Von Sydow and Ekerot

 

There’s a funny little side effect that comes with watching “essential cinema” for the first time; It’s the inability to shake the feeling that you’ve seen much of what plays out before you already. Perhaps you’ve seen the best scenes in some sort of television special or other such visual omnibus. More often, the reality is that you’ve seen several scenes in other movies that were all inspired by an original moment that you are finally arriving at.

Or in my case, I finally arrived at an entire approach to filmmaking that has been parodied, referenced, and spoofed to the hills…to the point where this original offering (serious as it is) prompts a slight smirk from this humble blogger.

From master filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, THE SEVENTH SEAL is about death. At every turn, in every scene. Death is everywhere and on everyone’s minds. In a way, it’s hard to avoid, since Death – bald, hooded, carrying his scythe – comes and goes out of every other scene (played iconically by Bengt Ekerot). Death is especially intrigued by a returning crusader named Antonius (Max von Sydow). He wants to shuffle him off this mortal coil, but like many of us Antonius is not ready to leave just yet.

Antonius challenges Death to a game of chess, and as long as the game keeps going, Antonius is allowed to live. Antonius doesn’t mention to Death that he plans on walking away from the board now and then.

 

Strandmark in Seventh Seal

 

That funny side effect I mentioned earlier was in the back of my brain as I watched TH SEVENTH SEAL unfold. Meeting the fool, the minstrels, the knight, and Death himself, I felt as if I’d wandered though these scenes before. In a way I believe it’s because THE SEVENTH SEAL has unwittingly gone on to become the template for “foreign, arty, and monochrome”. Its whimsy, its visual metaphors, its melancholic self-reflection all turn up in everything from The Simpsons to (500) DAYS OF SUMMER. It’s not all that easy to take something seriously after you’ve seen it spoofed so many times…and likewise, it’s easy to see why other media chose to spoof it.

Every interaction and every piece of visual subtext is charming in this movie…but it’s all so ripe for skewering.

In some ways, I have to believe that Bergman would approve. After all, if the message is to not be afraid of death…to be able to look it in the eye and welcome it like an old friend, then isn’t the ability to be silly alongside our old friends part of the deal?

Hell, for all I know, Bergman counted himself a huge fan of BILL & TED’S BOGUE JOURNEY.

Back within the confines of this film, I must admit that I found all of those pieces of visual language quite elegant. It’s hard to explain the inherent fear one gets when they start dreading death’s arrival at their door. There’s a dread, a sorrow, a wonder, and a tiny sense of relief that all swirl around as one. There is also an inevitability to it; a “what goes up must come down” to it all. So to phrase it as having climbed a tree that will soon be chopped down is gloriously succinct.

The villagers in this movie underline just how obsessed with death some of us human beings are; both in the way we fear it and likewise the way we work in its name. It’s hard to describe just how we arrived at this place in history, except perhaps that we’ve always been here…so Death treating us so nonchalantly is fitting.

Perhaps Death knows that he is both feared and celebrated all in the same breath.

 

Bergman The Seventh Seal

 

This time of year, when days are greyest, nights are darkest and the weather is coldest, it’s natural to find thoughts drifting to mortality. We look around and realize that everyone has a different approach and relationship with their own best-before date. Some will get stuck in the “bargaining” stage of grief, and some will move on to “acceptance”.

Every approach is in this film; every reaction is worn on a characters face when The Reaper greets them. If it’s not, then it is painted on their church walls, or uttered in their minstrel plays.

All of it is valid, all of it is honest. If we all met death in the same way, then we would cease to be human. Movies like THE SEVENTH SEAL help us understand that, and help us to see that we can be brave in the face of death or we can piss or pants. Either way, we’re leaving this plane of existence.

 

Seventh Seal Dance of Death

 

I’m happy that I finally sat down at the chessboard and played a game against THE SEVENTH SEAL. It left me to wonder why it is so many have no use for God until their number seems like it’s about to be called, and why we fail to understand how much opportunity is actually provided by death.

In short, it was a truly introspective experience. It left me thinking less about where I’ve been than where I’m going – where we are all going. There’s something Quixotic underneath THE SEVENTH SEAL; something that wants to tell us that our quest is a futile one but that if we want to truly be immortal that we need to conduct ourselves accordingly. Perhaps if we live a life that is worthy, Death will be merciful. Perhaps it will allow us to play a game and stall, or take us over with a smile and a dance.

THE SEVENTH SEAL refers to a moment in the biblical Book of Revelations, when all was quiet for thirty minutes after the seventh seal was broken.

Maybe that’s what this movie wants us to strive for; not for a delay of death, or even for a merciful one…but just for thirty minutes peace in the face of all life’s chaos…even if it comes thirty minutes before it all ends.

 

 

BSS

I usually post Blind Spot entries on the final Tuesday of every month. If you are participating, drop me an email (ryanatthematineedotca) when your post is up and I’ll make sure to link to your entry.

 

Here’s the round-up for December so far…

 

Rebecca watched DOWNFALL

Beatrice watched REQUIEM FOR A DREAM

Keisha watched CHILDREN OF PARADISE

Katie watched EVER SO ETHNICALLY CONFUSED

Natasha watched A GOOD YEAR

Chris watched THE TEN COMMANDMENTS

Brittani watched WINTER LIGHT

Kevin watched PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK

Zoë watched LOVE, ACTUALLY

Sean Kelly watched WHERE DO WE GO NOW

Steven watched SCARFACE (1932)