The Seventh Seal (1957)

I would argue that "The Seventh Seal" is Ingmar Bergman's most famous work. Not only does it include his most famous image, that of a knight and Death playing chess on a desolate beach; but it also contains the yearning for the knowledge of the afterlife.
Coming back from the Crusades, a knight (Max von Sydow) and his squire, Jöns (Gunnar Björnstrand) fill the length of the movie with pointless travels. In the first five minutes of the film (I timed it), Death (Bengt Ekerot in the role of his lifetime) appears to the knight, named Antonius Block, and tells him that his time is up. Block is scared, and tells Death this much. He challenges Death to a chess match; saying that if he should win, he would be let free of his impending doom. No man can escape his own mortality—this is what Death tells him.
The chess match is not a battle of the wits, it's a man trying to answer questions.
The movie is told through the course of the chess game. If you think about it literally, Block and Death are still playing their game on the beach. But the movie has us traveling around, the chess match has postponed Block's death enough for him to wander the countryside.
The first stop that Block and his squire rest at is a church. Inside is an eccentric painter who is etching graphic death scenes on the walls. Jöns asks him about the paintings, assuming that it is meant to scare people into coming to church. Instead, the painter shrugs—the murals are to remind people that death skips no person.
Many other characters appear in "The Seventh Seal" including a band of traveling performers, a blacksmith and his two-timing wife, and a woman thought to possess the devil. But with all the characters in "The Seventh Seal", only two are important—Death and Block.
Block's inner struggle with God and his impending doom are manifested with long talks and poetic songs that pop up in unexpected places.
The best scene of the film comes at that first church where Block is pouring his heart out to a priest who is Death in disguise. He says that he wants to know if God is real, can the priest say for sure that he knows the Creator exists? Why cannot God reveal Himself to His creations tangibly. Why can't they touch Him; feel Him; smell Him; taste Him; see Him?
It's all too much for Block.
"The Seventh Seal" is told in a dreamlike state. Hallucinations and dread spread across the screen. This film contains some of the most distinct visuals in movies.
The title refers to a passage in the Bible from the book of Revelations. The seventh seal is opened and the seven angels with their seven trumpets prepare to sound. Each trumpet's sounding does more damage than the next—one third of the earth burns away, water turns to blood, etc.
For Block, who is returning home right at the time the Black Plague is breaking out, the end seems nigh. The apocalyptic overtones are paired with the time period quite's easy to see how people could have assumed the end of the world was happening.
In this respect, "The Seventh Seal" is somehow similar to "The Book of Eli"—only for its religion
Judgement Day is coming, so the people think. They pray, weep, beat themselves, or just don't care—each reaction is different than the rest. Though it's Block who really feels the weight of Death's glare upon his back.
"The Seventh Seal" is an unusual movie, it doesn't try to define itself within a genre; nor does it care about throwing a few funny moments into the story.
Yet the movie is bleak and beautiful—it harnesses the mind of a man and the question of God.
Bergman likes to make his viewers think, and "The Seventh Seal" does make you ponder.
Some of the techniques used to capture some of the shots are baffling...the imagery, as previous mentioned, is amazing.
"The Seventh Seal" feels like a quest movie, one where the characters go out and accomplish something. But that doesn't happen—perhaps the movie is about the pointlessness of life. I think the movie is about simply stopping to smell the roses—little moments give life meaning just as much as philosophical arguments.
It's a curiously savage and monumentos film.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

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