The Seventh Seal
Written and Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Starring Max von Sydow and Bengt Ekerot
Available to stream on HuluPlus
Ingmar Bergman is an enigma to me because his films are so fearless, and yet his fear is so apparent in them. He does not doubt his stories, and yet his mind is so clearly filled with doubt.
The Seventh Seal is first in Bergman’s Trilogy of Faith, in which he uses his characters to play out his fear and doubt. To me, it is the most powerful of the trio because in it I see the same creeping questions that have haunted me so many nights. Does God exist? Where is He in the nastiness we see on this planet? Why doesn’t He answer me? For a person of faith to not ask these questions would be inhuman, robotic.
The internal doubt in this film is externalized by a periodic chess match between the main character, a Crusader, and Death himself. The background is medieval Europe, at a time when the Plague was rampant. For me, this makes the questions all the more desperate, all the more urgent. When death is spreading through the streets, everything changes. Nothing is certain and even the most pious man is faced with the nightmare of mortality.
This film reminds me of my own mortality, but also of the beauty of life. The storyline follows not only the knight, but a band of traveling actors. Two of the actors are lovers with a young child. They enjoy the simple things and we see true happiness in them. It may not be what Bergman intended, but that’s what I get from this film. Though death be a mystery, it matters little. Life and love are here, now. It reminds me of a Buddhist parable with which I will close my thoughts:
A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.
Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!