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The Seventh Seal (1957)

J.A.A. Purves

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Links to Bergman's "Faith Trilogy" (not including The Seventh Seal) - Where should I start my Bergman-ucation? - Bergman fest - Ingmar Bergman 1918-2007

Well ... nothing like finally getting around to one of the most famous Top 100 list films that I haven't seen yet, finishing it, and excitedly going to find the discussion thread that hopefully has been going on since at least 2003 and finding and remembering that there isn't one. No thread - zilch, nada, nothing. Well, alright, not nothing, looks like we have a bunch of disorganized comments and thoughts scattered throughout a whole number of threads. Here's my attempt to gathering them together in at least one place for starters. So I ended up doing this instead of writing down my thoughts - I'll get to those a little later.


Caught my first Bergman film yesterday (The Seventh Seal) Anyone know any good online articles to help me appreciate it more (or even anyone want to post some stuff?)

And looks like no one ever answered Matt.


Without having seen The Silence, I can say that the silence of God is definitely the theme of The Seventh Seal (which should perhaps be considered the honorary fourth film of the "Faith Trilogy"?). The title The Seventh Seal is an allusion to Revelation 8:1: "When he broke open the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour." And of course the film is all about Antonius Block thrashing about in the darkness in which God seems not to be found: "I cry out to him in the dark, but sometimes it seems as if there is no one there."

Incidentally, I noted some comparisons and contrasts between The Seventh Seal and Andrei Rublev in my long-contemplated, long-deferred review of that film, just published within the last day or so. It's one of the most daunting things I've ever tried to write.

SDG's review is worth reading.


I started with Fanny and Alexander nine years ago, but I've only seen five of his films. After Cries and Whispers, the goal is to see as many of Bergman's films as I can, and to do so this year.

Wild Strawberries might be a good launching point for you, Dan, but I think that The Seventh Seal, while older and perhaps more noticeable for its lesser-than-great special effects, might still be a better place to jump in.

But really, the only way you could go wrong with Bergman is by not watching Bergman.

Add me to those recommending The Seventh Seal first -- and be ready for some light-hearted, comedic moments, before the gloom sets in later in the film -- and then The Virgin Spring, which will prepare you for Bergman's more expressionistic, later work ...

The Seventh Seal -- My first "what the . . . ?" moment with a foreign film. I watched it again, still didn't quite understand what was going on, but knew that I wanted to understand.

Heh heh. This was the first chink in the armor of my Dispensationalist upbringing. As the introduction unfolded, it occurred to me that if they thought they were in the Apocolypse during the Black Plague, what did that say for all of the hoopla about Last Days going on outside the lecture hall where I saw this film for the first time? It was 1975. The world had survived two previous years in which no one thought that the Middle East would survive the year.

Speaking about The Seventh Seal, as a Moslem, I still couldn't understand the ending, could someone give me explanations, pls,thx

Oddly enough, The Seventh Seal was my first Bergman film, and after seeing numerous others (Fanny and Alexander, Persona, Cries and Whispers, Wild Strawberries, etc) it is still my favorite--if for nothing else than for the sarcastic squire. I think the comedic elements in the Seventh Seal make it the most entertaining to watch.

Speaking about The Seventh Seal, as a Moslem, I still couldn't understand the ending, could someone give me explanations, pls,thx

I don't know that the end of that film had much to do with Christianity in the bibical sense. Bergman wasn't really a believer. spoilers1.gif To me, it meant that even the agent of Death doesn't know the answer to what is beyond the grave. All he can do is lead them to the gate, which is where they were dancing off to in the end. They will have to find out for themselves.

Either The Seventh Seal or Wild Strawberries are a great start, a lot of the themes which preoccupied him are there and there's a lightness of touch that wasn't always there later.I love Winter Light but would imagine it might be an offputting beginning if you weren't used to Bergman as the pace is slower and the mood exceedingly bleak even by his own standards. And I'm really glad to see people mentioning the humour in Seventh Seal, I've always reckoned there's some real slapstick moments eg my favourite, Death cutting down the tree with a circular saw ...

