Strawberries and milk? Weird combo, but ok.
What’s It About?
Antonius Block is a knight who’s become wary of the notion of God and faith. One day, Death, played by Bengt Ekerot, comes knock-knock-knockin’ at Antonius’ door. In an effort to postpone his sentence, Antonius challenges Death to a chess match. Along the way, Block and his squire Jons encounter Jof, Mia, a mute, a blacksmith and his wife as they trek through Medieval Europe in the midst of the bubonic plague. If that sounds existentially dreadful to you, don’t worry guys, it absolutely is! That isn’t to say that it’s bleak all the way through, and there are moments that bring much needed levity and optimism to a film that can be quite philosophically stacked.
Who’s In It?
Max von Sydow, who you might know from The Exorcist, Game of Thrones, and his most iconic role, Rush Hour 3, plays Antonius Block, a Knight who represents the uncertainty of whether God exists or not. “I want God to stretch out his hand, uncover his face and speak to me” says Antonius as he confesses his doubts to Death. Years of fighting in the Crusades has exhausted the poor man and he looks for some sort of redemption before Death comes to take him away. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Gunnar Björnstrand as Jöns, Antonius’ squire who doesn’t believe in God or Satan and tries to reason with Antonius that there is nothing after death. “Emptiness in the moonlight” says Jöns to Antonius as they watch a supposed witch being burned alive for coming in contact with Satan himself. The look of terror in her eyes seems to confirm what Jons knew and what Antonius feared: that there is nothing after death…or does it?
Nils Poppe and Bibi Andersson play Jof and Mia, a married couple who work as traveling actors and entertainers. The Seventh Seal brightens up everytime they appear onscreen and their purity and outlook on life even manages to make Antonius forget about his existential dilemma for a brief moment. The strawberries and milk sequence is such a banger because it’s the one time where the film slows down to give the characters a moment of peace. The dialogue between Jof, Mia, and Antonius is poetic and it works in presenting another viewpoint that’s different from the nihilistic tone that’s been present thus far. Even with the threat of the plague and death looming over the film, Jof and Mia are the two people to handle the terror with tranquility. In the end, death comes for us all, but to be able to love is what makes life worth living.
Is It Good?
There’s a reason The Seventh Seal still remains one of the greatest films of all time. The Seventh Seal is an artistic look into the existential questions of faith, death, and what makes life worth living. There are stacks on stacks on stacks of symbolism and allegory that even flew over my head, but director Ingmar Bergman’s use of dialogue and cinematography are more than enough to help get the message across. The Seventh Seal was a daunting task for me considering this was my first Bergman film, but after a rewatch and a bit of reading, I was able to get a better sense of what the film was trying to achieve. For as bleak and nihilistic as The Seventh Seal is, there is a sense of hope that accompanies it. Does God exist or does He not? Who cares? In the end, it’s how we live now that makes life fulfilling.