the seventh seal (1957)
Through the light of a newly risen sun, as Bergman’s film begins, each human being who awakes to this world reflects a new dimension of its possible outlooks, its interpretations. Bergman is all of these characters in one; our author the nihilist, the idealist, the valiant knight, the cowering jester, the pious priest to the grim reaper of death himself, but how can all of these outlooks be correct? How can all of our imaginations be true? The world of mortal man, here in this plane of existence, can be beautiful and bleak, but in all ways it remains a mystery. So goes our tale of a knight, drawn away from his life by a religious crusade, returns to his homeland in the midst of apocalyptic circumstances, as four suns hang in the sky and brother devours brother and the dead rise from their graves, unable to rest. The sun also rises with death to greet him, but death, like his passengers, is lustful for sport, and agrees to match wits with the knight in chess to buy this mortal man some time. The journey plays to the best of theatricality as archetypes both grand and pitiful dance across the silver screen. The world is ending, and how do we choose to deal with it? Many torture themselves to please the Lord, self-flagellation in a desperate effort to prove repentance and avoid their impending judgement and subsequent punishment (for the Lord’s punishments would be far worse and ever-lasting compared to what they can self-inflict), shouting to all who see them that they had best do the same, in denial at the suffering around them and concerned primarily with saving themselves. Others, who have seen the horrors of battle, as many deaths at the hands of men in war as will ever be claimed by the plague, cannot eagerly partake in the theosophic goose chase. Theirs is a sober view, even as they take refuge in a canteen of wine. What Bergman paints with The Seventh Seal is the vivid dance between life and death, (in this case, death leads, the living follow) and the ultimate futility as we stand together, on the other side of an abyss, hoping to understand it.