The Seventh Seal

It's no joke - The Seventh Seal, directed by Ingmar Bergman, is some heavy stuff. Bergman, a Swedish director and son of a preacher, was very well-known for his later films which all dealt with the issue of God, faith, morality, and meaning of life. While most asked those questions subtlety, The Seventh Seal is uncompromising and blunt - it directly asks the viewer whether God exists or not, not relying on complex symbolism or double-layered meaning. It's this literalism the film takes, even having the personification of Death as a main figure, that makes the movie quite enjoyable.

In terms of plot, the film is about Antonius Block, a knight, returning home to Sweden after the last of The Crusades. At his side is Jons, his cynical and bitter squire who's become something of an atheist after the Crusades. What the two return home to find, however, is a plague-ridden Sweden. The Black Death has a strong grip in the land, leading people to either live by themselves in independence and fear, or with live with the Church in self-loathing and fear. Things seem rather hopeless, regardless. As if this wasn't bad enough, Antonius is in a horrible struggle with his faith, as he begins to question whether or not God is real. In his depression, he asks hard-hitting questions such as why is God is silent and, is there a purpose for life, and if God is not real, then what does humanity have to look forward to other than oblivion and nothingness. Antonius' squire, Jons, himself even states that it's foolish to cry/pray before death because there's no one there to hear your suffering.

Like I said, some heavy stuff. However, don't let the subject matter stop you from seeing this film. While it's not exactly a comforting film, it also most certainly isn't meant to convince you into atheism. The film gives both sides of the argument, present in the depressed Antonius - who wants to believe in God - and Jons - who "doesn't believe in such ghost stories anymore". It's strange because, even though the personification of Death is present in the film, he refuses to answer if there is an afterlife, or it's just an empty, dark void.

We're given comfort, however, though the other main protagonists of this film - the family of Jof, Mia, and little Mikael. These three are part of a traveling acting troupe, going wherever they can to earn the least scrap of money. Despite being poor in a sick and dying land, the family manages to have hope and joy in life. It is through these characters that we're given the closest thing to assurance in the film, that life can be worth living with the comfort and company of friends.

Visually-speaking, the film is reminiscent of medieval paintings of the time, having characters and events arranged in such a way for this connection to be seen. Of course, the most iconic image from this film - the scene of Antonius and Death playing chess - has become so popular that it's been parodied by many people, from the Monty Python crew to Stephen Colbert. The film also has a majestic feel to it, almost like a poem put onto a screen.

However, the film isn't necessarily perfect. The character of the smith and his wife, for instance, feel very tacked on in the ending of the film. I won't give away what happens, but it's as if their only real purpose for being present at the end was so that there would be seven people at the end - a reference to the 'seven' in the film's title. It's bad enough to the point where I felt emotionally distant from the characters, as they had very little to do with anything and yet they're treated akin to main supporting characters at the end. A very strange choice by Bergman. I digress, though...

Powerful, striking, majestic, and emotionally raw, The Seventh Seal isn't afraid to ask the most difficult of questions in an uncompromising, yet simplistic, manner. It doesn't leave you with any answers either, leaving you with just as many questions as Antonius had. The closest thing to an answer I have of giving you, the reader, is that faith can conquer such troubles, as everyone - at one point in time - has been, or will become, an Antonius Block.

9.5/10 - Fantastic





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