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The Seventh Seal

The Seventh Seal film review.

Cover via Amazon

Title: The Seventh Seal

Year & Country of Release: 1957, Sweden

Director: Ingmar Bergman

Screenwriter: Ingmar Bergman

Antonius Block and his squire, Jons, return to Sweden after fighting in the crusades to find their country ravaged by the plague.

Death comes to take Antonius, but he challenges Death to a game of chess. If Antonius loses the game, Death may take him, but if Antonius wins then Death must reveal all he knows to Antonius. What Antonius is in search of are answers to the big questions in life – Is there a god and what happens to man after he dies? Is there an afterlife or as his squire believes; nothing at all.

As the game plays out, Antonius travels the country, meeting up with a troupe of actors and others who have survived the plague and also facing their own mortality, until he reaches his castle where Death greets him one final time. The film’s themes are man’s search for meaning and the inevitability of death.

This film reminded me of Akira Kurosawa’s film Rashomon. Where Kurosawa filmed the sun glimpsed through the trees, Bergman filmed the moon through the trees. In both films, characters are searching for the truth.

Death and the Church are both represented throughout the film. Death is represented not only by the character portraying death, and in the scenes of those dead and dying from the plague but also in other visual devices as well. When we first come across the troupe of actors, one of them puts on a death mask and acts the part of death as if on a stage. The death mask reappears in the background during a scene where Antonius and the actors are at their happiest, eating strawberries and drinking milk, reminding us that death is never too far away. In fact following this scene Death reappears to continue his game of chess with Antonius.

Death is also represented in the church Antonius finds along the way. A painter is putting the finishing touches to a large mural portraying death and the plague, and from here Death, the character, reappears to take Antonius’ confession.

The church is also represented with the visual device of the cross. The cross is sewn onto Antonius’ tunic, and is present when Antonius sits with his sword pointing downwards forming a cross. Then there is the cross the flagellants carry as they walk through a town and pass the group. Also, when Antonius and his group first enter the castle at the end of their journey the scene is shot from above looking down through the rafters which are shaped like a cross and again a cross is evident above the castle’s fireplace.

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