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Grim, but not entirely hopeless
RWiggum24 January 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Middle Ages: Antonius Blok, a Swedish knight, returns from the Crusades only to find his country dying of the plague, religious fundamentalists taking over and Death himself wanting him to come along. Antonius challenges Death to a game of chess and is meanwhile driven to desperation because of the absence of God. This description sounds like a very serious, philosophical and dour film, and actually it is serious, philosophical and dour; but there is also a little warmth, hope and humor, maybe not for Antonius, but for the viewer.

When Blok and Death interrupt their game of chess (due to the plague, Death is very busy), he meets two actors, Jof and Mia, with their little son, the most human characters of the film, and I don't think it's a coincidence that there names sound very much like Joseph and Mary. These people may be a little dim, but they are good at heart and you can see the happiness in Antonius' eyes when he is together with them for the first time.

But the main aspect of Ingmar Bergman's arguably best film are Antonius Blok's grim encounters, as the young girl about to be burnt at the stake, as a scapegoat for the plague. And the haunting image of a huge crowd of flagellants interrupting a play of Jof and Mia and trying to convince the crowd thery are doomed; hardly any other film is that direct in asking controversial and essential questions about God, religion and mankind as The Seventh Seal.

Another reason for the impact this almost 50-year-old film has still today is the acting: Max von Sydow's face always seems to reflect what Antonius Blok is thinking, Nils Poppe's performance as the naive actor and caring father is priceless and Bengt Ekerot's Death became a part of film history and survived all its spoofs (the best one being in Woody Allen's tremendously funny "Love and Death"). But the best performance is done by Gunnar Björnstrand as Antonios Blok's misogynist squire, dryly commenting all their encounters even in the face of death.

The Seventh Seal is not subtle in raising it's questions, that's for sure. But it makes you think about these questions nevertheless. It's disturbing and grim most of the time, but at the end it gives you the hope that it might become better.
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A masterpiece
Howard Schumann26 May 2003
Warning: Spoilers
In the magnificent 1957 classic The Seventh Seal by Ingmar Bergman, Antonius Block (Max Von Sydow), a knight returning home from the Crusades with his squire Jöns (Gunnar Bjönstrand) meets Death (Benkt Ekerot) on a lonely beach and challenges him to a game of chess. If he wins, he lives. While the game goes on, he gets a reprieve. It is the 14th century and suffering and pain abound. Penitents flog themselves, seminarians rob the dead, people go mad from fear, and witches are burned at the stake. It is the time of the Black Plague and Death has his hands full. As in the Greek legend of Kronos and medieval folklore, Bergman depicts Death as the Grim Reaper, a man clothed from head to foot in a black habit and hood. In The Seventh Seal, however, Death is not frightening or sinister, just an old man performing his job with a wry detachment.

The film opens and closes with the passage from Revelation from which it takes its title: `When he broke open the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour' (Rev 8:1). Bergman's message, however, is more about the silence of God on earth than in heaven. Block is tormented by the fact that God will not outwardly reveal himself. He says to a priest during confession, `I want God to stretch out his hand to me, reveal himself and speak to me. But he remains silent, I call out to Him in the dark but no one seems to be there". But Block still senses the God within him and is tormented. "Why can't I kill God within me?" he asks. "Why does he live on inside me, mocking and tormenting me till I have no rest, even though I curse him and try to tear him from my heart' Block asks Death if he knows anything but he knows nothing. He even asks a woman being taken to the stake if he can see the Devil so that he can ask him about God but all she says is to look into her eyes.

The Seventh Seal is not all heavy "significance", however. It has a good story with believable characters, wonderful performances, lots of comic relief and moves easily from drama to comedy as in the great Shakespearean plays. We meet an actor named Jof (Nils Poppe), his wife Mia (Bibi Andersson), and their infant son Mikael. Block looks with envy on the simple love of this family for their child. Both Jof and Block see visions of the spiritual world but Jof's visions are life affirming whereas Block sees only reflections of darkness. The film has unforgettable images such as a hawk floating in a cloudless sky, two horses standing in the surf, Jof's vision of the Virgin Mary caring for her child, and a frightening procession of plague-infected flagellants.

Perhaps too melodramatic for modern viewers (it has been parodied), The Seventh Seal still touches a universal longing deep within us. Some view the film as a complete denial of God, but it seems that God does show his face -- only Block and his squire cannot see it. It is there in the wild strawberries, the fun of watching a troupe of players perform, the innocence of the little boy, the eyes of the young lovers, and the haunting visions of Jof. The film ends on a note of affirmation including one of the most memorable scenes in the history of cinema, the Danse Macabre, the Totentanz -- a string of silhouetted figures dancing in a line with arms outstretched as they are about to enter the unknown. In the magnificence of his vision and the timeless beauty of his art, Bergman has answered the question about God's existence simply in the act of posing it.
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Ingmar Bergman questions the meaning of life, death, faith, and the existence of God in this masterpiece of world cinema...
ACitizenCalledKane1 January 2005
Antonius Block - "Who are you?" Death - "I am Death." Antonius Block - "Have you come for me?" Death - "I have long walked by your side." Antonius Block - "So I have noticed."

