The Seventh Seal (1957)

No one ever said Death was good looking.

No one ever said Death was good looking.

Who doesn’t love Ingmar Bergman? Who doesn’t want to watch a Swedish black-and-white film about a soldier’s existentialist journey home during the black plague? I do! I do!

Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) is a pretty serious guy. He’s returning home after 10 years fighting in the crusades. After surviving all those battles, he wakes up on the beach one day to find that death has come for him. He isn’t ready to die, though, so instead of quietly accepting his fate, he challenges death to a game of chess. Death blithely accepts.

In between chess moves, Antonius and his squire, Jöns, travel towards

The road home isn't so welcoming.

The road home isn’t so welcoming.

home. Their journey is rife with warnings of the deadly black plague. So many people are sick and dying, and everyone’s looking for someone to blame: perhaps it’s the young girl who consorts with the devil? Perhaps if we burn her, God will forgive us our sins? Perhaps if the flagellates roam around the countryside proselytizing and lashing themselves, the plague will relent?

Antonius isn’t buying any of it. He wants desperately to believe in God, but constantly struggles with his faith. After all, he’s just returned from fighting a war in God’s name only to come home and find his people dying.

Light in the darkness.

Light in the darkness.

But it’s not all doom and gloom: on his way home, he meets up with a delightful minstrel troupe. The husband and wife team travel the land with their year-old son and represent all that’s happy, bright and hopeful.

Holy smokes, I love this movie. It sounds terribly dark, doesn’t it? Well, it is, but not exclusively. Bergman manages plenty of humor throughout the thing, just as it should be. Life sucks without a little laughter, right? The darkness and proximity to death is balanced by the vibrance of the minstrels and reminds us that yeah, well, we’re all gonna die, but can’t we sit here and enjoy these fresh wildberries and milk first? Thanks.


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