Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Seventh Seal (1957)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Seventh Seal (1957, Swe.) (aka Det Sjunde Inseglet)

In Swedish director Ingmar Bergman's influential, visually-imaginative, psychological fantasy-drama and art-house film (considered a classic landmark and film masterpiece) set in medieval times during the time of the Black Plague and the Crusades; the striking images throughout the film were due to the exquisite B/W cinematography of Gunnar Fischer; the existential, thought-provoking film questioned serious religious issues concerning the existence of God, the afterlife, Death, and the loss of faith. The film's title was derived from the Biblical Book of Revelation (chapter 8, verse 1).

[Note: Many were aware that the film's stark imagery and basic plot became the subject of numerous comical spoof-parodies including Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975, UK) (the flagellation sequence, the witch burning scene, and the mock-Swedish subtitles), Woody Allen's Love and Death (1975), and Last Action Hero (1993). Also, in Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (1991), Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) challenged the Grim Reaper/Death (William Sadler) to a series of board and party games, including Battleship, Clue, electric football and Twister.]

Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (1991)

Grim Reaper/Death (William Sadler)

Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves)
  • during the Crusades and its time of medieval war, the Black Plague and misery, disillusioned and exhausted 14th century Swedish knight Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) after ten years of military service was finally returning home accompanied by his cynical squire Jöns (Gunnar Björnstrand)
  • on their journey, the Knight and Squire made a side visit to a rural church, where painter Albertus Pictor (Gunnar Olsson) was drawing a series of frescos, including a painting of a fresco of the Danse Macabre (a dance of Death to the grave)
  • the Knight engaged in grim dialogue with a black-hooded and robed, white-faced Grim-Reaper figure of Death (Bengt Ekerot) who threatened his existence; the Knight had a lengthy confessional in the church's chapel to a shrouded monk - when he delivered his deepest thoughts about wanting a sign from God of his presence, in order to help his belief
  • the Knight, who had mostly lost his faith and was now tormented and uncertain, bargained with Death - an emissary from God - to play an allegorical game of Chess that would determine his fate - he would either win (and survive) or lose (and forfeit his life). If the game was lost, the Knight would be led away in a Dance of Death procession (danse macabre); in a continuing stark scene set on a desolate beach, a chess game was played between them
  • the Knight's dialogue: "I want to confess as best I can, but my heart is void. The void is a mirror turned towards my own face. I see myself in it and I am filled with fear and disgust. Through my indifference to my fellow men, I have isolated myself from their company. Now I live in a world of phantoms. I am imprisoned in my dreams and fantasies....(before dying) I want knowledge... Call it whatever you like. 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? How can we have faith in those who believe when we can't have faith in ourselves? What is going to happen to those of us who want to believe, but aren't able to? And what is to become of those who neither want to nor are capable of believing? Why can't I kill God within me? Why does He live on in this painful and humiliating way even though I curse Him and want to tear Him out of my heart? Why, in spite of everything, is He a baffling reality that I can't shake off? Do you hear me?...I want knowledge, not faith, not surmises, but knowledge. I want God to stretch out His hand towards me, reveal Himself and speak to me....I call out to Him in the dark, but it's as if no one was there....time on Earth is a preposterous horror. No one can live in the face of Death, knowing that all is nothingness...But one day, they will have to stand at that last moment of life and look towards the darkness...We must make an idol of our fear, and that idol we shall call God"
  • during the confessional, the Knight divulged his chess strategy to outwit and delay Death during the game, in order to discover 'one meaningful deed' in his life: "Death visited me this morning. We are playing chess together....My life has been a futile pursuit, a wandering, a great deal of talk. All this was meaningless, indeed. I say it without bitterness or self-reproach, because the lives of most people are very much like this. But I will use my reprieve for one meaningful deed....(Death) is a skillful tactician, but I yet haven't lost one piece. I am playing a combination of the bishop and the knight which he hasn't yet discovered. In the next move, I'll shatter one of his flanks"
  • meanwhile, the Knight encountered an itinerant acting troupe performing a Passion play. The caravan actors included lute-playing juggler and artist Jof (Nils Poppe) with his Mia (Bibi Andersson) and their infant son Mikael (Tommy Karlsson). Their names resembled the names of the Joseph and Mary couple. Early one morning, Jof had a vision of the Holy Virgin Mary walking with the infant Jesus in a nearby field

Jof Experiencing a Vision in a Nearby Field

The Virgin Mary with the Infant Jesus
  • Jof's simple faith enabled him to envision the existence of a human afterlife with a heaven and hell, while the Knight's visions were frustrating, elusive and not reassuring about a spiritual world after death; by way of contrast, the philosophizing and skeptical Knight felt tormented by an unseen God whom he thought was mocking him and remained hidden and vague; for him, life was meaningless and to be dreaded if there was no hope for life after death; however, in moments with Jof and Mia, the Knight became hopeful and enjoyed being alive
  • the Knight found brief relief and peace sharing fellowship during an outdoor picnic meal with the couple who were enjoying natural foods - wild strawberries and a bowl of milk. The dining sequence functioned as a symbolic, liturgical ceremony of the Eucharistic with bread and wine without supernatural overtones; Antonius offered the actors safe passage through a forested area to his castle

Sharing a Family Meal of Wild Strawberries and a Bowl of Milk

The Insane Witch Burned at a Stake
  • Antonius' only witnessing of organized religion was to observe a procession of flagellants and the burning at the stake of a Witch (Maud Hansson) - an insane female accused of consorting with the Devil
  • as the film's chess game drew to a close, the Knight knocked the pieces over to buy more time, and to allow the young family he had met to outrun Death (and the Black Plague); however, Death reset the chess board and stated emphatically: "No one escapes me"; Death would soon visit the Knight one last time
  • in the film's conclusion after reuniting with his wife Karin (Inga Landgré) and family during a final supper sequence, Death arrived to interrupt the Knight. He had just affirmed that he had forestalled Death long enough to be able to perform a single, final comforting and redemptive good-will act ("one meaningful deed") that provided some significant meaning in his life; the mute servant girl (Gunnel Lindblom) turned from the table to greet the figure of Death in the shadows with a Biblical reference to Jesus' final statement on the cross: "It is finished"
  • in the final sequence, Jof (with another paranormal experience) watched as the Knight and his companions were led away over the hillside in a wild, solemn and macabre Dance of Death

Knight Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) on Beach Returning From Crusades

Block with Squire Jöns (Gunnar Björnstrand)

The Continual Allegorical Chess Game Between the Knight and Death

Discussions Between the Knight and the Shrouded Grim Reaper/Death Figure

Performers Jof and Mia

The Knight's Last Supper With His Family

The Mute Servant Girl: "It is Finished"

The Concluding Image: A Macabre Danse of Death Taking the Knight Away


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