The Seventh Seal, considered by some to be Ingmar Bergman's greatest achievement, is the desperate prayer of a sensitive, introspective, and insightful young man confused by the horrors of the world around him. Ingmar Bergman's films are often very deep, full of symbolism, philosophy, spirituality, emotion, and thought. The Seventh Seal is classic Bergman. Expressing his fear of life with no meaning, death with no understanding, and faith with no validity, Ingmar Bergman takes us deep into the well of his mind.

As the Black Plague ravages the world, a Antonius Block and his squire, Jons (Max Von Sydow and Gunnar Bjornstrand, respectively), return from fighting in the Crusades. They find their homeland devastated by the plague, their countrymen mad with fear, and their cause lost. Antonius Block is confronted by Death (Bengt Ekerot). Block challenges Death to a game of chess to provide him time to seek answers to the questions that plague his mind as Death has plagued his country. Death accepts, knowing that Block cannot escape his fate, and the two begin their game. As the story continues, Block and Jons meet with several testaments to the agony that the Black Death has brought upon their land. They find a young girl who is to be burned at the stake for having been with the Devil. They find madness in the eyes of all they meet, as everyone is convinced that God is angry and is punishing the world with the plague. They also find a small group of travelling actors, who appear to be the only souls to have remained sane in the midst of all of the death and fear. Block and Jons move across the countryside in the hopes of finding safety in Block's castle, but Death is always around the corner, biding his time.

Brilliantly conceived, and stunningly executed, Bergman's vision is brought to the screen through Gunnar Fischer's powerful cinematography creating images that will likely remain with you for the rest of your life. Strong performances from everyone involved bring humanity to the film. Max Von Sydow's brave and conflicted Antonius Block matching wits with Bengt Ekerot's sinister, omnipotent Death is a microcosm of the forces at work in this breath-taking interpretation of the mortal struggle.

A masterpiece!
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Chilling, audacious, and awe-inspiring. An undisputed masterpiece.
Cowman5 May 2004
The mysteries of religion and death have long been a popular focus among artists of all media, including film. And while many films question these mysteries, they seldom provide any real insight into the world of the unknown. In Ingmar Bergman's THE SEVENTH SEAL, these mysteries are not only questioned; they are dissected, splayed, and scrutinized.

THE SEVENTH SEAL could very well serve as sort of a manifesto for existentialism. Its deep acuity and haunting imagery is powerful enough to jar even passive viewers out of their complacency and force them to examine their own reality. The delicately crafted story centers around a 14th century knight named Antonius Block and his ongoing game of chess with a shadowy, hooded figure: Death. Bergman uses this allegory not just to personify death, but to illustrate the lengths man will go to in order to avoid it. In the end, however, Death is a much better player than any of us, and though he may humor some of his opponents by letting them think that they have the advantage, the end result is inevitable: Death always wins. No matter how skillfully we plan our moves or how determined we are to win, we can never beat Death.

In Antonius's search for answers, he encounters a variety of very unique characters, each with their own outlook on life, death, faith, fear and love. Their commentary on such matters is often dryly funny and always brilliant, continuously and effectively challenging our perceptions of the world around us. For me, the dialogue was definitely the high point of the film, as it was extremely thought-provoking and carefully constructed throughout. Almost every line spoken is, in one way or another, daunting and unforgettable. Jöns's description of love as "the blackest of all plagues" is a quote that will forever be engraved in my mind.

THE SEVENTH SEAL truly is a remarkable accomplishment in the world of cinema. It is a deep, mesmerizing, and darkly beautiful work of art. More importantly, THE SEVENTH SEAL is one of those rare movies that doesn't just entertain, but also has the power to change the way one thinks.
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A Very Personal Rejection of a Religious Childhood
Snazel15 February 2002
Warning: Spoilers
The story of Antonius Block is the story of an agnostic who has begun to doubt.

Is life really meaningless? Is the only true ethic of life, to simply enjoy the moment? If God is there, why does he not answer? Why does he leave men with kind hearts and noble aspirations to fumble in the dark dying of the plague with no answers? Perhaps, Antonius reasons, the answers only come from Death.

No wonder then, that as Death approaches him, he cajoles the spirit to play a game with him. His intentions are to win, but most importantly, to find answers.

The little I know of Bergman's youth, the Paladin (Antonius Block) seems to symbolize Bergman's last struggles with his strict religious instruction as a child. Antonius' struggles, Antonius' angst, Antonius' withering agnosticism is a reflection of where Bergman was philosophically at this early stage in his life and career.

The climax of the film is of course the final 'duel' with Death. Antonius attempts to cheat death and in the end, death cheats him. This is an especially crushing defeat for Antonius, because the answers Death gives him, about the knowledge within Death itself, is Antonius' worst fears come true.

It struck me, that in the final moments, when each character faces there own mortality right in front of them, that the strongest and purest reaction of them all, is the one from the squire, the atheist voice in the film. I think if you are an atheist, this film is going to please you, because clearly the sanest characters in this film are either indifferent or deny God's existence entirely.

