THE SEVENTH SEAL (Swedish : DET SJUNDE INSEGLET) is a 1957 Swedish
drama -fantasy film written and directed by
Ingmar Bergman . Set in
Sweden during the
Black Death , it tells of the journey of a
medieval knight (
Max von Sydow
The Seventh Seal
* 1 Synopsis * 2 Cast * 3 Production * 4 Portrait of the Middle Ages * 5 Major themes * 6 Reception * 7 Impact
* 8 In popular culture
* 8.1 Film and television * 8.2 Popular music
* 9 Opera * 10 See also * 11 References * 12 Further reading * 13 External links
Disillusioned knight Antonius Block (
Max von Sydow
The other characters in the story, except for Jof in the end, do not see Death, and when the chess board comes out at various times in the story, they believe the knight is continuing his habit of playing alone. Death and Antonius Block choose sides for the chess game; Death gets the black pieces.
The knight with his squire heads for his castle. Along the way, they pass some actors, Jof ( Nils Poppe ) and his wife Mia (Bibi Andersson ), with their infant son Mikael and their actor-manager Jonas Skat ( Erik Strandmark ). Jof is also a juggler and has visions of Jesus and Mary , although Mia is skeptical of them (especially since Jof is also given to lying).
Block and Jöns enter a church where a fresco of the Dance of Death is being painted. The squire draws a small figure representing himself, while chiding the artist for colluding in the religious and ideological fervour which has led to the disastrous crusade. Still hoping for resolution and comfort within his faith, the knight goes to the confessional where he is joined by Death in the robe of a priest. During confession, Block admits that his life has been futile and without meaning, but that he wants to perform "one meaningful deed". Upon revealing the chess strategy that will save his life, the knight discovers that the priest is Death, who promises to remember the tactics . Leaving the church, the knight speaks to a young woman (Maud Hansson ) who has been condemned to be burned at the stake for consorting with the devil . He believes she will tell him about life beyond death, only to discover a woman beyond her sanity.
Shortly thereafter, Jöns searches an abandoned village for water. He saves a mute servant girl ( Gunnel Lindblom ) from being raped by a man robbing a corpse. He recognizes the man as Raval ( Bertil Anderberg ), a theologian, who ten years prior had convinced the knight to leave his wife and join a crusade to the Holy Land. The squire promises to brand the theologian on the face if they meet again. The servant girl joins the squire. The trio ride into town, where the actors met earlier are performing. Skat the actor-manager introduces the other actors to the crowd, then is enticed by Lisa ( Inga Gill )—wife of the sentimental and violent blacksmith Plog—away for a tryst. They run off together. The actors' performance is interrupted by the arrival of a procession of flagellants .
At the town's public house, Plog—jealous and wounded—is looking for Lisa. Both Jof and the manipulative Raval are also present: for the sake of mischief, Raval tells Plog that Jof knows what Lisa is doing. Raval manipulates Plog and the other customers into intimidating Jof, and forces Jof to dance on the tables like a bear. The bullying is broken up by the appearance of Jöns, who once again recognises Raval: true to his word, he slashes and permanently scars the theologian's face. Both knight and squire are reacquainted with Jof's family, with a repentant Plog also joining them. The knight enjoys a country picnic of milk and wild strawberries gathered by Mia. The knight says: "I'll carry this memory between my hands as if it were a bowl filled to the brim with fresh milk...And it will be an adequate sign—it will be enough for me."
Moved by the simple love of Jof and Mia, Block relaxes his pursuit of religious meaning. He invites Plog and the actors to shelter in his castle , where he believes they will be safer from the plague. Along the way, the party encounters Skat and Lisa in the forest. Dissatisfied with her new lover (and well aware that her husband will rapidly forgive her), Lisa rapidly abandons Skat and returns to Plog, while Skat uses his acting skills—and possibly Jof's collusion—to fake a remorseful suicide. Once the group has moved on, Skat climbs a tree for the night. Appearing and informing the actor that his time is up, Death then cuts down the tree and kills him.
The travellers pass the condemned young woman again, now tied to a stake and awaiting burning. Block asks the woman again to summon Satan , so he can ask him about God. The girl claims already to have done so, but the knight cannot see him, only her terror. As her execution fire is lit, the knight gives her herbs to take away her pain. Jöns and Block watch, grimly, as her sentence is carried out.
Further along in the journey, Raval reappears: dying of the plague, he pleads for water. The servant girl attempts to bring him some, but Jöns stops her, and Raval dies alone and uncomforted. Jof tells his wife that he can see the knight playing chess with Death, and decides to flee with his family while Death is preoccupied. The final scene depicting the "danse macabre ".
