Movie Review: The Seventh Seal (1957)

Title: The Seventh Seal
Release Date: February 16, 1957
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Production Company: AB Svensk Filmindustri

This is a movie I watched sometime back in the 1990s, but didn’t remember too well beyond the “playing chess with Death” scenes (which is what everyone knows about this movie whether they’ve seen it or not).  Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) is a knight returning after ten years fighting in the Crusades and facing a crisis of faith in a God he cannot experience with his senses.  He’s accompanied by his more earthy squire Jöns (Gunnar Björnstrand) who functions as more of the movie’s protagonist in that he initiates much of the action within the story.

The film begins on a beach where the knight and squire have just arrived in their home country and Death comes for the knight.  The knight challenges Death to a chess match both as a way to extend his own life and perhaps cheat Death.  They continue playing intermittently through the movie.  We are also introduced to the other main characters, Jof (Nils Poppe) and Mia (Bibi Andersson), a married pair of traveling actors with a toddler son.

Eventually all of these characters come together as they travel the land where encounter signs of The Great Plague ravaging the people, a procession of flagellants, and a woman put to death as a witch. The movie features some intense scenes and deals with serious philosophical issues regarding mortality, faith in God, and the meaning(lessness) of life.  And yet, there are also moments of humanity and joy, such as when several of the characters share strawberries and milk on a pleasant day.  The movie is also surprisingly funny at several parts.

Ultimately, Antonious Block finds contentment in “one meaningful deed” where his is able to distract Death long enough for Jof, Mia, and their baby to escape.  The movie features both striking cinematography and brilliant acting.  It is worthy of the accolades of being among the greatest movies of all time.  I think I’ll wait fewer than 25 years before I watch it again.

Rating: ****1/2