Whether it was intentional or not, I think Seventh Seal is a very personal film. Bergman deconstructs his father's teachings to us openly. There's nothing sublime here; this is a clear rejection of religion and the notion that death somehow provides 'answers'. The only answers, according to this film, lie in life and not death. A message Bergman delivers to us in striking fashion. A message Bergman knows directly contradicts what he was taught as a child.

I think this is why later in life, Bergman disowned this film. I think he saw too clearly, how much of a very personal statement it was and how in some cases it was a vindictive film against his parents. It's why I believe, Bergman, couldn't stand to watch it later in life, after he had reconciled with his parents.

While Bergman disowned it, for the rest of us, we can admire it. For us, the Seventh Seal is simple genius. A dark, but beautiful film, that is pure and meaningful, because it is so very personal.

I confess, I am a layman and I know little of Bergman's work and indeed have only seen this film once. But, I loved this film. It struck a very personal reaction in me, however uninformed that reaction might be. That reaction, pure and simple is that this movie is a very personal statement about life, God and death.
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The Quintessential Bergman Picture
MisterWhiplash25 July 2002
One thing that can be certain after watching the Seventh Seal, outside of being thankful for living in this century, is that Bergman knows his film-making- and imagery. He uses subliminal and not so subliminal techniques to convey a dying, frightened world, where making a living is almost impossible and the debate of god's control over life is discussed like un-rhyming yet fascinating poetry.

The result is beautiful cinema, capturing the always foreboding fear and allure of the almighty and for the waiting death, appropriately staged in post-crusades, mid dark age Europe. Max Von Sydow gives an excellent showing as the opponent of Death (in a clever and meticulous chess game), yet the character of Death, played by Bengt Ekerot with chilling conviction, steals the show, if only for the alluring quality of the character.

Even if the story veers it veers in good and interesting territory, focusing on people who convey Bergman's point and or style. I can't reveal what the bottom line point is (many newcomers to Bergman's work won't either, especially if you're not in the mood for soul searching), but one thing is for certain, an allegory on life and death is shown perfectly in the second to last shot of the reaper and his minions following in a dance across the field. This is one of the most pure of cinema's masterpieces and certainly Bergman's best cine. A++
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Compelling Drama From Ingmar Bergman
jhclues4 November 2000
A compelling contemplation of death and the nature of Man's existence, Ingmar Bergman's `The Seventh Seal' is uncompromising, riveting drama that is every bit as striking conceptually as it is philosophically. In the Fourteenth Century a knight, Antonius Block (Max von Sydow), and his squire, Jons (Gunnar Bjornstrand), have returned after ten years away at the Crusades to their native Sweden, and are beginning their journey home. For Block, it is a pensive time; he is troubled by what he perceives as God's silence, and thirsts for knowledge and some meaning to his life, as well as a resolution of faith, which has deserted him. Jons, meanwhile, is a study in jaded indifference, who believes in nothing beyond the present and whatever his senses and current circumstances dictate. Shortly after their arrival on the coast of Sweden, Death (Bengt Ekerot) comes for Block. But Block strikes a bargain with him, challenging him to a game of chess, to be played as they continue on with their journey. As long as Block prevails, they will go on; if he wins, he will be released. And though Block knows what the outcome must inevitably be, he welcomes Death's acceptance of his challenge, for the game affords him perhaps enough time to fulfill his quest, while adding purpose to what promises to be an arduous trek through a land being ravaged by the Black Plague. Von Sydow brings a commanding presence to the screen as Block, his very countenance bespeaking strength and poise. His subtle, stoic approach to this enigmatic character is captivating, and lends a depth and dignity that makes Block truly memorable. By contrast, Jons' strength seems born of his indifference; he takes things as they come, and is governed by a somewhat fatalistic philosophy. Bjornstrand, a gifted, eloquent actor (and veteran of numerous Bergman films), invests an earthy, gritty quality to Jons that plays effectively opposite von Sydow's more ethereal portrayal of Block. It is significant that in the closing scene the final speech, in the presence of Death, is accorded to Jons; for it elevates the character to a station equal to, if not surpassing, that of the protagonist, Block. The supporting cast includes Nils Poppe (Jof), Bibi Andersson (Mia), Inga Gill (Lisa), Gunnel Lindblom (Girl), Anders Ek (The Monk), Ake Fridell (Plog) and Erik Strandmark (Skat). Written and directed by Bergman, `The Seventh Seal' is a thought provoking, earnest meditation on faith and mortality that is filled with stunning metaphoric and visual images that will forever be indelibly inscribed in your memory. One scene in particular, in which the players link hands and, silhouetted against a twilight sky are led by Death in a dance across the crest of a distant hill, is breathtaking in it's simplicity. It stands (as does this entire film) as an example of why Ingmar Bergman is one of the greatest directors in the history of the cinema. I rate this one 10/10.
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Bergman's Brilliance Abounds
John Bale23 April 2006
What makes The Seventh Seal - an apocryphal and uncompromising fable of medieval Sweden - one of the masterpieces of Cinema ? Ingmar Bergman creates a believable world of dark happenings, wherein Death can play chess with a Knight, witches burn at the stake, with flagellants, and plague ever present. Through superb black and white images, each carefully composed for maximum effect, sets and costumes, his fine actors seem to truly inhabit this frightening world. Max von Sydow, Gunnar Bjornstrand, and Bengt Ekerot lead a marvelous cast. But its not all doom and gloom, as the Knight tries to determine in his quest, the meaning of life, and if God exists at all. There are moments of sheer happiness and peace, such as the sequence of the milk and strawberries at dusk, and a number of bawdy comic moments throughout the film. Which balances the darker side. It is unforgettable and I still remember seeing it on its first release, being stunned by the quality of the photography, and the performances. A restored version on DVD is recommended. Bergman is one of the great film makers of our time. Seldom today do we see such precise and considered images on the screen. Not to be missed.
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One of the most extraordinary movies ever made. I cannot recommend 'The Seventh Seal' highly enough.
Infofreak12 July 2004
'The Seventh Seal' is universally regarded as a masterpiece. It's one of those classics like 'Citizen Kane', 'Rear Window' or 'The Godfather' that has subtlety entered popular culture, so even if you haven't actually seen it you recognize references to it in other movies, TV, magazines and everyday conversation. The thing is like the aforementioned and 'Rashomon' and 'Sunset Blvd' it isn't regarded as a masterpiece for nothing, it really is one. I think anybody who loves movies will be totally knocked out by 'The Seventh Seal'. It's still one of the most extraordinary movies ever made. Visually it's stunning, the acting is first rate, and the end result is mesmerizing. Once seen never forgotten is a cliche, but it's the perfect description for this amazing film. Max von Sydow brilliantly plays Antonius Block, a knight returning from the Crusades who challenges Death (Bengt Ekerot) to a chess match. He is accompanied on his journey home by his cynical squire Jons (Gunnar Bjornstrand). Jons is my favourite character in the movie, and as good as von Sydow is Bjornstrand's performance is even better. I also was very taken by the traveling actors who become part of Block's entourage, Jof (Nils Poppe) and his wife Mia (Bibi Andersson), and confess to developing quite a crush on Mia. I cannot recommend 'The Seventh Seal' highly enough. Don't be put off by Bergman's highbrow reputation, this is a movie that can be appreciated by anybody, especially by old school horror fans. While it isn't strictly a horror movie itself anyone who admires the James Whale and Val Lewton classics of the 1930s and 1940s will find much to enjoy here.
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Filled With Memorable Images
Snow Leopard11 October 2001
This classic is filled with a lot of memorable images - from the opening scenes on the seashore to the effective concluding shots, creative thoughts are combined with some fine camera work. There are several significant or interesting questions raised by the characters - from the imagery of the "Seventh Seal" in Revelation, to their simple but important concerns about eternity - but it is the way that the visuals play off of the ideas that make the movie so worthwhile.

