Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Film Review: The Seventh Seal



A knight and his squire return from the crusades to find the Black Plague decimating the population. The knight, Antonious Block (Max von Sydow) struggles with questions about death, suffering, and the nature of God as he challenges Death to a game of chess.


Just to be clear, this is not a period piece. It blends facets of medieval Europe with characters who speak in the style of the time in which the movie was made and in a way that somehow seems distinctive to a Bergman film.


Antonious agonizes over the questions with which believers have struggled since the beginning of time. How do we determine how to live -- and how to die -- when kneeling before a silent, unknowable God? Why won't God reveal himself in some way? And if he does not exist, does that leave us alone in a meaningless universe?

Meanwhile, all around him, medieval villagers -- along with the squire and several itinerant performers -- swap bleak, terrifying rumors and face the possibility of imminent apocalypse due to the bubonic plague. Each copes with it in his own way.


One of the things I appreciated about this film was its exploration of the broad spectrum of religion, ranging from a thoughtful search for meaning and truth to mindless, destructive superstitions that often grow in response to fear. At the same time, we see people living, working, laughing, creating families, and going about the minutiae of everyday life. Amid the knight's pondering of life, death, and faith, people are doing those ordinary things that ultimately give our lives meaning.

This rather dark, philosophical film is surprisingly funny and enjoyable as well as clever, eloquent, and rich. These elements, along with the gorgeous cinematography and expert use of light and shadow, make it easy to see why this is one of Bergman's best-loved masterpieces.

11 comments:

  1. I shied away from this film for a long time. It's Bergman at his best, dealing with themes like death and all. I expected this to be lot heavier. What surprised me most was how accessible this was. As you said "it is as funny and enjoyable as clever and eloquent". Well Put !!

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    1. Thanks for this terrific comment. I'm right there with you. I expected it to be much heavier ... war, bubonic plague, wrestling with death, meaninglessness and the nature of God. One can certainly see why that would be our expectation. ;-) But it was actually quite entertaining and funny. I love it when great movies go against my expectations in some way.

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  2. Yay! Thrilled that you loved this one. Completely agree. The humor works quite well here. I think that's why it's Bergman's most popular film, because it does a great job of incorporating both light and dark. It would be too exhausting if it was depressing throughout the entire film.

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    1. Thanks, Josh. I decided I'd waited WAY too long to see The Seventh Seal, which has been on my list for years. My daughter watched it with me, and we both enjoyed it tremendously.

      I like your comment about this being Bergman's most popular film because he did such a great job of incorporating light and dark. I think that's dead on -- and very well said. I've only seen 3 Bergman movies so far. My favorite -- and the one that convinced me I needed to see every film he'd ever made -- is Wild Strawberries. Need to get around to watching his entire filmography. Maybe even before I work my way through Kubrick. :-)

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    2. Thanks! Ooh, Wild Strawberries is great. It fell off my top 100, but I love it still. So far, I've seen 20 Bergman films. I need to finish his filmography too.

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  3. I never heard of this movie before...but it sounds interesting. I like the fact that it's not so serious movie as you've said it's quite funny

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  4. Really glad you liked this one. This was my first Bergman, and it literally changed the way I looked at films. Rocked me then, thrills me now. Great review here!

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    1. I can see how this movie would change your perspective on films. My first Bergman was Wild Strawberries and, so far, it's my undisputed favorite. :-)

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    2. And that is a damn fine pick. That was actually my second Bergman. I'll love it forever.

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