“The Seventh Seal”
How do you start a review of one of the most compelling and astonishing pieces of cinematic art that have ever been made? Writing about “The Seventh Seal” must be done by writing about Ingmar Bergman, because each of his movies has a deeply personal message.
In one of the rare interviews in which Ingmar Bergman seems comfortable enough to speak about his angels and his demons, he says that he was a child who lived between reality and a dream world of his own and that is what a viewer must always keep in mind while watching “The Seventh Seal”. The world is as you make it and as you decide to accept it.
The main inspiration for this film was the moment when Ingmar Bergman, as a child, accompanied his father in a church in Sweden where he saw the painting of Albertus Pictor titled “Death playing chess”.
Set in Sweden during the apocalyptic times of the Black Death, one of the most devastating pandemics in the human history, the film tells the last part of the life story of a medieval knight, who is returning home after years in the Crusade and faces Death in a challenge of a chess game, in one last attempt of hearing from God before leaving this world.
The film begins with a scene of the sea that is then dominated by a sunrise, the Father of Light who left the water to purify the humans. As Death approaches to take Antonius Block, there is a silence that feels almost peaceful; there is no fear in Antonius as he knows that he is not yet ready and that he wishes to challenge Death one more time, before leaving his life.
As the squire Jöns cheerfully sings, “While God is in the skies, Satan is everybody’s brother” on Earth and this is what troubles Antonius the most in a moment where he is already facing an imminent death.
The entire film is a tale of Apocalypse in black and white through which the viewer can see all shades of colours via the excellently delivered monologues and the very real dialogues that show the human state in every motion and stillness. To the ignorant, the approach of an inevitable end becomes a reason to be violent, nasty, and vindictive. To the philosopher, fear becomes a door towards an infinite number of questions that still await for an answer from God, the one who has been promised to save you even after death.
The movie itself takes you to the same feeling that you get when watching a play on the stage. The actors seem to be interacting with the public, it almost feels as Bergman already knows what you, as a viewer, have always shared the same questions and restlessness.
As Bibi Andersson ( Mia, Jof's wife in the Seventh Seal) suggests in an interview that she gave together with Bergman, both the director and the actors whom he chose to play in his films strongly believe that they should never try to treat their psychosis as this is the window towards delivering the perfect performance, especially when we are talking about such spiritual and psychological subjects as the ones that Bergman has always approached with the genius and sensibility of a dreamer.
It is known that working with Stina Bergman in the beginnings of his career influenced Bergman’s technique as a director very much and he would always remember that. He learned from her that the audience must never have the slightest doubt where they were in a story. Nor could there be any doubt about who was who, and the transitions between various points of the story were to be treated with care. High points were to be allocated and placed at specific points in the script. Even though the films have such complex subjects and characters, there is always an emphasis on clarity in Bergman’s technique.[i]
If I were to directly link one of the characters in the movie with Ingmar Bergman, that is Jof and I do not wish to say why, but I would like to invite you to watch or re-watch the film and make up your own mind whether I am right or wrong. There is no end in speaking about Ingmar Bergman or about “The Seventh Seal”; there is no end to the journey and even death takes you dancing as the final scene of the film tries to suggest.
“Jof: Mia! I see them, Mia! I see them! Over there against the stormy sky. They are all there. The smith and Lisa, the knight, Raval, Jöns, and Skat. And the strict master Death bids them dance. He wants them to hold hands and to tread the dance in a long line. At the head goes the strict master with the scythe and hourglass. But the Fool brings up the rear with his lute. They move away from the dawn in a solemn dance away towards the dark lands while the rain cleanses their cheeks of the salt from their bitter tears.
Mia: You with your visions!”
Wishing you a happy visionary day!
Review by Otilia Galca
[i] Geoffrey Macnab. Ingmar Bergman: The Life and Films of the last Great European Director. I B Tauris & Co Ltd, London: 2009.
Posted on 12/10/2014
by Sue Cawte