The Seventh Seal

by Tom Ingram

Genre Fantasy
People Ingmar Bergman d.w.; Max von Sydow; Gunnar Bjornstrand
/10 9

A knight (von Sydow), returning from the crusades to a broken, plague-ridden Europe, meets Death and challenges him to a game of chess: the knight gets a reprieve from death till the end of the game, and if he wins, he goes free. He decides to use this borrowed time to perform one meaningful act at the end of a life of useless wandering.

The movie is a constant parade of sickness and depravity, jumping dreamlike from one encounter to the next with the hero unable or unwilling to save the people he meets. The apocalyptic mood is apparent long before anyone mentions the world ending, and rescuing, for example, the “witch” being burnt at the stake seems somehow pointless. The acting, aside from the two leads, is a little shoddy, but getting upset about that seems just as pointless.

von Sydow’s knight and Bjornstrand’s squire muse on the nature of morality and the point of life in a world where God is—if not actually nonexistent—inaccessible. The Seventh Seal is a classic of what I call the “quiet moral confusion” genre. The whole production is very bleak, but its “mid-twentieth century existentialist angst” seems just as relevant today.

1h36m; 1957; B/W; Swedish language spoken