the-seventh-seal-film-deep-focus

“The Seventh Seal” - Film Deep Focus

Story posted November 3, 2022 in Arts & Entertainment by Matthew Peters.

“And when he had opened the Seventh Seal, there was silence in heaven for half an hour. And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets.”

The 1957 Swedish Film, “The Seventh Seal,” opens with this verse from the Book of Revelations, the final book of the New Testament. Set in Middle Ages Sweden, director Ingmar Bergman grimly portrays the dark realities of life through a tale of soldiers returning from the Crusades.

Knight Antonius Block (Max Von Sydow) and Squire Jöns (Gunnar Björnstrand) return from battle only to find their village overtaken by the Black Plague. Block is visited by the Angel of Death (Bengt Ekerot) on the morning of his return. Death tells him that his time is up, but Block, in his persistent nature, doesn’t give up. Instead of accepting his fate, he challenges Death to a game of chess to try and win the right to remain on earth. This game takes place in fragments throughout the film, interspersed between scenes of happiness and anguish.

There is also a group of actors; Mia (Bibi Andersson), Jof (Nils Poppe), and Jonas (Erik Strandmark). Mia and Jof are married, and they have a son together whom they bring on their acting journeys. They share a supper with Block and his squire, and Block recounts a moment from the past when he felt true happiness. This moment of resolve allows Block to prepare for what comes.

In the Book of Revelations, the Seventh Seal marks the calm before the storm.There is “silence in heaven” preceding the highly-anticipated “judgment day.” This day symbolizes the time when God assesses a person’s behavior on Earth. This grand moment allows Block to reflect on his life and discover the most meaningful aspects of life on Earth.

Jöns is a complex character who helps Block see the world as a realist. The harsh yet truthful insight from the squire can be attributed to Bergman’s writing and directing skills through his thought-provoking films. In addition, Jöns makes an important statement about love and its role in life. “If everything is imperfect in this imperfect world, love is most perfect in its perfect imperfection.”

During the era in which the movie takes place, the Black Plague had Europe in shambles and took hundreds of millions of lives. Surrounded by death, Block struggles with the concept of mortality and, what he feels to be, his one-sided relationship with God. There is a strong connection between Block’s moral qualms and his curiosity about the afterlife.

Throughout his chess match with Death, Block’s acceptance of autonomy increases as he strays further from his faith. There is a beautiful moment at the end of the film where Block asks Death to give him the answer to the question that has tormented him throughout the entire film. What is the meaning of life?

Death responds simply by saying, “I have no secrets,” with a chilling closeup of the face of Death. Once Block realizes he will die, for judgment day is quickly approaching, he takes the opportunity to complete one last good deed. He stalls the chess match just long enough for Mia, Jof, and their son to escape the clutches of Death. Unfortunately, Block loses on his next turn.

Block is finally at peace with his decisions and accepts the fate that every human before him was forced to accept; the harsh reality of death. The viewer is not privy to the fate of Knight Antonius Block; however, the film ends with another Biblical reference in a scene of Death leading Block and his friends into the Dance of Death. In a suitable ending, the last words uttered in the film are also Jesus’ last words on the cross; “it is finished.”


Rating: 5/5

Matthew Peters is a first-year majoring in Journalism. To contact him, email mbp5830@psu.edu.