of lightning was before and such simple, basic query have never been more vehemently and strikingly put forward in a work of art and even for today as fresh as frozen ice crystal in director Ingmar Bergman’s work of genius. The visual landscapes are forever stamped in the audience mind and so intense witnessing those sequences of the march of the flagellants, the burning of a witch, the chess match with death and the ‘dance of death’ atop a ridge are indelible, unique moments, sensitive and soul searching ever in cinematic history.
Going by the story- The Seventh Seal is a slice of life from a 14th century middle age Swedish village, which was experiencing the devastating effects of the plague. The film has two interwoven storylines. It tells of the journey of a medieval knight (Max von Sydow) and a game of chess he plays with the personification of Death (Bengt Ekerot), who has come to take his life. Bergman developed the film from his own play Wood Painting. The title refers to a passage from the Book of Revelation, used both at the very start of the film, and again towards the end, beginning with the words “And when the Lamb had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour”. Here the motif of silence refers to the ‘silence of god’ which is a major theme of the film
The plot opens with the knight named Antonius Bloke (Max von Sydow) and his squire Jons (Gunnar Bjonstrand), who have just returned from ten fruitless years in the Crusades and find their home country Sweden being withered by the plague. Soon after his arrival in the beach- Antonius Bloke encounters Death (Bengt Ekerot), personified as a pale, black-cowled man resembling a monk. Playing alone in the middle of the chess game, Bloke is challenged by Death to a chess match, believing that he can forestall his demise as long as the game continues and Death would leave him alone
On successive days, the Death moves one chess piece at a time. Meanwhile, Bloke sees villagers struggle understand their impending doom in the context of their religious faith. The second storyline involves a husband, wife and kid along with the acting team, who pass through the village at the same time as Bloke. The two are surprisingly happy, and their upbeat show stands in stark contrast to the surrounding misery. The husband, wife couple with their kid meets Bloke, Jons, and the group, along with some others, travel to the knights’ castle. Along the way the Bloke plays his final move with the Death. He loses, but distracts Death long enough to allow the couple to escape. The knight and the rest of the group arrive at the castle, and subsequently meet their fate at Deaths hands.
The narrative is very well developed- the film highlights many of the nastiest shortcomings of religion. Among these are religion’s insufficient clarifications of human suffering, the absence of any convincing proof of god’s existence, religion’s prominence on self-mortification or the dampening the progress of scientific and controlled explanation, the injudicious sorceress of the church establishments, the immoral conduct of the clergy, and the tendency of religious leaders to manipulate devotees and supporters into performing immoral tasks. Besides struggling with doubts about god’s existence, we see the protagonist Bloke also try and resist his death in the hope of performing a single meaningful act before dying, connecting the dots in the quest for god and the quest for meaning are really two sides of the same coin, for there is no true meaning apart from god.
Just as said, each of the scenes depicts the struggle between the existence of god and the countless evils of this world are vividly laid out in front of the viewer. The story signifies that the Knight does get an opportunity to perform his meaningful act before the film ends, thou in a way of cheating the Death of saving the couple and their kid, eventually gives him no consolation of peace and that the reality of life is stands mortal, nothing concrete or material or for that matter tangibility of the breathe, flesh and blood. . Bergman’s illustration of main character Bloke’s troubles with theistic belief is incredibly well composed.
In my view, this film covenants very close integration of philosophy, going further the issues dealing with philosophy of religion and its existentialism. In doing this, the tenets of both theistic belief and atheistic existentialism are pushed to the vanguard in an extremely intimate manner. The use of such powerful metaphors, illustrated most strongly in Bloke’s playing chess with Death and the young girl ravaged by the plague, pushes this film into a whole new realm of filmmaking. The opulence along with the dialogue makes it nearly coherent for the audience into their grip and so much so the Gunnar Fisher’s photography and editing by Lennart Wallen’s is extraordinaire to follow the idea into surrealism is something new to invent again and again.
The Seventh Seal meaningfully helped Bergman in gaining his position as a world-class director. When the film won the Special Jury Prize at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival, the attention generated by it made Bergman and his stars Max von Sydow and Bibi Andersson, renowned to the European film community and the critics and readers of Cahiers du Cinema, among others, discovered him with this movie. In that time between 1957-62, he had established himself as the first real auteur of Swedish cinema and its images and reflections upon death and the quest of life, the movie clearly was aware of elite artistic culture and thus was readily appreciated by intellectual audiences too.
We see the kind of struggle many go through when faced with uncertainty dealing in today’s life with so much of political and religious turmoil in patronizing the new world order and here, this primitive idealism and myth always remains to stay, either we declare a singular, simple and unchangeable spiritual substance or remain in the essence of reality, distinct from the world and the answer remain in us and The Seventh seal is most certainly worth the time to think about as to conclude….
- Directed by Ingmar Bergman
- Produced by Allan Ekelund
- Screenplay by Ingmar Bergman
- Based on Trämålning by Ingmar Bergman
- Casting: Gunnar Björnstrand; Max von Sydow; Bibi Andersson; Bengt Ekerot; Nils Poppe & Åke Fridell
- Music by Erik Nordgren
- Cinematography: Gunnar Fischer
- Edited by Lennart Wallén
- Distributed by AB Svensk Filmindustri
- Release date: 16 February 1957 (Sweden)
- Run time of 96 minutes
- Country : Sweden
- Language: Swedish