Bergman’s The Seventh Seal & Death

Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007) Source: People.com

To commemorate the birthday of master filmmaker Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007), who was more like a master playwright and stage director who happened to make pictures in my opinion, here are a few glimpses from one of his masterpieces that fail to leave my memory. Det Sjunde Inseglet or The Seventh Seal (1967).

If you study the history of cinema, and of art for that matter, you will find a great obsession with Death. From Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex to Shakespeare’s Hamlet and from Satyajit Ray’s The Apu Trilogy (1955-1959) to James L. Brook’s Terms of Endearment (1983). And why not? Death fascinates us. We are obsessed with Death. Or maybe it is incorrect to call it an obsession. Maybe it is the only thing to talk about after all.

It is only fitting to talk about that with reference to The Seventh Seal.

With the brilliant performances of his remarkable players Max von Sydow, Gunnar Björnstrand, Nils PoppeBengt Ekerot and Bibi Andersson, who I admire greatly from her part in Persona (1966), Bergman creates a masterpiece on the cinema screen to portray what probably no one else would be able to equal in the years to come.

If you have not watched The Seventh Seal, I highly recommend you should watch it before proceeding to read the post any further. But if you choose to do so anyway, then what you are about to watch are some of the most iconic images and symbolism in the history of cinema (such as the analogy of life and death with the white and black pieces of chess).

There is one scene in the film that clearly suggests what it is about than the rest of it and it also encompasses the struggle that the protagonist is going through, reflective of the brilliant writing of Ingmar Bergman, as seen in many of his other pictures such as Nattvardsgästerna or Winter Light (1963)

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He makes the audience realize, if not make them feel, how it would be like to be dying, and to encounter the horrors of death while you still have not succumbed to its force.

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One of the most iconic images in cinema history (Source: filmist.tumblr.com)

The final scene of the film examines the duality and the inseparable nature of life and death, of joy (and pain), of hope (and despair), of faith (and doubt) and of redemption (and damnation). Josef, the itinerant actor, his wife and son symbolize life in this film more than any other characters. Jöns,  the Scribe, is the skeptic in the Knight Antonius Block, reminding him of his doubts and the hollowness, and perhaps futility, of his prayers.

Yet, there is one undeniable reality that remains. Something no one can doubt or deny, believer or skeptic.

Death.

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