The recreation of the medieval world is convincing and effective, with a lot of detail to set off a varied assortment of characters with different personalities and perspectives. The characters are not necessarily very deep, but most are interesting, and are worth caring about. The ways that they deal with their discouraging situation make you wonder what it would have been like to live in their world. It's also a movie that in some respects is even better to watch over again, after you already know what has happened and can then pick up even more of the detail and imagery.

No doubt the somber tone and slow pace will always keep it from being widely popular, and it's not perfect, but it's satisfying in a different way, and deserves its reputation as a classic.
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Top ten favorites. The Seventh Seal.
Joseph P. Ulibas19 November 2003
Seventh Seal (1957) is one of my favorite movies. I have to rank it up there with A Touch of Zen, Seven Samurai and Battleship Potemkin. If there ever was such a thing as a perfect film, this one would have to be a nominee. I've never seen such a picture (and I probably never will) that was so moving, well shot, written, acted and directed. The chess game between the knight and death is an all-time classic. Words cannot describe how great this film is. There will never be another one like it. Truly amazing piece of celluloid.

A knight and his squire are returning home from the crusades. For the past few years he's been in the middle east fighting for Christ. On his trip home he notices a familiar face, one that he has seen many times on the battlefield. It is death and it wants him to come with him to his new home. The knight strikes a bargain with death, they'll play a game of chess if he can defeat death then he'll spare his life as well as the squire's. Death is amused by this unusual challenge and accepts it. But as long as the game is on the life will continue to live. So he uses this time to look back at life and realizes how precious it is. Along the way he meets a young couple, they're from a performing troupe. They have a baby and are content with life. The husband has visions and can see interesting things like the Virgin Mary and little Jesus. He can also see the darkness that lies ahead as Black Death ravages the countryside. Will the knight defeat Death? Can the couple weather the storm of chaos that lies ahead? To find out you'll have to watch The Seventh Seal, one of the finest films ever made.

If Bergman never made another film this one would have made him a legendary film maker. But he continued to make even more classic cinema. This one however is his finest work.

