Sean Cordy’s review published on Letterboxd:
After two masterpieces from Ingmar Bergman (Wild Strawberries, Fanny & Alexander), I was really hoping for another masterwork, but I was disappointed in that sense. The Seventh Seal is by no means a bad film, it’s just not emotionally stimulating as I hoped (compared to previous Bergmans). The story focuses on a knight (Sydow) coming back from a crusade and seeing some terrifying things, he comes back in search of Death so that he can find out answers about faith (more or less his faith) because God hides and doesn’t show himself even in times of great prayers. Death arrives and starts to play a game of chess above all else with the knight. The rest of the film captures the spiritual journey of a variety of characters that resemble all parts of society. The acting from all of these characters is hits and misses. But the writing is impeccable at times. It’s not just one character that gets the great lines, but a whole variety. Each character has something that contributes to life or the story in a remarkable way. Lines like
- “Heat is void, void is a mirror”
- “Living in a world of ghosts. A prisoner in a man’s own dream”
- The lexus to Revelations in the beginning and end
- And a multitude of other inspirational lines that I can’t remember from The Knight, Death, or the supporting cast
The knight, his squire, and Death are all particularly great and fascinating characters; Sydow being the best written and his squire bringing a witty performance reminiscent of Russell Crowe, and Death encompasses, well, you know. The point of Bergman’s 14th Century film captures the spiritual growth of all the characters and how we need to learn to accept Death. Some people accept it earlier than others (Sydow) and others take longer and live life without fear of consequence (the director). Sooner or later, all of the characters become aware of the sorrow occasion of Death and start to live life in fear of Death. But is shown by the extremist priests that one shouldn’t live in spite of Death, but should live for life in waiting for the eventual arrival of Death.
The chess game is a perfect metaphor of this journey. Maybe it’s because of my passion for the game, but I find that the film perfectly portrays the characters and their actions. The color balances and costume design resemble the chess board and the characters actions are comparable to chess pieces. The knight being the king of the white pieces (he’s actually silver) and Death the king of the black pieces. White’s pieces come from the supporting cast. The actors representing the bishops (stealthy and gets out of deadly situations) and their director representing the chess knight (gets in trouble easily but can cause great trouble as well), and so on. While the pieces of black are the accomplices of Death. They are the priests and villagers that are so afraid of Death that they submit to his deception that they will kill so that they may live; but it’s just all a part of Death’s trap. Death is shown a merciless soul and unforgiving soul that only takes, and never gives. He comes to you when it is your time to die, and doesn’t hesitate in his final judgment. Other than this great tech-work in correlation with the film’s theme of accepting death, no other tech-work appealed to me (besides a crossfade that made the villagers appear as passages of time and ghosts).
Bergman’s The Seventh Seal brings some great things to the table, but sometimes the film feels too distant from its audience that it doesn’t always work, but when it works, it hits hard.