Plot – A man seeks answers about life, death, and the existence of God as he plays chess against the Grim Reaper during the Black Plague – The Seventh Seal.
Director – Ingmar Bergman
Released – 1957
The Seventh Seal is one of those movies, like Seven Samurai, where you watch start watching with the expectation you’ll be following one character, but suddenly this changes and you come to the realisation that there are multiple characters who are important and intricately linked to the story and themes, helping both its progression and exposition, prompting you to resist the movie, again and again, noticing something new with every viewing.
Allegory is nothing new in cinema, it something directors have been using from the birth of film. However, what’s important is the skill with which they handle the allegories, something Ingmar Bergman’s masterpiece excelled at. Taking inspiration from the Book of Revelation, The Seventh Seal is a film full of haunting and iconic imagery, the shots of a knight (Sydow) playing chess with death (Ekerot) the most famous of which. This is cinema at its most artistic and intellectual. Delving deep into the meaning or meaningless of mortality without becoming too pretentious.
Given the dark subject, it’s easy to see why some see The Seventh Seal as a horror movie. After all, it’s set during the Black Death, features women being burned as witches, bloody drunken brawls take place and a disillusioned knight struggles with all the deaths he caused in the name of the Lord. Bergman’s decision to use black & white film over colour giving the production a heavy gothic feel, while his unmoving camera work gives the production a wonderful feeling of desolate grimness.
Yet for all its starkness, there some are moments of warm compassion to be enjoyed. Plog the Blacksmith (Fridell), squire Jöns (Bjornstrand), and buxom Lisa (Gill) partake in playful arguments, fall in and out of love (or should I say lust). Even Death has a twisted sense of humour, waiting for his victim to climb a tree, before sawing away at its base. Even the inevitable ending has a bitter sense of comedy to it, with each of the victims making their way across the hillside in a dance of death.
The Seventh Seal is one of cinema’s most significant films, while one of the least understood. With most of the unforgettable and iconic moments still open for interpretations. What isn’t up for debate is how compelling this masterpiece proves to be?
If you liked: The Servant, The Ninth Gate, Citizen Kane