I want knowledge! Not faith, not assumptions, but knowledge!   Leave a comment

Det sjunde inseglet – The Seventh Seal – 1957
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Country: Sweden
Runtime: 92 mins
Cast: Max Von Sydow, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Bibi Andersson, Nils Poppe, Bengt Ekerot

The Seventh Seal is one of Ingmar Bergman’s finest and best known films. It is one of the most extraordinary movies ever made and is one of the finest philosophical movie that I have watched. It draws audience towards it and has unquestionably influenced on my ability to perceive and at the same time provided some definitive answers.

Set in medival age, Antonuis Block (Max von Sydow) and his squire Jons (Gunnar Bjornstrand) return to their homeland after having a terrible time at Crusades. The countryside is suffering from a major plague, Block sits on the beach and Death appears to take him. He is not ready because he wants to know real answers;  to buy a little more time he challenges Death to a game of chess. If he wins, he lives. If he loses, Death will consume him.

They both have spent 10 years fighting in the holy land, Block has lost his faith, Jons revels in nothingness. As they travel to their castle, they meet actors Jof(Nils Poppe) and his wife Mia(Bibi Andersson); their son Mikael, and their manager, Skat.  Jof experiences a vision of the Virgin Mary and Child but his wife expresses disapproval of his visions and finds it to be insignificant. They move on in their wagon to give a performance at the next village. Skat is having an affair with Lisa, the wife of the blacksmith-  Plog.

Block and Jons enter church and they see “Dance of Death” being painted on the wall. Jons confronts the painter who explains why he is painting a mural about death.

Church Painter: Why should one always make people happy? It might be a good idea to scare them once in a while.
Jons: Then they’ll close their eyes and refuse to look.
Church Painter: They’ll look. A skull is more interesting than a naked woman.
Jons: If you do scare them…
Church Painter: Then they think.
Jons: And then?
Church Painter: They’ll become more scared.

Antonuis goals are to find the answer to his doubts so he heads to the confession booth where in he confesses his troublesome ulterior motives and asks hard questions. He does not realize that the priest to whom he is confessing; Death itself and also reveals his plan to beat Death at chess. This monologue is perhaps one of the finest and greatest moments of the movie.

Is it so terribly inconceivable to comprehend God with one’s senses? Why does he hide in a cloud of half-promises and unseen miracles? How can we believe in the faithful when we lack faith? What will happen to us who want to believe, but cannot? What about those who neither want to nor can believe? Why can’t I kill God in me? Why does He live on in me in a humiliating way – despite my wanting to evict Him from my heart? Why is He, despite all, a mocking reality I can’t be rid of?

They leave the church and watch a young woman being accompanied by guards to be burnt alive for she is believed to be a witch who consorted with the Devil. They try to comfort her and are upset at her plight. Meanwhile, Jons searches for water. He saves a girl from being raped by Raval, a priest who had convinced them to fight for religion and join the crusade.

Jof, Mia , Skat and Lisa give a performance in the village. After the performance, Skat and lisa disappear and Jof goes to inn to get something to eat, meets Plog and Raval who inquires about his wife, who he has been told has run off with an actor-Skat. Raval accuses Joseph of lying and makes him dance on a tabletop like a bear. Jons enters, rescues Jof. He sits for a drink and talks with Plog about women in a very funny conversation.

It’s hell with women, and hell without. Best to kill them all while the fun lasts.
Love is nothing but lust and cheating and lies. Only fools die of love.
between a scarlet woman’s knees, a man like me can take his ease.

Jons: Love is as contagious as a cold. It eats away at your strength, morale… If everything is imperfect in this world, love is perfect in its imperfection.
Plog: You’re happy, you with your oily words. You believe your own twaddle.
Jons: Believe it? Who said? But I love to give pieces of advice.

Antonuis, Jons, the girl, Plog, Jof, Mia and Mikael leave village, along the way; they meet Skat and Lisa in the forest. Lisa horrified, returns to her husband Plog.  Skat runs away and takes shelter in the tree, death cuts the tree down and consumes him. They also meet Raval in the forest who dies of plague. A storm rages, Jof experiences a vision and tells Mia that he can see the knight playing chess with Death, decides to flee. Antonuis overturns the chess board to divert Death’s attention so that Jof and mia can run away, Death finally wins the game and conveys Block that the next time they meet he is going to take him and everyone associated with him.

Antonuis leads his party to his castle meets his wife. She prepares dinner and proceeds to read from the Book of Revelations. Death enters and the knight’s party acknowledges him. Jof again experiences a vision in which he sees a “dance of death” on a ridge.  The ‘dance of death’, shows Death leading the knight’s party up a hill.

The movie probes the darkest but ubiquitous questions man has of life and death. The seventh seal is all about death. Antonuis needs answers on the existence, on the purpose of life and wants to perform one meaningful act before he dies. Death is the only confirmation Antonuis experiences. Nihilistic and spiritual, Bergman’s direction is incredible. He touches on topics like religion, philosophy, metaphysics and also talks about modern materialistic aspects that are affecting the man wherein the human being has chosen not to look deep into his own soul.

Today the individual has become the highest form and the greatest bane of artistic creation. The smallest wound or pain of the ego is examined under a microscope as if it were of eternal importance. The artist considers his isolation, his subjectivity, his individualism almost holy. Thus we finally gather in one large pen, where we stand and bleat about our loneliness without listening to each other and without realising that we are smothering each other to death. The individualists stare into each other’s eyes and yet deny the existence of each other. We walk in circles, so limited by our own anxieties that we can no longer distinguish between true and false : The clearest statement of all Bergman’s preoccupations expressed with the simplicity of genius in The Seventh Seal.

.. and I conclude : The answers or truth which we seek only come from Death?? and as Block reveals ” is life  a senseless terror?  can a man live with Death and know that everything is nothing.. ?”

I want knowledge! Not faith, not assumptions, but knowledge!

More Reading:

http://www.decentfilms.com/reviews/seventhseal.html
http://hompi.sogang.ac.kr/anthony/mesak/mes171/DeniseWang.pdf
http://www.eitanfreedenberg.com/writings/seventhseal.pdf

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