After hearing Death state "No one escapes me", Block knocks the chess pieces over, deliberately distracting Death while Jof's family slips away. Death places the pieces back on the board, then wins the game on the next move. He announces that when they meet again, the knight's time—and that of all those traveling with him—will be up. Before departing, Death asks if the knight has accomplished his one "meaningful deed" yet; Block replies that he has.
Block is reunited with his wife, Karin ( Inga Landgré ), the sole occupant of his castle (all the servants having fled). The party shares one "last supper" before Death comes for them. The knight prays to God, "Have mercy on us, because we are small and frightened and ignorant."
Meanwhile, away from the castle, Jof's family sits out a storm which the juggler interprets to be "the Angel of Death... and he's very big". The next morning, the juggler, with his second sight , sees the knight and his followers being led away over the hills in a solemn dance of death .
Gunnar Björnstrand – Jöns, squire
Bengt Ekerot – Death
Nils Poppe – Jof
Max von Sydow
Bergman originally wrote the play Trämålning (Wood Painting) in
1953/1954 for the acting students of
Malmö City Theatre . The first
time it was performed in public was in radio in 1954, directed by
Bergman. He also directed it on stage in
Malmö the next spring, and
in the autumn it was staged in
In his autobiography, The Magic Lantern, Bergman wrote that "Wood
Painting gradually became The Seventh Seal, an uneven film which lies
close to my heart, because it was made under difficult circumstances
in a surge of vitality and delight." The script for the Seventh Seal
was commenced while Bergman was in the
Karolinska Hospital in
All scenes except two were shot in or around the
in Solna . The exceptions were the famous opening scene with Death and
In the Magic Lantern autobiography Bergman writes of the film's iconic penultimate shot: "The image of the Dance of Death beneath the dark cloud was achieved at hectic speed because most of the actors had finished for the day. Assistants, electricians, and a make-up man and about two summer visitors, who never knew what it was all about, had to dress up in the costumes of those condemned to death. A camera with no sound was set up and the picture shot before the cloud dissolved."
PORTRAIT OF THE MIDDLE AGES
With regard to the relevancy of historical accuracy to a film that is heavily metaphorical and allegorical, John Aberth, writing in A Knight at the Movies, holds
the film only partially succeeds in conveying the period atmosphere and thought world of the fourteenth century. Bergman would probably counter that it was never his intention to make an historical or period film. As it was written in a program note that accompanied the movie's premier "It is a modern poem presented with medieval material that has been very freely handled...The script in particular—embodies a mid-twentieth century existentialist angst....Still, to be fair to Bergman, one must allow him his artistic license, and the script's modernisms may be justified as giving the movie's medieval theme a compelling and urgent contemporary relevance...Yet the film succeeds to a large degree because it is set in the Middle Ages, a time that can seem both very remote and very immediate to us living in the modern world....Ultimately The Seventh Seal should be judged as a historical film by how well it combines the medieval and the modern."
Similarly defending it as an allegory, Aleksander Kwiatkowski in the book Swedish Film Classics, writes
The international response to the film which among other awards won
the jury's special prize at Cannes in 1957 reconfirmed the author'
high rank and proved that
The Seventh Seal
Much of the film's imagery is derived from medieval art. For example,
Bergman has stated that the image of a man playing chess with a
skeletal Death was inspired by a medieval church painting from the
Täby kyrka ,
Täby , north of
However, the medieval Sweden portrayed in this movie includes creative anachronisms. The flagellant movement was foreign to Sweden, and large-scale witch persecutions only began in the 15th century.
Generally speaking, historians
Johan Huizinga ,
Friedrich Heer and
Barbara Tuchman have all argued that the late Middle Ages of the 14th
century was a period of "doom and gloom" similar to what is reflected
in this film, characterized by a feeling of pessimism, an increase in
a penitential style of piety that was slightly masochistic, all
aggravated by various disasters such as the Black Plague, famine, the
Hundred Years\' War between France and England, and papal schism.
This is sometimes called the crisis of the Late Middle Ages and
Barbara Tuchman regards the 14th century as "a distant mirror " of the
20th century in a way that echoes Bergman's sensibilities.
