The Seventh Seal (1957) Review

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The Seventh Seal

Time: 96 Minutes
Cast:
Gunnar Björnstrand as Jöns
Bengt Ekerot as Death
Nils Poppe as Jof
Max von Sydow as Antonius Block
Bibi Andersson as Mia
Inga Landgré as Karin
Åke Fridell as Blacksmith Plog
Director: Ingmar Bergman

Max Von Sydow stars as a 14th century knight named Antonius Block, wearily heading home after ten years’ worth of combat. Disillusioned by unending war, plague, and misery Block has concluded that God does not exist. As he trudges across the wilderness, Block is visited by Death (Bengt Ekerot), garbed in the traditional black robe. Unwilling to give up the ghost, Block challenges Death to a game of chess. If he wins, he lives — if not, he’ll allow Death to claim him.

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The Seventh Seal was known one of those “greatest movies of all time” that I just hadn’t gotten around to watching just yet. I had seen some of the images from the film with the knight playing chess with Death, and that was literally it. I also hadn’t seen a movie from director Ingmar Bergman before, so really going into the movie, I really didn’t know what to expect. The Seventh Seal was actually an excellent film, and I was invested in it more than I thought I would be.

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The Seventh Seal is essentially about a knight who contemplates an endless number of questions about the existence of God, death and life in the midst of the black plague that hit his hometown. We follow him and other different characters that he comes across while continuously playing a literally game of life and death through chess with Death personified. The movie really delivers on being a fantastical philosophical drama that’s complex and intriguing. The film touches on a lot of topics including, faith, religion, death and existence of God. The movie is filled with intelligent, contemplative and memorable dialogue, raising questions in regard to what life means, the uncertainty of what happens after death, and approaches the concepts of mortality and death. The themes are certainly depressing yet riveting, and also puts life into perspective in a unique philosophical way. The movie surprisingly didn’t feel that depressing since it had a relatively light tone most of the time. The movie has some fun moments, and even silly moments that you wouldn’t initially expect in this movie. There’s quite a lot of humour (mostly dark humour) injected into what could’ve been a purely solemn film about death. I would not class this movie as a comedy by any means, but the humour brings a lightness to its subject manner and certainly makes it easier to watch. It is very satirical and entertaining all things considering. The Seventh Seal might be known an art house movie, but it’s more accessible than you would think. The dialogue, conversations and themes alone are intriguing enough, and is entertaining and filled with enough lightness that you can access it. The short runtime of 97 minutes also helps the movie along, while the plot isn’t particularly driven by anything for the most part and is plotless, it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

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The acting is also wonderful too. Max von Sydow’s performance as Antonius Block, the knight and main character in this movie, and he’s amazing in this role. Gunnar Bjornstrand plays Block’s squire, and stands out with his charisma and wittiness, definitely a large source of the comedy in the movie. Ingmar Bergman makes Death a walking, talking character in this movie, which provides for some very interesting conversations. Bengt Ekerot plays him, and he’s truly great and memorable, a real presence on and off screen.

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This is the first movie I’ve seen from Ingmar Bergman, and from this movie alone I can tell he’s an excellent filmmaker. This movie contains some beautiful cinematography with its spectacular lighting (the use of natural light is particularly fantastic) and monochrome look, as well as stunning and instantly iconic imagery. The locations and set designs are utilised exceptionally well too. The score was memorable and appropriately used throughout. Something that Bergman does well is make Death as a concept feel present throughout, even when Bengt Ekerot isn’t on screen.

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I liked The Seventh Seal much more than I expected to. It covers darker topics and themes like life and death, while also being quite intriguing and even entertaining to watch. It’s helped even further with the strong performances and the excellent direction from Ingmar Bergman. Even if you think that you might not get into it, I do recommend at the very least giving it a look.

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