Leaving for a few days vacation, I picked up the July Sight & Sound to read on the trip. Having just heard about the passing of Ingmar Bergman, I was shocked to turn to page 7, the "title page" of their "Rushes" section, and find a full page black and white photo of Bergman and "Death" sitting in a forest, carrying on a conversation. The text accompanying the image is titled "Dead calm" and begins

"Pictured above is Ingmar Bergman with the actor Bengt Ekerot as "Death" during the filming of Bergman's most celebrated film THE SEVENTH SEAL (1957), which is re-released to UK cinemas on 20 July. As Bergman recalled in the book Images: My Life In Film: "Bengt Ekerot and I agreed that Death shold have the features of a white clown. An amalgamation of a clown mask and a skull. The knight performs his morning prayer. When he is ready to pack up his chess set, he turns around, and there stands Death. 'Who are you?' asks the knight. 'I am Death.' ..."

The issue would have been completed sometime in early June, I expect.


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... The Knight in The Seventh Seal seems like a Christ figure to me as does the murdered daughter in The Virgin Spring (though the latter might be more open to dispute.) There are also Christian aspects to the figure of The Magician in the Bergman film of the same name (resurrection, mockery followed by ultimate triumph, a connection with the numinous mocked by the Pharasaical figures of the well to do.)

Looking around for stuff about Rossellini's MESSIAH, came upon a real nice piece on the film at a website I'd not seen before, "Film As Art". He also includes write-ups on a number of other Jesus movies.

Love the site, I like his review on the Seventh Seal, he made some interesting points on the movie which I never read on any reviews.

... Second, I tend to live in my head to a greater-than-the-average-person degree. Thirdly, I've found much Christian fellowship to be disappointingly superficial, on a social, spiritual, and intellectual level (and this has sometimes been in spite of years of good faith efforts to charitably, givingly participate and elevate things - not as a church-hopping ingrate).

Communicating via an online discussion board certainly limits my spiritual diagnostic acumen, but it sounds like your soul-sickness is of God. I hope you'll seek Him out, to see what He's trying to teach you through this. Maybe it's time to alter your filmviewing habits (take 1 Seventh Seal or Koyanisqaatsi and call me in the morning, and limit your intake of Hollywood saccharine), or seek out a deeper Christian fellowship, whether in your congregation or elsewhere, or maybe as is often the case, to simply wait on God and see what He's got in store for you - or maybe none of the above.

I was recently thinking about something SDG wrote in his review of "The Seventh Seal". It was to the effect that Bergman unfairly stacks the deck in order to present faith and the church in the worst possible light. Well, that's kind of what I think the Coens are doing in "No Country For Old Men". They are shining their light on the power of chance and evil whilst hiding the power of God and good in shadow. They aren't beginning from a point of neutrality and throwing the balls into the air to see where they land, and they don't seem interested in warning us to wake up and fight back. Instead, they appear resigned to a godless world - Darwin's cold world where big fish eat little fish and the fittest always survive ...

The following is taken directly from Vilgot Sjöman's Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie (1963). Hearing Bergman on himself is so good, I felt I just had to share.

Bergman: ... In my earlier works I always left the issue open --

Sjöman: What issue?

Bergman: The existence of God. In The Virgin Spring, I let God answer in the form of a ballad, as the spring begins to flow. For me that was a timid way of closing in on the issue, and setting forth my own views on the reality of God. In Through a Glass Darkly, it is even more clearly visible. The gist of it, and the credo behind it, is that God is love and love is God. The proof of God is in the existence of love as something very concrete in the human world. And then you know, which is the eerie part, I've taken on this whole problem in Winter Light. To be forced to tear apart this whole idea of God, which is a search for security. Now I've tried to find one that is even broader -- a more distinct and clear idea of God ...

Sjöman: Sometimes you focus on religious themes in a series of movies, and then you make other kinds of movies. They seem to come in waves.

Bergman: Yes, they come in intervals.

Sjöman: Like with The Seventh Seal?

Bergman: I wrote my way out of my agony, this huge latent fear of death that I managed to purge. It's like the separation between the Knight and Jöns. The rationalist and the seeker. After that, the religious problem left me in peace for a long time.

Sjöman: So you managed to get rid of the fear of dying by writing about it?

Bergman: Either I did away with that fear through writing, or in the course of writing I discovered it was no longer so intrusive or threatening. The bottom line is it's gone.

Btw, right after this exchange it must be noted that Bergman kept three little initials written on the script as an "unusual secret" that he shared with Bach. The two artists both wrote the initials to the phrase, "To God Alone Be the Glory" on their works. The phrase comes from latin: "Soli Deo Gloria," -- or SDG.

Bergman said he felt that he, in some way, "Anonymously, objectively --" has "done this for the glory of God, and would like to give it to Him as it is."