Nonetheless, the main period of the
The title refers to a passage about the end of the world from the
Book of Revelation , used both at the very start of the film, and
again towards the end, beginning with the words "And when the Lamb had
opened the seventh seal , there was silence in heaven about the space
of half an hour" (Revelation 8:1). Thus, in the confessional scene the
knight states: "Is it so cruelly inconceivable to grasp God with the
senses? Why should He hide himself in a mist of half-spoken promises
and unseen miracles?...What is going to happen to those of us who want
to believe but aren't able to?" Death, impersonating the confessional
priest, refuses to reply. Similarly, later, as he eats the
strawberries with the family of actors, Antonius Block says: "
Some of the powerful influences on the film were Picasso 's picture
of the two acrobats,
Carl Orff 's Carmina Burana ,
Bergman grew up in a home infused with an intense Christianity, his father being a charismatic rector (this may have explained Bergman's adolescent infatuation with Hitler , which later deeply tormented him). As a six-year-old child, Bergman used to help the gardener carry corpses from the Royal Hospital Sophiahemmet (where his father was chaplain) to the mortuary. When, as a boy, he saw the film Black Beauty , the fire scene excited him so much he stayed in bed for three days with a temperature. Despite living a Bohemian lifestyle in partial rebellion against his upbringing, Bergman often signed his scripts with the initials "S.D.G" (Soli Deo Gloria) — "To God Alone the Glory" — just as J. S. Bach did at the end of every musical composition.
Gerald Mast writes,
"Like the gravedigger in
Melvyn Bragg writes,
"t is constructed like an argument. It is a story told as a sermon might be delivered: an allegory...each scene is at once so simple and so charged and layered that it catches us again and again...Somehow all of Bergman's own past, that of his father, that of his reading and doing and seeing, that of his Swedish culture, of his political burning and religious melancholy, poured into a series of pictures which carry that swell of contributions and contradictions so effortlessly that you could tell the story to a child, publish it as a storybook of photographs and yet know that the deepest questions of religion and the most mysterious revelation of simply being alive are both addressed."
The Jesuit publication America identifies it as having begun "a series of seven films that explored the possibility of faith in a post-Holocaust, nuclear age". Likewise, film historians Thomas W. Bohn and Richard L. Stromgren identify this film as beginning "his cycle of films dealing with the conundrum of religious faith".
Upon its original Swedish release,
The Seventh Seal
Bergman's international reputation, on the other hand, was largely
cemented by The Seventh Seal.
Bosley Crowther had only positive
things to say in his 1958 review for
The New York Times
The film is now regarded as a masterpiece of cinema . Empire magazine ranked it the eighth-greatest film of world cinema in 2010. In a poll held by the same magazine, it was voted 335th 'Greatest Movie of All Time' from a list of 500. In addition, on the 100th anniversary of cinema in 1995, the Vatican included The Seventh Seal in its list of its 45 "great films" for its thematic values.
The film was selected as the Swedish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 30th Academy Awards , but was not accepted as a nominee.
The Seventh Seal
IN POPULAR CULTURE
FILM AND TELEVISION
Bengt Ekerot as Death
The representation of Death as a white-faced man who wears a dark cape and plays chess with mortals has been a popular object of parody in other films and television.
Several films and comedy sketches portray Death as playing games other than or in addition to chess. In the final scene of the 1968 film De Düva (mock Swedish for "The Dove"), a 15-minute pastiche of Bergman's work generally and his Wild Strawberries in particular, the protagonist plays badminton against Death and wins when the droppings of a passing dove strike Death in the eye. The photography imitates throughout the style of Bergman's cinematographers Sven Nykqvist and Gunnar Fischer.
The protagonists of the 1991 science-fiction comedy Bill his Love and Death , a broad parody of 19th-century Russian novels, closes with a "Dance of Death" scene imitating Bergman's.
The film is also seen in the Håkan Bråkan , the 2003 SVT Christmas calendar series, based on works by Anders Jacobsson and Sören Olssons , where Håkan watches the movie — even an animated version appears.
The song "The Seventh Seal" on Scott Walker 's 1969 album Scott 4 is based on the film.
Dance of Death (2003), the thirteenth studio album by British
heavy metal band
In 2016 composer
João MacDowell premiered in
New York City
The posters for the opera with photography by Athena Azevedo and design by Toshiaki Ide and Hisa Ide, featuring dancer Eliana Carneiro, in a collaboration work by the International Brazilian Opera (IBOC) and IF Studio LLC, have won multiple prizes in the Graphis Inc. International Competition, including double Platinum in the Poster and Design categories.
* ^ "THE SEVENTH SEAL".
British Board of Film Classification .
Retrieved 29 June 2013.
* ^ Bragg 1998 , p. 49.
* ^ Laurence Raw (2009). The Ridley Scott Encyclopedia. The Rowman
& Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc. p. 284.
* ^ Mary M. Litch (2010). Philosophy Through Film. Routledge. p.
Melvyn Bragg (1998).
The Seventh Seal
* Bergman, Ingmar (1960). The Seventh Seal. Touchstone.
* Bragg, Melvyn (1998).
The Seventh Seal
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