The Seventh Seal is my very first Ingmar Bergman. This is despite having owned Persona (1966) for over 4 years now. I feel that by keeping my Blind Spot Series to just Non-English Language films has allowed me to finally see some of the great European directors’ work. You’ve got La Regle De Jeu (1939) which was a Renoir and also a Fellini with La Dolce Vita (1960). So I’m quite pleased with how this is working out for me so far! However, to go from Y Tu Mamá También (2002) last month to The Seventh Seal this month is a huuuuuge stretch. Massive. Talk about chalk and cheese.
Before I start talking about this film, a little background and synopsis might go a long way to help. It’s set in the time the black death was sweeping Europe. With a good old bit of wiki-research, the plague hit Sweden around 1358. A knight, Antonius Block, has just returned to Sweden from fighting in the Crusades. Wikipedia made the ‘crusades’ seem really complex, so lets just say it was a religious struggle and something to do with the Pope.
It’s on a beach in Sweden that Death greets him and states it’s his time to go. Block disagrees and challenges Death to a Chess match. The match is played intermittently along Block’s journey back to his Castle. His main reason for not wanting to die yet is that he wants to perform “one meaningful deed.” If that’s not a thoroughly gripping plotline I don’t know what is!
The religiousness of this film is overwhelming to me. The title, the opening and the closing lines all come from The Book of Revelation. With a quick bit of research I know that Bergman’s father was a Priest so this obviously would have had a massive impact on him growing up. The Christian guilt would weigh heavily on any man that has seen war. A man who has seen illness and suffering. Someone who left his wife for 10 years like Block. It would weigh much more heavily on a man like Block. A Soldier who so desperately wants to believe in a ‘silent God’ but cannot due to internal battles and quest for knowledge.
There are more religious references in this film than you could shake a stick at. The Danse Macabre in the very last scene of the film comes to mind. The horsemen in the film symbolising the breaking of the first four seals on the book, and how the opening of the book will release knowledge. Which is what Block wants… Oh my goodness. I could be here all day sifting through the layers and layers of allegorical Easter eggs and Christian titbits.
Despite it being set more than 100 years before Shakespeare, it just reminds me of Shakespearean film adaptations that I consistently fall asleep watching. Block is such a Shakespearean ‘ultimately-doomed’ character like your Macbeths and Hamlets of this world. I couldn’t shake the constant feeling that I was essentially watching a Shakespeare adapt. Those of you who have watched Chimes at Midnight (1966) might see what I mean. The jolted cuts to a sudden close up of someone’s weird facial expression, the very ‘ugly-on-the-inside’ characters who regret their life, the vast landscapes, the supernatural, the jester-cum-servant, the raging sea, it’s all there!
Will I be watching the film again? I wouldn’t say no, but not in a hurry. You know when you’ve read the book to the film or you already know loads about a film’s subculture and they make little references for that particular audience and you’re like “Oh wow, there’s a picture of blah blah in the corner because in the book… etc. etc…”? Well, I feel it’s the same with this film… With the bible. I can totally appreciate it as it is, but I feel like I’m just missing something. I can’t fully appreciate the sheer depth the film has to offer without having a good working knowledge of at least the Book of Revelation.
By all accounts, it offers a lot about what it means to be ‘ready’ to die and a lot about the human condition, about fear… and even though it satisfied me as a human who is also not ready to die, I’d love to know how someone more in the know about the Book of Revelation read the film, as Block states at the end that he has “now done something meaningful” when Death asks him, and I completely missed what that was!
Have you watched The Seventh Seal? Did you think it was as odd as I did?