Bergmania #1: The Seventh Seal (1957)

Det sjunde inseglet / The Seventh Seal

My first “profound” Bergman – the prior three I’d seen were dialogue oriented and pretty straightforward. In this film, Bergman dissects the mentality of man and cross-examines religion and the misguided truths it seeks. The story starts off with Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) a Knight back from the crusades – it is the 17th century and the Black Plague is roaring. He walks along the shores of the sea and sees Death. Before being summoned to the grave, he entices Death with a game of chess and throughout the course of the movie they play. It isn’t a very long game of chess with a lot of dialogue, but Death pops up every once and awhile and they move some more pieces while chatting about existence and some timely, but timeless subjects. The story also follows a married couple in Joseph (an actor) and Mary (a direct reference to the Bible) who are a quiet couple for the most part. Joseph sees Christian figures every so often, but is called disillusion. In a kind of ironic spin, the film shows the patronizing view that most people had for actors – in one scene, a few drunkards who dislike Joseph make him dance like a bear until he’s completely exhausted. But perhaps in a more direct irony, just prior to that scene, a crowd is cackling at the group of performers on stage just before a group of flagellants come by. Bergman makes these men and women out to be much more absurd and overblown than the ‘ridiculous’ actors.

Most of these characters are just symbols for humanity – Joseph, the kind gent kills a fly at the beginning without haste – as if he were God and the fly was the world at the knees of disease. As the film gets deeper as do the symbols – there are direct references to creationism with men acting like apes and of course more God/Devil talk when Antonious is witness to the burning of a woman who claims to be in cahoots with the Devil himself. Through and through, his hopes are dashed at a formidable God in his life and it takes a complete toll on him. In one scene, he breaks down claiming how he wishes there were a God to make his life much more simplistic, but he just cannot believe. In a tragic and slightly uplifting conclusion concerning the fates of some of the characters, “The Dance of Death” is a haunting and very grim look at Death claiming some of his victims. This film is a huge middle finger to the big fella if he does exist! [9/10]