The Greatest films of all time: 50.The Seventh Seal (1957)(Sweden)



“The Seventh Seal” of Ingmar Bergman that won the Jury special prize at Cannes Film Festival in 1957 is a start of the Swedish filmmaker’s metaphorical, allegorical and poetic film style for the first time into the world of cinema. Although Surrealism in cinema starting in the silent era with “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” of Robert Wiene, then “Un Chien Andalou” of Luis Bunuel had brought an intellectual format and content to the art of film, it was not until Bergman when cinema started to become a medium of intellectual experiments and expressions. This started with “The Seventh Seal” and followed in the same year of 1957 with “Wild Strawberries” by Bergman himself again, until other filmmakers worldwide, such as Michealngelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini, and Jean Luc Goddard among others followed the suit in their own fashions.


But Ingmar Bergman’s prolific career, spanning from 1938 with a theatrical production at age 20 until 2003 with his last feature, Saraband and his last radio theatre show in 2004 at age 86, just three years before his death at age 89 is unmatched. With 45 feature films directing, with 50 screenplays, 24 documentaries, 11 television films, and more than 150 theatrical and radio shows, Bergman is the most active directors of all time. Not just for his extreme activities, producing more than one work every single year in different media, he is perhaps the only filmmakers who has had hands on any genres, from drama, to comedy, thriller, fantasy, action, and on different subject matters of philosophy, psychology, metaphorical, poetic, and more. He has created his own original styles and work such as in “The Seventh Seal”, but also has directed many adaptations of great classics on stage and radio from Shakespeare to Albert Camus, Verdi, Tennessee Williams, Cervantes, Edward Albee, Eugene O’Neil, and many more.


Bergman is also one of the very few filmmakers with more than a few masterpieces such as “The Seventh Seal”, “Wild Strawberries”, “The Virgin Spring”, “The Pleasure Garden”, “Persona”, “The Passion of Anna”, “Cries and Whispers”, “Scenes from a Marriage”, “The Magic Flute”, “Autumn Sonata”, “Fanny and Alexander”, and his last feature “Saraband” at age 84. He is also one of the few who deservedly won three times the best foreign films at the Academy Awards, one Golden Bear from Berlin Film Festival, one Cesar award, seven awards from Cannes Film Festival, six best foreign film awards from Golden Globe, and seven Guldbagge awards from the Swedish Film Festival. Bergman has also made several of great Swedish actors known to the world, such as Bibi Anderson, Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, Ingrid Tulin, Harriett Anderson, Jorgen Lindstrom, Victor Sjostrom, and more.         

Fear of Death or longing for the Truth:

It has been suggested by some critics that “The Seventh Seal” is an existential nihilistic perspective on life. But Bergman’s films such as this and “Wild Strawberries” that somewhat related, are not nihilistic in the philosophical sense of this school of thought to believe life void of any objective meaning, so to be skeptical and pessimistic like Kierkegaard. In fact as we read further into the story of the film, there have been feelings of deception and betrayal through the crusades by the papal rules, sending the knights to fight in the name or for the glory of God, while hiding the truth and the real intention of the religious wars in the medieval time. 


The knight Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) and his squire (Gunnar Bjornstrand) return home after long years of crusades in the 14thcentury to witness their homeland Sweden like many other parts of Europe has been ravaged by the Black Plague. With this opening text introduction, the film opens with a big black bird, symbol of doom, flying over in a cloudy sky in the black and white color, with another following text prologue:

“And when the lamb had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in the heaven, about the space of half an hour. Then the seven angels prepared their seven trumpets to sound”. This passage from the book of “Revelation”, the last chapter of the New Testament, anticipating the end of the world or “Apocalypse”. 

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