The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman, 1957, Sweden)

The height of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic seemed like an ideal time to rewatch Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, his iconic masterpiece of existential dread. It is one of those rare films that yields more with every viewing, like the greatest of novels. It is also a film that seems to become relevant each year as well. Viewers in the 1950s viewed the film through the lens of the prospect of nuclear annihilation, while viewers in 2020 will likely see the film through our current pandemic (albeit a pandemic much milder than the black death).
One thing that struck me about The Seventh Seal upon this latest watch is the humor in the film. Bergman often has a deserved reputation for being a serious and grim filmmaker, but I found myself repeatedly laughing throughout The Seventh Seal. Gunnar Bjornstrand as Jons, the squire, brings much of the film’s dark humor. His interaction with the cuckolded blacksmith Plog is fantastic. The subplot with the blacksmith’s wife Lisa running off with the actor Skat provides a great deal of humor to counterbalance the film’s darkness.
The film is one of the greatest examinations of how humans grapple with the question of death. Bergman’s script is remarkable in that his various characters are philosophical representations, while at the same time fleshed out characters. From Max von Sydow as Antonius Block, seeking refuge in faith but finding no answer from God, to Jons’ existentialist defiance in the face of death, each character in the film represents a particular response to the ultimate end we all face.
Criterion should be lauded for their Blu-ray edition of the film, which has an incredibly pristine transfer. Gunnar Fischer’s cinematography looks as fresh now as it did in 1957. Likewise, Erik Nordgren’s Carmina Burana-inspired score is clear and powerful. The Seventh Seal deserves its status as a cinematic masterpiece.



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