Author Topic: The Seventh Seal  (Read 1721 times)


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The Seventh Seal
« on: July 02, 2005, 11:29:05 PM »
One of my top 5 movies of all time. This is the reason film-making exists. No special effects, no big name actors. It's all black and white, and it's one of the best movies you'll ever see..Definatly worth finding out and absorbing..

The Seventh Seal is maybe one of Bergman's most famous movies. Surely not his best movie, but yet, more than 40 years later its charm is still so perceptible. From the very first shots of the sea surrounded by high and dizzy rocks to the appearance, a few minutes later, of Death on the beach. The knight Antonius Block, just returned from a holy crusade, persuades Death to spare his life and to start a chess match; at stake, is the knight's life.
"It was a delicate and dangerous artistic move, which could have failed. - Bergman says - Suddenly, an actor appears in the whiteface, dressed all in black, and announces that he is Death. Everyone accepted the dramatic feat that he was Death, instead of saying "Come on now, don't try to put something over on us! You can't fool us! We can see that you are just a talented actor who is painted white and clad in black! You're not Death at all!". But nobody protested. That made me feel triumphant and joyous."
"I was teaching theatre school in Malmoe. There were some youngsters there, 8 or 9 of them, and i was looking for a play to put on, for that's the best way of teaching. I couldn't find anything, so i took into my head to write something myself.
It was called A Painting on Wood. It is a pure training play, and consists of a number of monologues. All except for one part. One pupil was being trained for the musical comedy section. He had a good singing voice and looked very handsome, but as soon as he opened his mouth it was a catastrophe. So i gave him a silent part. The Saracens had cut his tongue out. He was the Knight. I worked it up with my pupils and put it on. Then, if i remember aright, it suddenly struck me one day i ought to make a film of the play; so i started the script. My stomach had been in bad shape and i sat writing the film in Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm while it was being put to rights. I handed the script to Svensk Filmindustri and they said "No, thank you". But then came the success with Smiles of a Summer Night and i got permission to make it, providing i did it in 35 days."
"The fact that i, through dying, would no longer exist, that i would walk through the dark portal, that there was something that i could not control, arrange or foresee, was for me a source of constant horror. That i plucked up my courage and depicted Death as a white clown, a figure who conversed, played chess, and had no secrets, was the first step in my struggle against my monumental fear of death."
And, further: "Bengt Ekerot (who plays Death) and i agreed that Death should have the features of a white clown. An amalgamation of a clown mask and a skull".
Bergman actually uses the figure of Death to think over human existence, and on religious belief. The knight Antonius Block carries within those doubts and those desires for knowledge and certainty held by the director himself; the Knight is a very discouraged person, living on the edge between atheism and faith, who has just returned from a holy crusade and who has lost, paradoxically, his faith in the same God he fought for. The character's drama (and possibly of Bergman himself) stands in his deep inner conflict. He does not try to achieve his faith, he only wants to know if God exists or not; likely, for only being sure of God's existence he could forget God, deny God and kill the God within himself. His inner anguish produced by his doubts is so intense that it can be even said that Antonius is not properly looking for the knowledge to explore his faith, but mostly to resolve his inner conflict and therefore achieve a peaceful state.
Not by chance, Bergman himself admits that the movie "it's about the fear of death. It freed me from my own fear of death".
The theme is developed in the long dialogue - confession between Antonius and Death (disguised as a monk), that stands as the most intense part of the movie:
NOTE: the dialogues have been taken from the Italian screenplays, and translated back to english by myself. They therefore can be different from the original english screenplays. If you do have the correct english screenplays, please contact me.

Antonius Block (the knight) - i want to talk to you as sincerely as i can, but my heart is empty.
Death does not answer.
AB - The emptiness is like a mirror in front of my face. I can see myself in it, and i feel filled with fear and disgust.
Death does not answer.
AB - Because of my indifference to the other human beings, i got isolated. Now i live in a world of ghosts. I am trapped in my dreams and in my fantasies.
DEATH - And yet you do not want to die.
AB - Yes i do.
DEATH - And what are you waiting for?
AB - I want to know.
DEATH - Are you looking for certainties?
AB - Just call them as you want. Is it really so inconceivable to feel God with our senses? Why must he hide in a fog of half - promises and invisible miracles?
Death does not answer.
AB - How can we believe in those who have faith, if we can't believe in ourselves? What will happen to those of us who want to believe and who can't? And what will happen to those who neither want nor can believe?
The knight silently awaits for an answer, but no-one speaks. There is a full silence.
AB - Why can't i kill the God within me? Why does he keep on living in this painful and humiliating world, even though i curse him and i want to tear him with my hands off my heart? Why, in spite of all, he is an illusory reality that i can't shake off myself? Are you listening to me?
DEATH - I am.
AB - I want knowledge, not faith, not suppositions, the knowledge. I want God to stretch his hands to me, to reveal himself and talk to me.
DEATH - But he is silent.
AB - I call him in the dark, but it looks like no-one is there.
DEATH - Maybe there's no-one.
AB - Then, life is an atrocious horror. Nobody can live waiting to die and knowing that everything is nothing.
DEATH - Most people never think over death or life's futility.
AB - But one day their time will come, and they will face the darkness.
DEATH - When that day comes..
AB - Within our fears, we made up an image, and we call this image God.

Antonius reaches the conclusion that God does not exist, God is only fear of death, God is a concept made up by the human beings to mitigate and push the fear of death away.
Yet, in the last sequences of the movie, a dramatic change in Antonius' belief occurs. Death has won the chess game and, in the last seconds of his life, Antonius begs for God's mercy. "God, you who are somewhere, who MUST be somewhere, have mercy on us" the knight cries in tears. Like in every of his movies, Bergman simply shows us his own doubts, leaving us without certainties. Maybe the knight's fear facing the incoming death is so violent that makes him cling to his own doubts? Thus, it is implicitly stated once again that God is only fear of Death.
"The Seventh Seal is definitely one of my last films to manifest my conceptions of faith, conceptions that i had inherited from my father and carried along with me from childhood. When i made The Seventh Seal, both prayers and invocations to something or someone were central realities in my life; to offer up a prayer was a completely natural act. In Through a Glass Darkly, my childhood inheritance is put to rest. I maintained that every conception of a divine god created by human beings must be a monster, a monster with two faces or, as Karin puts it, the spider-god.
Bergman's reflections about God's existence-absence will continue in his further works: Through a Glass Darkly, The Silence and, most of all, Winter Light.
"The Seventh Seal is one of the few films really close to my heart. Actually, don't know why. It's certainly far from being perfect. I had to contend with all sort of madness, and one can detect here and there the speed with which was made. But i find it even, strong, and vital. Furthermore, in this film i passionately cultivated my theme to the fullest. Since at that time i was still very much in quandary over religious faith, i placed my two opposing beliefs side by side, allowing each to state its case in its own way.
The film ends with the famous scene of Death dancing off on the horizon, holding by the hand the knight and his fellows.
"The final scene when Death dances off with the travellers was shot at Hovs Hallar. We have packed up for the day because of an approaching storm. Suddenly, i caught sight of a strange cloud.
Gunnar Fischer (director of photography) hastily set the camera back into place. Several of the actors had already returned to where we were staying, so a few grips and a couple of tourists danced in their place, having no idea what it was all about. The image that later became famous of the Dance of Death beneath the dark cloud was improvised in only a few minutes."
A new doubt then arises; that Death is taking those people to that world just denied?