The Seventh Seal

From Academic Kids

Template:Infobox Movie Det sjunde inseglet (The Seventh Seal) is a 1957 film directed by Ingmar Bergman, most notable for the scene in which a medieval knight (played by Max von Sydow) plays chess with the personification of Death, with his life resting on the outcome of the game.

The title is a reference to the passage from the Book of Revelation used at the start of the film, beginning with the words "And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour."

Bergman stated in an interview that the film had helped him overcome his fear of death.



A knight (von Sydow) returns from the Crusades and finds that his home country is ravaged by the plague. To his dismay, he discovers that Death (Bengt Ekerot) has come for him too. In order to buy time he challenges Death to a match of chess, which allows him to reach his home and be reunited with his wife. The knight's faith is broken and this is stressed in one of the strongest scenes in the movie when the knight gives confession to a priest about his doubts that God actually exist, he tells the priest how he plays chess with death and how he plans to win only to find that the "priest" is actually death. The movie has very Kierkegaardan themes on death and meaning (see Kierkegaard on angst) and by so it is quite existential. In another powerful scene of a witch burning, the knight is asked by his squire whether he sees God in the victim's eyes or whether he sees emptiness. The knight trembles and refuses to acknowledge emptiness despite his doubts in God. The knight realises that he would rather be broken in faith, suffering constantly of doubt, than to acknowledge a life without meaning.

Under the fateful journey they encounter several features of medieval society and the way it dealt with the fear of death: penitence of flagellators, the burning of a witch and the entertainment provided by travelling artists. The despairing unbelief of the knight and the cynicism of his squire (Gunnar Björnstrand) are neatly contrasted to the innocent belief of the acrobat (Nils Poppe) and his young wife (Bibi Andersson).

Eventually, it is only this couple who escape the fate of the knight and all his followers, who are led away over the hills in a medieval dance of death.

Relation to medieval Sweden

The medieval Sweden portrayed in this movie is not very accurate, for example flaggelators never existed in Sweden, and the theme of life and death probably is more typical to the existentialism of the 1950s than it is to the feelings and thoughts of medieval Swedes.

An image of a man playing chess with death in the form of a skeleton exists in a medieval church painting from the 1480s by Albertus Pictor which can be found in Täby kyrka, Täby, north of Stockholm. Bergman has refered to this painting as the inspiral source for this scene in the movie.

Parodies of The Seventh Seal

The Seventh Seal with its reflection upon death (and the meaning of life) became something of a figurehead for "serious" European films and has as such figured in several other films like the trailer for Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The Seventh Seal also features as the film Woody Allen and Shelley Duvall go to see in Annie Hall. Death also makes an appearance in Allen's film Love and Death. More recently the Death character from the film played a role in the Arnold Schwarzenegger extravaganza Last Action Hero, this time Death was played by Sir Ian McKellen.

The concept of playing games with Death has been used (and spoofed) many times since Bergman's movie. George Coe and Anthony lover, made a short film called De Duva: The Dove that deliberately spoofed this famous movie scene, in which a young couple challenge Death to a game of badminton.

The scene has also been spoofed in Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, in which Bill and Ted beat Death at Battleship and Twister, among other games; and Death constantly changes the terms: best two out of three, best three out of five, etc.

Terry Pratchett's Death from the Discworld book series is also reputed to be based on the character from the film.

See also

External links

sv:Det sjunde inseglet


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