My highest recommendation possible.
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Intelligent and accessible with incredible imagery
FilmOtaku9 December 2004
Warning: Spoilers
'I live now in a world of ghosts, a prisoner in my dreams', a line spoken by Antonius Block (Max Von Sydow) in 'The Seventh Seal' is also a good descriptor of this critically lauded film. Directed by Ingmar Bergman, the film explores, through an allegorical fashion, human relationships and the struggle with ones own psyche. Block is a knight on his way home from the Crusades who becomes increasingly disillusioned while surveying his country, which has been ravaged by the Black Plague. Along the way he avers that he doesn't care about anyone, and questions the existence of a God who could allow these things to happen. In the beginning of the film he meets Death, who informs him that it is his time. Block manages to push off Death for a little while by distracting him with a chess game while he travels home; encountering several different characters, but Death is always following close behind until the inevitable end of the game.

Bergman's style is not straight forward, rather quite symbolic and philosophical. The imagery at times is astounding, and I still (a month after seeing the film for the first time) see the image of 'the dance with Death' in my head when I think of the film. However, what I discovered was that this film carries with it a lot of intellectual and philosophical baggage that is not necessarily warranted. Nothing is really spelled out in this film, but it was much more easily 'accessible' than I thought it would be; I assumed I would have to put on my 'Affected Art House' hat on to watch it and nothing could be farther from the truth. Steeped in beautiful irony, the film, while having the pervasive specter of Death hanging over it, really celebrates life through its characters and their unusual circumstances.

It is truly unfortunate that the powerful image of man playing chess with Death has become such a cliché, and oft repeated in some ridiculous manner or another. Bergman directed a thought-provoking and beautiful film with 'The Seventh Seal', and I personally look forward to seeing it again, this time not to grasp the story, but to marvel at the incredible images. I would recommend this film to anyone, but I especially highly recommend it to those who consider themselves students of film – it will give you a lot to chew on. 8/10

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Contrived and an acting mixed bag
Blite20005 November 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I went into this pretty excited. After all, it's far and wide described as one of the best, if not *the* best film ever made. Frankly, I didn't see it.

The first problem I had with The Seventh Seal was the acting. The knight, Death, and the squire were highlights, but the rest of the cast had an almost pantomime-like quality that is very, very distracting. In fact, this may not simply be an acting problem - many of the set-ups of the film are pretty pantomime: there is a scene with the actors playing out a song involving a cock crowing while, behind the stage, another actor tries to seduce a girl, which is not only sonically grating but completely ludicrous. I tried to work out if it was intended to be satirical but it actually comes off more like the Benny Hill show. In another scene, in which one of the actors is made to dance like a bear on the table in an inn, the camera cuts to reaction shots of the crowd who burst into hysterical laughter in a completely non-spontaneous, false and bizarre manner. It just doesn't work.

The second problem I had was the contrived nature of the situations the knight finds himself in: at one point self-flaggelists walk into the village in a long procession waving incense and everyone kneels and weeps. This has been set up in advance by an explanation of who these flaggelists are. And, because of the set up, it, again, doesn't work. Similarly, when the troupe are in the woods towards the end of the film, they are faced with a character (who has previously been shown to be a *not very nice man*) with the plague. Why, other than to have the troupe look death in the face and make the terribly unsubtle point about whether forgiveness should be given to those about to die, is he in the woods miles from anywhere? Once again, it doesn't work.

Every question the film is trying to pose is given its own scene, so that the whole story plays like a series of distinct vignettes linked only by the knight character and two or three characters who are obviously set up to take a fall later in the film. *However*, Bergman sets up the film as a linear progression between the knight's knowing he is going to die and his ultimate death. You can't have it both ways - you either go down the vignette route or you go the linear route. You can't have the scene in the bar, the flaggelists, the burning of the "witch" all supposedly happening in a linear fashion, since they are all a little too random to gel together.

And, for me at least, the result of all this is that this is not a film that could ever be described as "subtle". You see every question coming even before Bergman gives it its ten-minute moment of screen time. The only thought left in your mind is what weird contortion of the plot Bergman is going to put us through to get to that question. And, as a result, the film is very boring to watch. At times I found myself begging that Death would show up just to add a little spice. And that's without even mentioning how *excrutiating* the songs are....

All in all, I'd say The Seventh Seal is very disappointing and I couldn't really recommend it. That said, though, any film that is rated so highly by so many people is always going to deserve at least a glance. It's clearly not trash.
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Didn't like it but will definitely see it again in the distant future
bsinc6 September 2005
First of all, I have taken the time to read some posts on this movie before writing my review because I was searching for lots of answers. Didn't get many though, the popular thing fans like to say (and please, no pun intended) is that it just takes time to understand and appreciate this movie. To this I quickly reply that my perception of "Det Sjunde Inseglet" was that it is a rather dull, if not eventless, movie. It has some really nice moments (and for some reason I really liked the concept of a man playing chess with death itself) but in the end almost nothing is resolved except from the main protagonist who, at the brink of his death, discovers that it's love that makes people want to live ,very roughly put, I apologize, but even this revelation was hidden from the writer of this comment. And this is what bothered me the most, I couldn't read (for the lack of a better word) any of these important details, the movie very coldly rolled in front of my eyes and I just didn't get it! Now the easiest and dumbest thing to say is that this is all the fault of the director for not having a more universal way of film-making, rather the viewer has to decipher such information if he wants to fully appreciate his movies. I've just realized that I could say the same for Kubrick's visionary movies, I didn't like most, scratch that, none of them the first time around, they grew on me after a second viewing. And I dig Kubrick, a lot!!!

