“A man must live — at least until the plague takes him.”
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary points out that Bergman’s film — based on his own one-act play — is “very theatrical, with roots in Shakespeare, absurdism, farce, and medieval mystery and morality plays”; and, “as in all Bergman classics, there are strong acting, stunning photography (by Gunnar Fischer), many unforgettable images (the chess match for Von Sydow’s life, the burning of a witch, the final dance of Death and his victims), and questions left for us to answer for ourselves” (“What will become of us who want to believe, but cannot?”). While Peary argues that Bergman posits “life can be satisfying and safe only for those simple people who have faith, no questions asked”, this is a film filled with questions (“You play chess, do you not?” “Why make them happy? Why not scare them?”) and not all those who fail to ask questions are as content as Poppe’s idyllically happy young family. Indeed, the world on display here, geographically beautiful while existentially horrific, is miserable, with people making sense of senseless chaos in whatever ways they can and will — from burning a young woman (Maud Hansson) as a witch, to parades of self-flagellation, to rape and adultery, to distraction through entertainment, to barroom brawls, to intense religious faith.
While the story-line is deeply provocative — and all too eerily fitting for our current times — it’s the potent imagery throughout The Seventh Seal (the title is drawn from a Bible verse from The Revelation of St. John the Divine, read both during the opening shots and by Landgre in a later scene) that lingers in one’s memory. Though theatrical in some ways, the film is also highly cinematic: Fischer’s cinematography is consistently gorgeous, and he and Bergman make excellent use of outdoor sets, especially during opening scenes shot at Hovs Hallar. Bergman was apparently inspired by Kurosawa’s films, though he “based the entire iconography of the movie on murals in a church where his clergyman father used to go and preach”, and the scene of Von Sydow playing chess with Death was inspired by a medieval painting by Albertus Pictor. Thankfully, this thematically heavy foreign film has numerous moments of comic levity and a “semi-optimistic ending”; now, more than ever, this movie should be seen and discussed by all film fanatics.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)