The Seventh Seal
On a desolate beach situated in a plague ridden land, the Knight, Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) plays a game of chess with Death (Bengt Ekerot). Within this game, Antonius and his squire, Jons (Gunnar Björnstrand), ventures forth into this baroque world, to reach Antonius’ castle at the other end of it.
However, during there surrealist travels, both of these men meet a number of God-forsaken people along the way. An plagued artist in a church yearning for forgiveness. A young girl whom is about to be executed because it is believed she is possessed by the devil. A servant girl whom Jons takes under his wing. Plus finally, a group of actors performing upon a stage.
Please note, their are three stage-performers in total. Jof - a sear of the bizarre. Mia - Jof’s wife, and Mother to his child. And Raval too - a sex hungry musician, with an eye for the ladies.
Well, maybe a bit 'too much eye' I am afraid to say. Which is why Jons has to defend Ravel in a nearby tavern some time later, because a butcher accosts him for touching up his wife (which he did). Whereas Antonius on the other hand befriends the other two performers, Jof and Mia, and spends some quality time with them, inadvertently putting a smile upon his own face.
Though, as time passes, a number of scenarios play out which cause Antonius to frown once more. Ravel befalls to the coming of death. The young girl possessed by demons dies in fire. And Jof and Mia quickly depart from Antonius’ company, when Jof sees Antonius playing chess with Death.
But is Jofs' vision correct when no body else can see it? Yes – I am afraid it is. One that everybody finally sees as soon as they all venture into Antonius’ castle, and meet his wife, Karen.
You see, Antonius has been playing chess with Death throughout this journey. But it is only when finality meets its end, and spirituality intertwines with destiny, that death becomes a way of life – or visa-versa.
This Ingmar Bergman classic, is one of the most imitated films in cinematic history. Both Monty Python and Woody Allen played homage to it their films 'The Holy Grail' and 'Shadows and Fog' respectively (click in the links for review). So - come on - if those two comedic giant’s think that 'The Seventh Seal' is good enough to spoof, it must be good film, right?
Well, in my most humble opinion - yes - yes it is. It is a very well told story, grim in style (it’s filmed in black and white), deep in context (it’s told in Swedish), and overall, a very artistic biblical narrative, involving all of those things that would make anybody slit there own wrists, and then wallow in the mire.
Now I mean that in the most respectable way of course, oh yes. Because this Gothic masterpiece is by no means a comedy. In fact, it is so contradictory to a comedy, that you could - like the aforementioned comedic giant’s did - make it into a comedy. Death. Adventure. Plagues. Knights. Sin. Art. Religion. And the fall of man. All of these things is what makes this one of the most encompassing films I have ever seen in my life.
Granted, at times, I was kind of bemused with the notion that this was one of Woody Allen’s favorite film’s. But when you sit back and think about it for a moment or two, and then ponder upon the biblical and desolate subtext that this film brings, you can really understand why Woody loves this film so much.
And why is that? Simple, It's real. OK, please don’t send for the men in white coats for me just yet. Because what I mean when I say that 'Its real', is that this artistic film is shot and presented in such a captivating manner, that you can’t help but become drawn into the plot as the story develops.
Fair dues, at first, you kind of get distracted by ‘Death’, as he does look like a mature Goth with no money for decent make-up. But once you start buying into the expansive pretext – a man playing for his life with a simple game of chess – you cannot help but feel the need within you, to see how this film ends. Moreover, this is not a film with a lot of exposition you know. Quite the opposite in fact. The exposition comes in dips and drabs, and works in a subliminal way through character interaction and scenes conveyed.
Well, in all fairness, you have to watch this film a couple of times to really appreciate what it is trying to say about life, because it really does work on a philological level. Also, the critiques do state that this is one of those films you have to see before you die.
Ha! If truth be tole, we are all going see death one of these day’s, huh? So we might as well have a brief gander at his cinematic counterpart first. Like these filmic-facts: (1) Ingmar Bergnan's father was a member of the clergy, and Ingmar based the iconography of this movie upon the mural hung within his Dads parish. (2) The name of this picture is taken from a Bible quotation from 'The Revelation of St. John the Divine'. (3) The film was the Swedish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 30th Academy Awards. But was not accepted as a nominee. (4) One of Ingmar's inspirations for this film came from Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa, period pieces. Who was very flattered about this in turn. (5) This film won the Special Jury Prize at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival. (6) As well as the Woody and Python films mentioned previously, other parodies of this movie have been included in 'Wild Strawberries', 'Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey', 'De Duva', and 'The Death of John Belushi - Wired' [click here for review]. (7) The chess pieces used in the flick was sold in 2009 for 1m Swedish Krona (around USD$145,000). (8) Antonius Block, which is the name of Max von Sydow's character, is only used twice in this picture. And (9) Check out this clip from the Woody Allen film, 'Love and Death', for his blatant Bergman satire...
All in all 'The Seventh Seal' is a classic for all time. It tells a story. It is well presented. It has a message behind. Plus it's a flick not for people taking anti-depressants, ha!
THE RATING: A