Film Review: The Seventh Seal (1957)

Also known as: Det sjunde inseglet (original Swedish title)
Release Date: February 16th, 1957 (Sweden)
Directed by: Ingmar Bergman
Written by: Ingmar Bergman
Based on:  Trämålning by Ingmar Bergman
Music by: Erik Nordgren
Cast: Gunnar Björnstrand, Bengt Ekerot, Nils Poppe, Max von Sydow, Bibi Andersson, Inga Landgré, Åke Fridell

AB Svensk Filmindustri, 96 Minutes


“Nothing escapes you!” – Antonius Block, “Nothing escapes me. No one escapes me.” – Death

Ingmar Bergman is considered one of the greatest filmmakers that ever lived. The Seventh Seal is considered his magnum opus by many. It has been referenced, parodied and ripped off by hundreds of films after it. The movies it has influenced have gone on to influence others. It’s reach is so deep and so broad that it will probably always have some sort of imprint on the film industry forever. It is an iconic body of work, regardless at how one views it. It is also an extremely high point, if not the highest, in the long history of Swedish filmmaking. The fact that I haven’t seen it in its entirety until now, could actually be criminal.

My entire life, I have been a huge film aficionado. So I’ve sort of always known about this picture and I’ve seen it’s effect on other bodies of work. I’ve seen this movie featured in documentaries and I’ve seen clips of it for so long that I felt like I had already seen it in a roundabout way. Even though I’m very familiar with the key elements of this puzzle, I’ve never had all the pieces put together in the proper way.

The Seventh Seal is about a soldier who is confronted by Death. He convinces Death to play him in a chess match. The soldier figures that as long as he’s locked in the match, he has more time on Earth. He is disenchanted and depressed over the fact that he’s wasted his life even though he realizes that he’s not that different from most men. He tries to bide his time all while searching for meaning and something greater. Eventually, time runs out and he has to face his mortality.

The film takes place during Medieval times but it’s not necessarily an accurate portrayal of that era. It’s more of a reflection of what was behind the inspiration of the story for Bergman, as he had stated that the idea of Death playing a game of chess came from a church painting from the 1480s. Additionally, the feeling of “doom and gloom” from the era was instrumental in helping set the tone of this film’s narrative. The film showcases the effects of plague and the witch hunts: things that were really very dark blights on human existence in that era. Really, what better time and place is there to set this film?

While I don’t consider this to be the masterpiece than many others do, it’s a very compelling film and it is easy to reflect on your own life, even in modern times, and compare it to the concerns that the knight has about his own existence and place in the universe.

Bergman certainly had an eye for composition and was a true artist in the medium of motion pictures. This really is art at its core. It is also a very human story as we will all one day be in the soldier’s shoes in one way or another.

The Seventh Seal is a very good motion picture that went beyond just influencing a generation, it influenced an entire art form well beyond what anyone could have imagined at the time. Films like this are extremely rare.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Other pictures by Ingmar Bergman.

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