It took three viewings of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal before I finally understood and appreciated what it truly meant. This film is a masterpiece, and Bergman himself once called it his personal favorite, out of the 63 films he directed in his career that spanned nearly six decades.
The themes presented in this film have been copied over and over again by various films throughout the years, but this was original in its ideas.
The Seventh Seal is a very simple story, telling of a knight, Antonius Block, played by Max Von Sydow, who returns home after being away on the Crusades for ten years, only to find his native Sweden ravaged by the Black Plague.
The opening scene is visually stunning, and is one of those rare moments where it could only work in black and white. As he sits down to rest on the shore, he is approached by Death, who was personified in human form for the first time on-screen, by Bengt Ekerot. When Block is not ready to die, he asks for a reprieve, which is not granted, but then challenged Death to a game of chess; the game will continue on and off for days, and as long as it goes on, he can remain alive. However, should he be defeated in the game, then he will die.
Death accepts the challenge, and the game lasts for what seems like a week, as the plague has caused Death to be very busy with other matters.
The story centers around this theme, and the knight’s travels with his squire, played Gunnar Björnstrand, and all of the interesting people they meet along the way.
In personifying death, Bergman set forth the way Death would be portrayed for the rest of time in cinema.
The film also quotes numerous passages from the Book of Revelation, which the title is taken from.
This is a very slow-moving portrayal of a knight who struggles with his inner demons of not knowing where there is a God or not, and if he dies, will there be a heaven or just nothingness?
For tackling such a complex storyline and executing it to perfection, I give this movie a 9 out of 10. It is a timeless classic that only gets better with each viewing. It is truly Bergman’s best effort, and one of the best effort’s in movie history.
This film is also extremely versatile, as it can be shown in many different ways. A history class when explaining the Black Plague and Medieval Times, a religion class when exploring Christian themes, and even a psychology class when tackling how people are effected when there is death around them, are all appropriate. Not many films can have such a wide focus.
I am only aware of this film being on DVD from the Criterion Collection. If you find other versions, still spend the extra money on the 2009 CC re-issue, which features a superbly remastered film, along with a second disc of documentaries. The DVD cover is also amazing, even though it is so simple (pictured at the top).