“The Seventh Seal”

Kai Christiansen, A&E Editor

  The Seventh Seal is a German film from 1957 that was written and directed by Ingmar Bergman and stars Max Von
Sydow, Bengt Ekerot and Gunnar Björnstrand.
  It tells the story of Antonius Block and Jöns, a knight and squire, who have come back to Germany after 10 years of crusading, only to find that their homeland is tarnished
by the Black Plague. During their quest back home, Block begins seeking answers to his questions on life, death, and God, all while playing a game of chess with the Grim Reaper.
  Where this film differs from other religious films is in the
perspective. In The Seventh Seal, religion is looked at not as a definite reality, but as a doubtful fantasy. The characters with
the strongest ties to god, often suffer the worst fates with no chances for redemption. The “fools” in the story, Jof and Mia,
are husband and wife actors with a newly born child. The are the only characters in the film who don’t believe in god, but
instead poke fun at him in their performances. Consequently, they are the only characters in the ensemble who have a happy ending. This juxtaposition of an absent god and a happy ending for characters who don’t believe comments on the
mundanity of religion.
  Continuing with the trend of a lackluster god, the only potent religious figure in the film is Death himself. Death, played by Bengt Ekerot, labors to succeed in his tasks, going as far to cut down a tree to kill someone or play a chess game for the duration of the film. When compared to God, Death consistently works harder and is ever present in the lives of
the characters, never missing a beat to complicate things.
His continuing effort put into his job counters that of God, who never shows himself once.
  Along with the brilliant subtext, the imagery tells a story
of its own. The sensational cinematography of Gunnar Fischer along with Bergman’s masterful direction create spellbinding visuals that feel impossible to look away from (for reference, I watched this movie at midnight and never once felt bored). The movie was filmed in high contrast black and white, a quality that really is hit or miss, and the look added to the contrast between God and Death.
  Although it appears as if the film is
attacking religion, that is not the intent. Bergman has stated that this film was made as a way to help get over his crippling
fear of death and is heavily influenced by his views of religion. His beliefs shape that of the characters, primarily that of Antonius Block’s. Faith, to Block, is a torment more than it is a blessing. This belief of the “silence of god” ties back to punishments Bergman received from his father, a chaplain at their lutheran church.
  The Seventh Seal is a masterpiece of cinema, using the medium to deliver an insatiable message about religion that
poses more questions than it answers. To Bergman, Death is the absence of life and God is absent from life.