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The closet I’ve ever come in tapping Ingar Bergman’s 1957 seminal genre classic THE SEVENTH SEAL (WATCH IT HERE), was gawking at the parody of its Death character in BILL & TEDS BOGUS JOURNEY (played by William Sadler) and another take on that same role (this time tackled by Ian McKellen) by way of THE LAST ACTION HERO; as the Grim Reaper steps out of the big screen to party poop Ahnuld’s life during a SEVENTH SEAL screening. So yeah, as a film buff, it was about damn time I tackled this one. I went in not really knowing what to expect and came out of it a beyond content and stimulated filmgoer!
THE SEVENTH SEAL had me by the collar right away when it opened up with this powerful/enigmatic quote from The Book of Revelations: "And when the Lamb had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour". The flick then went on to somewhat echo that quote throughout via its existential streak about the big "G's"existence (and his silence), the atrocities made in his name and the unspeakable evil that men do upon their own kind. Now that I think of it, the questions that this film asks, the themes that it puts under the microscope and curiously took in from so many angles, well, they are still very relevant today. This was the kind of flick that worked on many levels and I can spend pages and pages yapping about what I thought it means versus what may have been its true intent, but I won’t do that. That would be a f*cking borefet. All I’ll say is that for me it was basically a statement about God and man’s relationship with him as whole while at the same time acting as a study of human beings rapport with “Death”. What will it mean to you? The BLEEP I know. Let me know below!
The allegory of a Knight playing Chess with Death (a charismatic yet chilling Bengt Ekerot), to save his own life, and the tricks that he pulled to extend his existence at all cost, was not lost on me. At the end of the day –we all want to live – but alas, although we can cheat death, maybe even delay the bastard's reign on our souls, he will catch up to us sooner or later. Visually, this black and white effort was simply stunning to soak in. The desperation of the Black Plague ravaged era the story was set in seeped out the screen, the careful/artsy framing carried with it mucho impact and the convincing costumed/sets brought the harshness of the time home with gusto. The black and white motif only augmented the uneasy feel of the picture for this twat. Now that I think of it, the whole felt like an introspective and morose poem told via impactful images. I earnestly wonder what was going through Berman’s mind and soul when he shot this one – he was probably not in a “happy place”.
Performance wise Max von Sydow was excellent as Antonius Block, hitting the varied emotional notes required with skill. Gunnar Bjornstrand was ideal as the cynical Atheist squire Jons who also brought in some dark comic relief with him. While Bibi Andersson was enchanting as Mia and Maud Hansson oh so nailed her role as the scapegoat for the plague – the latter so stole that scene. Add to all that a handful of uber visceral sequences that had me tense up (the flagellants walk through scene beng one for the books), powerful religiously charged imagery (I’m still not sure what to make of Jobs’ visions), some heavy hitting dialogue (my fav line: "Faith is a torment – did you know that? It is like loving someone who is out there in the darkness but never appears, no matter how loudly you call.") and an ending that snagged me on many echelons and you get one hell of a cinematic chow-down.
Any drawbacks? Obviously, the film won’t be for everybody. It’s very artsy, with a slow yet even pace. I can dig those types of celluloid nuggets… can you? I guess my only true peeve with this one would be that I would have preferred to not have as much humor as I got. Nils Poppe who played the actor that tags along with our heroes was the main culprit of that. Poppe’s character broke the tension a little too much for my liking. Not the performer’s fault, his character was written that way! I would have toned it down. But hey, the f*ck I now! That’s just my personal tastes; maybe you won’t care. Overall THE SEVENTH SEAL made for a novel watch! I’m sure I didn’t get the bulk of what it was trying to say on this first round, but I got enough to know that I want to see it again! For film fans whom at times dare stare outside the “safe bets” to expand their horizons!