Blind Spot 09: Det Sjunde Inseglet, or The Seventh Seal (1957), dir. Ingmar Bergman

Blind Spot 09: The Seventh Seal (1957)

this post is part of the blind spot series, a feature first seen on The Matinee

Det Sjunde Inseglet (1957)

directed by Ingmar Bergman
starring Max von Sydow, Gunnar Björnstrand and Bengt Ekerot

This month’s Blind Spot comes a few of days later than usual because I wanted this movie to have my undivided attention. I had a feeling I would love it, and that inkling proved true. In Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 medieval allegory, The Seventh Seal, we follow a knight (Block, played by Max Von Sydow), returning to his Swedish village in the 14th century, after fighting in the Crusades. Having survived the war he comes home to face Death (Bengt Ekerot), whom he challenges to a game of chess. If Block wins, death won’t claim his soul.

They play throughout the entire movie as Block and his squire, Jöns (Gunnar Björnstrand) make their way to his castle. On their journey they encounter Jof (Nils Poppe) and Mia (Bibi Andersson), a couple of performers, and their infant son. It’s a simple and straightforward enough plot, but The Seventh Seal actually opens with a enigmatic quote from Revelations that illustrates Block’s deepest torment, and sets the one for a film that is anything but simple:

And when the Lamb had opened the seventh seal,
there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.

Different interpretations of this Bible verse point to the silence as the calm before the storm, as in a quiet moment after which God will bring down his wrath upon the Earth. The Lamb is Jesus Christ, the only one worthy of receiving the knowledge beyond the seals he gets to open.

In the movie, Block’s Swedish village is ravaged by the Black Plague, which the local inhabitants attribute to being punishment from God. But don’t try too hard to establish any further connections between the bible’s seals tale and what happens in the movie, as it doesn’t seem like Bergman was too preoccupied with the quote’s origins. Instead, silence becomes the affliction every religious person who believes in a superior being has gone through: doubt.

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.
— Antonius Block, in Det Sjunde Inseglet (1957)

Block returns from the crusades tired, painfully aware of his mortality, feeling disconnected from people, and most of all, from God. No doubt the horrors he has seen and done in the war have shaken his belief in a being that is supposed love and protect them all. And to Block it seems that worse than a neglecting God, is the total non-existence of one – the horror of nothingness.

I am Death. I have long walked by your side. Are you ready?
Death, in Det Sjunde Inseglet (1957)

Opposite Block’s faltering faith is Jof’s simple acceptance, and Jöns straightforward opposition to religion and to a church that in the 14th century encouraged self-harm and negation of pleasure in favor of a promised afterlife. To Jöns, virtue lies in living: But feel, to the very end, the triumph of being alive!. Now this could all have been a rather dull, outdated morality/religious allegory, were it not so cleverly and compellingly executed.

Death as a character and image is undoubtedly the most memorable and acclaimed part of The Seventh Seal (1957), but it’s hardly the only one to marvel at. Besides a stunning work of black of white cinematography, Bergman’s classic from the 50s is incredibly well written with contrasting and charismatic characters, a fitting score, and solid performances. Its fantastical and theatrical approach gives way to enigmatic and iconic lines, and an often overlooked witty dialogue with a layered depth that has me knowing multiple viewings are encourage and needed to fully appreciate this movie.

The Seventh Seal 1957 Poster
Det Sjunde Inseglet – The Seventh Seal (1957)

Rating: 4.5 Stars
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Writen by Ingmar Bergman
Starring Max von Sydow, Gunnar Björnstrand, Bengt Ekerot
Running Time: 1h36min Genre: Drama, Fantasy

Synopsis A man seeks answers about life, death, and the existence of God as he plays chess against the Grim Reaper during the Black Plague.

IMDb | Movie Trailer
Watch with Amazon Prime Video | Buy on Amazon

Previous Blind Spot Entries:
A Place in The Sun (1951) | January
Love With The Proper Stranger (1963) | February
Letter From An Unknown Woman (1948) | March
La Notte (1961) | April
Metropolis (1927) | May
Paths of Glory (1957) | June
Le Mépris (1963) | July
Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo (1966) | August

Have you seen Det Sjunde Inseglet or The Seventh Seal (1957)?
How was your own Blind Spot this month? Don’t forget to leave your links below!

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1 Comment

  1. October 7, 2018 / 4:23 AM

    Excellent review! This was also on my Blind Spot list this year and it ended up being so different than I imagined. I liked it too. Bergman has become a fascination of mine because of these Blind Spot lists. Who knows how long it would’ve taken me to watch his films without this excuse.

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