I suspect that the whole obsession of our time with the monstrous in general - with the occult and the demonic, with exorcism and black magic and the great white shark - is at its heart only the shadow side of our longing for the beautific, and we are like the knight in Ingmar Bergman's film The Seventh Seal, who tells the young witch about to be burned at the stake that he wants to meet the devil her master, and when she asks him why, he says, "I want to ask him about God. He, if anyone, must know."

- Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth, pg. 86

That would have made for a lovely epigraph for our horror film list.

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Awesome launch to the thread. A couple more links to kick things off: Persona (1966), Cries and Whispers (1972), Scenes from a Marriage (1973), Fanny & Alexander (1983).

Peter mentions an abundance of other Bergman related threads Here.

It has been years since I've seen The Seventh Seal. For that matter, outside of the Faith Trilogy, Cries and Whispers and The Virgin Spring, it's been years since I've seen Persona, Shame, Fanny and Alexander... It sure would be awesome to take a month or two and revisit many of these great works, and track down the many I have yet to see.

Last fall I did attempt Hour of the Wolf quite a few times, and fell asleep quite a few times.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Last fall I did attempt Hour of the Wolf quite a few times, and fell asleep quite a few times.

Yeah, that happens. I think I might have struggled with the same film, but honestly, I've lost track of which Bergmans I've seen and which I haven't. I do remember struggling twice to get through Fanny and Alexander -- a film I expected to love. I still don't know why I couldn't get through that one.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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  • 2 months later...
  • 3 years later...
Ingmar Bergman, Images: My Life in Film, 1994, pgs. 235-236:

... The Seventh Seal is one of the few films really close to my heart. Actually, I don’t know why. It’s certainly far from perfect. I had to contend with all sorts of madness, and one can detect here and there the speed with which it was made. But I find it even, strong, and vital. Furthermore, in this film I passionately cultivated my theme to the fullest.  Since at the time I was still very much in a quandary over religious faith, I placed my two opposing beliefs side by side, allowing each to state its case in its own way. In this manner, a virtual cease-fire could exist between my childhood piety and my newfound harsh rationalism. Thus, there are no neurotic complications between the knight and his vassals.  Also, I infused the characters of Jof and Mia with something that was very important to me: the concept of the holiness of the human being. If you peel off the layers of various theologies, the holy always remains ...

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Jeremy, your posts from Images are bringing that book back to me. I remember reading it; I just don't remember when. In college, I think, or shortly thereafter, when I did my deep dive into Bergman. 

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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  • 4 years later...

Finally caught this after all these years.  Of all reasons, I was prompted to pursue this after my pastor used the film as a sermon illustration.  As it turns out, while his illustration was well received, it was also only tangentially tied to Bergman’s film. 

He related the film as ending with Death putting the knight in checkmate.  Then, the curtain drops. The illustration goes that young Bobby Fischer is in the audience and cries out to his companion, “wait a minute—that’s not checkmate, the king has one more move!” A fine illustration for a sermon—when death cries victory, the King still has one more move remaining.

You can find versions of this story attributed to various preachers over time.  There are a couple of problems, immediately obvious to anyone who has seen the film.  One, there’s no checkmate scene (Death puts the knight into Check, and tells him “mate in one move”), and two, the film doesn’t end with the chess match.  

If you think about it, the story is great but not feasible.  The details are that Bergman places the board in such a way that only an expert chess player can tell that it is not really in checkmate, and while the common viewer would just accept the proclamation of death, the filmmaker wanted to hide the true statement that death was wrong, and the chess player has the opportunity to beat death.  The further story of young Bobby Fischer calling it out so that it can be used in a sermon illustration is too goo to be true.  And of course, the film ends with the knight and his companions led away in the danse macabre, so the one move was not apparently enough!

But there’s perhaps an even more powerful illustration available, one true to the events of the film and accessible to the common Christian.  The final scene of chess begins with the knight accidentally losing his queen.  I didn’t see that, he says.  Death placates him with a bit of condescension.  While he does so, the young family escapes as Death is distracted.  Apparently this knight was not completely honest with Death—I think the knight, understanding now his role, sacrifices himself and his party so that the innocents can escape their doom.  The illustration is not that of the King having one more move, it is that of the self-sacrifice of the true martyr giving up his life for the rescue of others.  He wanted to see God; through his intentional loss of his queen, he became Gods agent of grace for the family of actors.  The move is not a game of chess, bound by the rules of the game; the move is the counterintuitive nature of giving up all to gain all.

anyway, that’s my $0.02.




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