I was also surprised with the admiration the cinematography received, it did not impact me whatsoever (and I am more so a visual that a sensual movie buff and love this kind of stuff). All in all, as Antonius Block, I am searching for answers, important ones. It bothers me a lot that I don't appreciate this movie, and I ask anyone to help me resolve my problem.

What am I missing? What don't I get? What should I know about "The Seventh Seal", its meaning, its importance, its making, its director...?

Thank you for your time
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Great, but far from Bergman's best
Bergmaniac4 June 2004
I find it strange that "The seventh Seal" has always been widely considered to be the best Bergman movie and is so much more famous that all the others he made. Yes, it's very good, especially for its time, but compared with the real masterpieces Bergman made like "Wild Strawberries", "Through a Glass darkly", "Persona", "Winter light" and "Fanny and Alexander", it really pales in comparison. The ideas and the questions asked in this movie are pretty interesting and profound, but I feel that Bergman has done so much better in his later movies on similar subjects. The theme about the God's silence is much, much better developed in the famous "Faith Trilogy", especially "Through a glass darkly" and "Winter light". The theme about how to cope with fear of death is well developed, but couldn't really convince me. Also I feel that the film has too many "comic relief" moments. Many people have praised the cinematography in this movie, quite a few saying that it's one of the best ever. I beg to disagree. It's very, very good, excellent at times, but again Bergman has done so much better in his other movies. Personally I feel that the cinematography in Bergman's movies improved when he changed his director of photography Gunnar Fischer(who worked on this movie and "Wild Strawberries") with Sven Nykvist. Watch "Through a glass darkly" or "Persona" if you want a really stunning cinematography. But even "Wild Strawberries", made shortly after "The Seventh seal" and looking visually quite similar, is better IMO. Here the settings and the lighting looks too theatrical to me for most of the times. Of course, there were quite a few memorable images, especially the start with Death on the beach, the dance with Death at the end, the procession of the fanatics who whipped themselves through the village,etc. But still, something was lacking in many of the scenes. Bergman had to shoot the whole movie in just 35 days, so it's understandable IMO. After being so critical to the movie so far, it's time to mention its strong points. They are typical of Bergman's movies. Very strong acting(especially from Max von Sydov), amazing dark medieval atmosphere, really makes you think about the important questions. The music was very well and effectively used too. It's a great movie, no doubt, and it established Bergman as one of the all-time greats, which is big plus for a huge fan of him like myself. Still, my advice is: don't limit your Bergman experience to just this movie, watch his others, many of them are even better. 9/10
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Death takes knight, checkmate.
jc-osms9 October 2014
I suppose one has to view the reputed great classics of cinema to sort of test one's critical faculties against established standards and coming to this iconic film I was certainly aware of some of its famous imagery, in particular that of the soldier playing chess with Death, but nothing more than this. It does make for an arresting start to the film but after that I found it rather heavy going I must say.

Once said soldier Max Van Sydow treks after the family of travelling performers, I struggled to make sense of the narrative as the film follows a picaresque trail of incidents such as as the backstage seduction of a fellow-performer's wife, the humiliation of the travelling husband at an inn and the death by fire of a young female witch. Where exactly are they all headed? Well, with Death silently and unobtrusively along for the ride, I think I get the inference; nobody lives forever.

Mind you, I guess in all of it there's lots of stuff I'm still missing about faith, relationships, class, superstition and the human spirit, the meaning of life in short, but I'm afraid much of its symbolism passed me by. It is well shot in black and white and language-barrier notwithstanding appears to be well played with the actors certainly giving life to their individual characters, Van Sydow in particular, but I found the bitty, episodic development of the story as mystifying and unsatisfying as the higher allegorical meaning striven for.

In fact the only really memorable scene for me was the chess match, which of course I knew about already, so really there was no need for me to watch the rest of it and I'm kind of sorry I did.

Not my cup of tea, I'm afraid.
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The Seventh Seal (1957) **
JoeKarlosi8 February 2009
Let me make this pretty quick -- a friend brought this Ingmar Bergman "classic" to the house last night (on Blu-ray), and it was my first experience with this acclaimed filmmaker. All I can say is, I was immediately struck by the cinematography, and I started getting interested in the idea of a knight (Max Von Sydow) playing chess with "Death" himself, as a means of deciding the fate of his own soul.... but that's as far as it went.

