The work of Ingmar Bergman has been so influential on film that it seems only fair his own work is held in a near impossibly high regard. Bergman made classic after classic, and The Seventh Seal is one of the many that have eluded me up until now. His feasible understanding of death, mortality and everything in between is one of the many common themes of his work, and it’s no more consistent than in The Seventh Seal.
Max von Sydow’s role as the Swedish knight Antonius Block is definitely one of the most memorable performances he’s given. Joined by Jons (played by Gunnar Bjornstrand), the two venture through a Black Death ridden country. Block’s character arc is superb; his reason for wanting to live is to redeem himself before he meets with death for the final time. It’s explored superbly well, and pairing Bergman’s direction with Sydow’s performance is a recipe for success.
It was nice to view some iconic scenes for the first time; the introduction of death and the chess match he and Block share is a great overarching storyline. Bergman’s frequency in linking his plot to the afterlife and mortality is great, it works very well and the metaphors he uses are somewhat well presented. The scenes of the chess game were certainly my favourite parts of the movie, along with any scene that happened to feature Jons. Jons is a great character, overlooked somewhat due to the prowess of Block, but Bjornstrand offers up a superb supporting role.
Bengt Ekerot provides the most interesting piece of the movie though, if only because of his performance as Death. It’s nice to see some of the metaphorical aspects of the movie take on a literal meaning, and Ekerot proves substantial enough to carry the torch of Block’s greatest fear.
There were of course aspects of The Seventh Seal that proved uninteresting or just truly poor in quality. Nils Poppe on the whole was grating, annoying and a little bit overdramatic, not quite matching the subtlety or interest the rest of the movie provided. He has a small handful of moments that save the character from being completely obnoxious though, which is more than can be said for a number of supporting cast members.
Certainly an interesting piece from Bergman, and it does make me excited to see the rest of his movies. Filled with passion and bleak notions, The Seventh Seal is a great introductory tool to access the work of Bergman. Held steady by the leading performance of Max von Sydow and shot with a great interest in the cinematography, it’s a humanizing and moralising experience.