The Seventh Seal (1957)

seventh seal poster 1957 movie
10 Overall Score
Story: 10/10
Acting: 10/10
Visuals: 10/10

Amazing visuals, strong story, great acting

Might be intimidating for some

Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Seventh Seal

Studio:  AB Svensk Filmindustri

Genre(s):  Drama

Release Date(s):  February 16, 1957

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

seventh seal death beach bengt ekerot

I’m Death…and I’m fabulous!!!

Antonius Block (Max Von Sydow) and his squire Jons (Gunnar Bjornstrand) returns home after the Crusades and find the land destroyed by the Black Plague.  When he is faced by Death (Bengt Ekerot), Block begins a game of chess with him.  Block and Jons travel the land, meeting the people trying to survive, Block continues his game as he questions his own faith…Death is reality, but is God?  Nothing escapes Death, but Block is playing a game that he intends to win.

Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet) is a Swedish allegorical historic drama.  Following Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night in 1955, the film is an adaptation of Bergman’s play Trämålning (Wood Painting).  The movie was initially met with mixed reviews but now is considered one of Bergman’s greatest works and one of the best films ever made.

The first time I saw The Seventh Seal, I was seeing it out of duty.  I had never seen a Bergman film, and the Bergman legacy was rather intimidating.  Bergman represented the European film that was often non-linear, hard to follow, and steeped in artistry.  While The Seventh Seal has some of these traits, I was surprised that it was a rather linear story that can be enjoyed on its own, but also laced with symbolism and dialogue that permits multiple viewings and interpretations.

seventh seal knight vs death chess game max von sydow bengt ekerot

Would you like to play a game?

The film is a lot about faith, lack of faith, and doubt.  Death looms over the countryside.  The squire and the knight have returned from the Crusades which didn’t really garner anything and now are faced with the plague.  The knight is finding himself in a crisis of faith and though he knows Death is real, he isn’t sure about God.  Despite his doubts and his realization that you can’t beat Death, Block finds some hope in the escape of the performers Mia and Jof and their child (and incidentally, Jof is a believer because he has seen evidence of God and of Death in his visions…proving belief isn’t necessarily a lost cause).

The cast is stellar.  Max Von Sydow plays the sullen knight that goes through a lot of emotions on his path.  He was only twenty-seven at the time and played a much older character.  Gunnar Bjornstrand plays his even more jaded squire while the fun and mismatched Bibi Andersson and Nils Poppe provide the only sense of hope in the movie.  The scene stealer of course is Death himself played by Bengt Ekerot.  While Bengt Ekerot is creepy and scary, he also seems to have a wry sense of humor in the film that helps the idea that Death might not always be in the wrong…life can be funny.

seventh seal ending dance of death

Death knows how to throw a party!

Visually the movie is stunning.  Generally that can be said about most of Bergman’s movies, but this movie in particular really creates powerful imagery.  From Death’s first appearance on the beach to his game of chess with the night, the images from The Seventh Seal have been used in countless movies and mediums since its release (Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey spent most of the movie as a mock-up of The Seventh Seal and challenging Death to games).  For his part, Bergman credited a lot of Akira Kurosawa’s visionary imagery for his basis for the film.

The Seventh Seal is a must.  Even if you think Bergman and classic Euro film is intimidating, you have to give it a try.  It is a great film that can just be appreciated for the basic story or the visuals, but also enjoyed on multiple levels if you try to dive deeper into the story and what Bergman is exploring.  Bergman followed The Seventh Seal with Wild Strawberries in 1957 which many also argue could be Bergman’s best film…it was a powerful year for Bergman.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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