From then on, nothing made much sense and the noble core idea of the film (presumably about questioning death, and the existence of God) seemed to go out the window, as we spend our time with secondary characters I just could not become interested in. I wanted to focus more on Max von Sydow's troubled crusader and his crisis of faith, especially since I myself am presently going through some personal bouts of despair in my personal life with my own crosses to bear... but he was only sparingly used, and I just could not follow any type of coherent storyline to this thing, for all its pretty picture style. There was no story, just images... and it's not that this approach never works for me in other films, but it didn't connect for me this time. I can't say that this is going to be my last visitation with Bergman, but this is not a promising start, considering this is allegedly one of his greatest works, if not THE greatest. Apologies to Woody Allen. Okay, let the slings and arrows fly. ** out of ****
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Dull and Overrated
RbDeraj7 February 2015
To go straight to the point, I was not impressed. This film is currently at #130 out of IMDb's top 250 list and to me is extremely overrated. It wasn't that bad of a film, it is just not very enjoyable or appealing to watch. It brought up some interesting topics and philosophies but was really not that deep or intellectual as many claim. I liked the symbolism of a man interacting with Death and the excellent scene of the plagued people and their march through the town, but the majority of the film was simply dull, dreary, and boring. I have a feeling that it is rated so highly because of a strong atheist or agnostic following simply because of the subject matter not based on the film itself.
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It's quite a mediocre
Johan Dondokambey16 November 2015
This may be because I've seen other 'talks with Death' movies such as Meet Joe Black, but I find this movie as mediocre at best. Yes the world depiction hit its mark very well, making the audience feel like they sunk into the gloomy world. But for me that's because the whole black and white color and the recurrence of the Death character. The main plot with Blok feels like it'll make this movie a challenging watch to those who pride their faith. What made me rate it a score f 4 is the sub plots that makes this movie look simply stupid. Again maybe this is a cultural gap issue between me and 1950s Sweden, but I fail to understand how Plog's stupidity can have a good impact to the whole story. One thing to add is that I tend to agree with the opinion about the acting. Max von Sydow and Bengt Ekerot did a splendid job in their roles here that helped a lot in setting up the movie's mood.
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Folded Narrative Folding
tedg30 April 2002
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers herein.

Bergman is much loved because of his sheer passion, its intimate rawness and the ability to present it visually. He was able to sustain that uncomfortable ability for decades, but this film also has something else -- unique in his work -- a particularly complex narrative architecture.

Ordinary stories are just there, with no recognition of being told: but those are remarkably uninteresting. Nearly everything worth reading, hearing or seeing has some sort of the recognition of telling, often by putting the telling explicitly in the story as in `Hamlet.' Sometimes it gets turned on its head when the telling element becomes the focus, as in `Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.'

But here that notion of one fold in space becomes seven. The story we see is: a game, a collection of visions, a mural, a book of the Bible, a performance by players, an obsessive religious ritual, and the movie itself (the seventh seal). Each encapsulates the other. We have seven characters that advocate or represent each of these, apart from the `crusade' of real life.

This is so complex and so finely woven it changed the entire world. Everything that came after sees it as perhaps an unwelcome spectral visitor, perhaps a template (see `Ninth Gate'), perhaps as a stack of parts from which one borrows. But everyone sees it and is changed.

My favorite working filmmaker is Greenaway. He says of this, that when he saw it, he knew he had to be a filmmaker. I believe most of us who actually see this will be similarly changed.

Bergman was never able to weave as fine a narrative lace again.
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Death never takes a holiday...
Neil Doyle5 September 2006
While I'm not going overboard in extolling the virtues of THE SEVENTH SEAL, I do think it has some striking imagery and had the potential to be the ultimate work of art Ingmar Bergman was obviously striving for. But do I think he achieved it? No...for the simple reason that it leaves us unenlightened on the subject with no new knowledge.

Bergman really has no answers to the age old questions we all have about life and death and what happens in the hereafter. And giving Death a human face seems to me the wrong decision on Bergman's part. He should have kept him a hooded spectre and nothing more--faceless and unknown within the shadows of his hood. Humanizing him doesn't work, at least not for me.

A cruel streak runs through some of the more boisterous moments, such as when one of the actors is put through some hazing by a sadistic man who later gets his comeuppance. Everyone laughs and applauds as the man is humiliated beyond the endurance of this spectator for the sake of bawdy humor which seems forced and contrived, as does much of the clowning by the group of actors.

But there are so many good things about the richly photographed film, that I don't want to give this review an entirely negative impression. But the truth is it offers no new insights into the age old questions of life and death. It's all presented as an allegory with religious symbols (flagellation, the cross, the witch burning) and we suspect that among the many utterances we hear from The Devil will be something to ponder and think about.

But no. There's only the hopelessness that Death offers when the plague is rampant over the land and is something which cannot be avoided by man, no matter how clever he thinks he is. The chess game that the Black Knight proposes is a ruse that the Devil sees through from the start. And we suspect near the end that he knows the young couple with the infant have escaped since he says that he knows all that is happening, even behind his back. The young couple will be doomed too, eventually. Death will consume all.

But Max van Sydow is excellent as The Knight questioning his reason for being and his reason for dying. The B&W cinematography evokes the Middle Ages with striking scenes that stay in the mind afterwards and the film, while bleak and disturbing, is always riveting to watch.

It's a very engrossing film, but there are many weaknesses. I don't consider it the masterpiece that so many others label it.
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Not what i thought....much much much WORSE
prabhat_kataria18 June 2013
A man seeks answers about life, death, and the existence of God as he plays chess against the Grim Reaper during the Black Plague.

That fooled me.

