December 2015 Blindspot: The Seventh Seal

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In what could be the motto for this series: better late than never.

The Blindspot Series is a series of twelve posts spread throughout the year designed to offer bloggers a chance to catch up classic films we somehow may have missed. Started by The Matinee, here is my list of Blindspot films for 2015. Up next for December, in January, is Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.

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Watching The Seventh Seal I wasn’t exactly enthralled, but I was struck by several things. I haven’t seen a ton of Ingmar Bergman films, but knowing a bit about him I hadn’t expected this one to be as different from the other ones I’ve seen as it was. For one thing, it was more theatrical which makes sense as it is the earliest of his I’ve seen, and also it was humorous in spots. Who knew.

The Seventh Seal‘s plot is not as direct as I thought it would be. Though I knew going in that the film depicted a knight playing chess with death for his life, I had no idea we would be introduced to what seems like an entire countryside of people. Antonious Block (Max von Sydow) does indeed play a particularly weighted game of chess with the personification of Death (Bengt Ekerot), one that lasts the course of the entire film. In between rounds, he travels towards home with his squire Jons (Gunnar Bjornstrand), encountering a family of actors Mia (Bibi Andersson), Jof (Nils Poppe), and their infant son, the blacksmith Plog (Ake Fridell) and his lecherous wife Lisa (Inga Gill), and even more colorful characters.

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Along the way, in between rounds of chess, Block looks for the existence of God in a world that seems to have descended into chaos. Witnessing the Black Plague and the public’s response to it, it seems as if the world has gone mad. While everyone runs in fear, Block suffers a spiritual crisis. He looks for God but only encounters Death. Though the story of Block’s search for God might ultimately end in futility, remember he’s not the only character in the film. Jof, the actor, sees visions of God’s work in the world even though no one else can, and that he remains untouched by Death can only seem hopeful. Even though Block finds nothing, he is able to save someone who can.

The film does have quite a bit of humor, most of it when the film is focused on Jons rather than Block. I love the scene where he talks to the painter of the mural that Bergman actually based the film on (so meta, am I right). There’s also a lot of silliness with Lisa and another actor in Jof and Mia’s troupe, and when Death catches up with him it is equal parts hilarious and philosophical. Bergman does quite a good job of transitioning between those two conflicting tones here.

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The other thing that really stood out to me was how Bergman positions the actors in the frame. This is where the film gets some of its theatricality from, and I don’t mean that disparagingly at all. The actors are frequently in tableau and strikingly lit. Though the actors may not always be moving, they are often positioned in the frame in such a way that gives it an interesting sense of depth. I’m not quite sure why Bergman uses this approach, but it is very interesting to see. It gives the film a sense of weight and formality that it perhaps might not have had had the actors always moved around more naturally and less theatrically.

The Seventh Seal might not come anywhere near one of my favorite films of all time, Persona, but I did really like it. I wish I had seen it in high school, the spiritual debate of the movie would have appealed to me a lot more then. Not that I didn’t appreciate it now, but still. In Persona it is combined with a lot of other stuff, but in this and the other Bergman film I’ve seen Through a Glass Darkly, it is very focused on Bergman’s spiritual angst. It’s nice to have a bit of other themes to chew on as well.

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“We must make an idol of our fear, and call it God.”

Long story short: 3.5/4 stars

For Further Reading:

Roger Ebert “Great Movies” review
Criterion Collection Essay
The New York Times review

That (belatedly) wraps up The 2015 Blindspot Series! I’ll be announcing my lineup for the 2016 series soon. Thanks for reading!

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9 responses to “December 2015 Blindspot: The Seventh Seal

  1. It’s been years, but I remember really enjoying this one. Makes me think it’s just about time to watch winter light again.

  2. Winter Light is indeed a good one, my favourite of the “silence of God” trilogy. You brought up an interesting point, when I watched this film for the first time, the debate spiritual debate was of high interest to me. I haven’t seen it since, but I am thinking that it won’t interest me as much, just like you but in no way does that knock off the film. I’m glad you finally got to it, haha I waited all of 2015 for you to finally see it, and I’m glad you found some enjoyment in it 😀

    • I was surprised that it actually was a bit humorous in some spots! When I think of Bergman I definitely don’t think of humor ha ha ha. Persona is still my favorite, but I did appreciate this movie.

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