Sunday, February 3, 2008

STA Movie Review - The Seventh Seal

The Seventh Seal is an award-winning 1957 Swedish film by director Ingmar Bergman. I got a chance to watch it over the weekend while my internet connection was out, and I really enjoined the experience.

Silence in Heaven
The movie revolves around a knight and his squire returning from the Crusades to medieval Europe. The plague is in full effect, and the film makes wonderful use of a personified Death coming for the knight. The knight wishes to buy some time, so he challenges Death to a game of chess. The title of the film comes from Revelation 8:1 "And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour".

The game allows the knight to continue to travel to his castle home and to his wife, whom he left for the Holy Lands ten years ago. It is obvious in his dialog that the knights faith has been tried and he is beginning to falter. In one scene, the knight makes confession about doubting the existence of God. He also mentions the game with Death, and reveals his strategy to beat him, only to be horrified when he discovers that he had been talking to Death all along.

As the knight and his squire (a cynic who treats death as a bitter and hopeless joke) venture toward the castle, they meet a party of traveling actors. The actors symbolically represent the Holy family, and contrast with the atheistic and cynical squire and knight.

Medieval Masterpiece
By the end of the film, just as the knight reaches his castle, Death comes for them all. While the knight and his followers are led away over the hills in a medieval dance of death, the young family live to continue their journey.

The film depicts several themes and events common to the medieval setting, including a group of flagellants, who try to gain mercy from God by whipping themselves, and a witch-burning.

In one powerful scene, a witch is being burned for having caused the plague. The squire asks the knight to look into the young girl's eyes and say if he sees "God" or a void. Despite his growing doubts, the knight refuses to acknowledge the vacancy of a heavenly, loving father, wishing rather to hold onto belief and doubt than to recognize life without meaning.

Through the use of the knight, the squire, and his depiction of the clergymen, who profit from the atmosphere of terror engendered by the plague, Bergman revealed his own character while creating an arguable masterpiece. The black-and-white film shows the director's suburb command of composition, lighting, and direction. At least, it is critically acclaimed to. I don't know that much about composition or film making, but I nevertheless loved the movie.


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