The movie is not that interesting. Some people might analyze each and every scene and dialog and come up with their own interpretations of what Bergman wanted to say. Jacksh*t.

Now usually i love such kind of movies. I am not a fan of commercial craps like fast and furious or the recent man of steel. I am a sucker for good stories, script and character development but this movie had nothing.The dialogs were so darn lame a 14 y.o. could have written them. The pace was so slow the movie felt more like 150 minutes instead of its 90 minute run time.

This is the second Bergman film i have viewed, the first being Persona which i also felt was overrated but at least kept me interested and concerned with it all along.

I am sure this guy knew his movies but one doesn't make movies only for their fans but for a wider audience. How could you call this guy an artist. All he ever does is try to make a deep engrossing movie that asks its viewers certain important questions about life and the idea of a god but what he ends up making is a sh*t sandwich that should never be viewed under any circumstances.

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Antonius Block: "I met Death today. We are playing chess."
Galina4 June 2007
Dark, beautiful, meaningful, exploring the most serious themes of faith and searching for God, "The Seventh Seal" is known as one of the landmark Bergman's movies. One of the film's inspirations was a painting that Bergman saw as a young boy and was transfixed by: "There was everything that one's imagination could desire. Angels, saints, dragons, prophets, devils, humans. There were very frightening animals: serpents in paradise, Balaam's ass, Jonah's whale, the eagle of Revelation. All this was surrounded by heavenly, earthly and subterranean landscapes of strange yet familiar beauty. I remember Death playing chess with a Crusader, Death sawing at a tree to a branch of which clung a naked man with staring eyes, and across a gentle hill Death leading the final dance towards the dark lands" (Bergman in Hart). The film follows the journey of a knight Antonius Block (Max Von Sydow) returning from Crusades through Sweden ravaged by plague. The knight has lost his faith in the blood and horrors of the battlefield, "Faith is a torment. It is like loving someone who is out there in the darkness but never appears, no matter how loudly you call." On his way home, he encountered people dying from starvation and disease, being burnt as witches as well as Mr. Death himself who challenged him to play a game of chess and the family of a happy juggler, his wife, and their infant son. This family is happy because they love each other. They represent the simple joys and hopes of ordinary life.

Everything about "The Seventh Seal" is extra-ordinary including acting. I especially liked Jöns, Antonius Block's misogynist squire - the best performance in the movie by Gunnar Björnstrand. His quotes about love are hilarious:

"Love is the blackest of all plagues... if one could die of it, there would be some pleasure in love, but you don't die of it." "Love is as contagious as a cold. It eats away at your strength, morale... If everything is imperfect in this world, love is perfect in its imperfection."

I know the film's reputation and I enjoyed watching it but it did not click with me completely the way the others Bergman's films did ("Fanny and Alexander", "Persona", "Smiles of a Summer Night") and I found myself bored few times. I keep thinking why? It seems to me that the movie is slightly overdone and overheated with its attacking images, abstractions and discursive dialog. I understand that it is a very serious film but while watching it, I could not help thinking how funny its images and dialog would look and sound in parodies. (Not as anything is wrong with that). Woody Allen obviously thought the same. :)
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I'm simply too stupid to "get it"
MCL11503 August 2007
I truly love black and white films and this is certainly one of the best. One of the best looking, that is. Yeah, lots of really cool looking images but they just don't add up to anything. "The Seventh Seal" is the very definition of what's known today as "Independent Film". It looks good enough that people believe that there just has to be some substance floating around in there somewhere, but I'll be darned if I'll ever be able to point any of it out. Because of Bergman's recent death, I once again had a chance to see it on TCM. And once again I barely made it past the "famous" opening scene with Death playing chess on the beach. I finally do have one thing figured out though. The opening scene is the best known scene from the film because hardly anyone can get beyond it. Oh sure, the Black Leather Art Crowd will tell you they watched the whole film, but don't believe it. They watch that stupid Death plays chess on the beach scene, rate the film a "10" and then post a glowing review here on IMDb to prove they know art when they see it! When it comes to Bergman films though, I'm simply too stupid to "get" them. So please don't flame me for my obviously ignorant opinion. After all, my misguided views DO give the whole artsy black leather wearing community someone to shake their collective heads at while muttering "He just DOESN'T get it!" BTW, there's a great parody of the chess scene in "Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey" with Death challenging the boys to a game of Battleship. Very funny indeed.
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great movie, but painful to watch
Greg28 February 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I first saw this movie when I was 15. I didn't get it, although I still thought it was amazing. Every scene stands out, but I was really blown away by one showing a procession of flagellants, whipping themselves while a priest shrieks at them, telling them they're worthless sinners, damned to hell. If Brueghel had been born in the 20th century, and made movies instead of painting, maybe this is what he would have created.

It's a deeply depressing film. The main character, a knight home from the Crusades, tries to find God. In the end, he learns there is no God, only death. The only happy person in the movie is Jof, and the only time the knight finds any comfort at all is when he contemplates the family life that Jof enjoys. The movie hits you over the head with the message that God will never be found because he is not there. We cannot escape death. All we can do is have children and hope to live on through them.
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