‘The Seventh Seal’ pensively juggles mortality

Hannah Donahue

“The Seventh Seal” is not an epic biopic on the reincarnations of the superb R&B singer Seal. Somebody go out and make that movie right now. However, “The Seventh Seal” is one of the world’s best films ever made. Ever! It’s just a truth. Like, how Beyoncé is always on beat or how if you’re running late you will hit every red light on your way to your very important and state-sanctioned therapy and Zumba class. You’d never be late to Zumba though because it makes you feel like a warrior. Just like how setting fires make you feel invincible…   

Anyways, “The Seventh Seal” should be on your watch list. It’s important enough to create a watch list just so that the movie can be on it. You can also impress your friends with knowing Ingmar Bergman’s seminal work and with knowing who Ingmar Bergman is. It also won the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1957.  

Get excited! It’s in black and white and subtitled. Now, before you strike a match and light this newspaper on fire out of disgust, wait. If you feel like burning this newspaper, or any other literature for that matter, wait till the end of this article before you pick up those matches. I know it makes you feel like a god but it’s a fleeting high. You’ve been on edge since you stopped inhaling Juuls and especially since you spent that entire night inside that abandoned orphanage for the criminally insane hidden away on Main Street. What better way to ease your squirming mind than an existentialist tome on death and religion? 

The movie follows Block, a medieval Swedish knight alive during the time of the bubonic plague. Death appears to Block (Max von Syndow) and his squire, Jöns, on a beach on their journey back from a stint in the Crusades. Block believes he can escape his fate by challenging Death to a game of chess. Full disclosure: I seriously thought that the entire movie was going to be just watching these two play chess for an hour and a half. Thankfully, that was not the case, so I thought I’d let you in on the secret. It’s not really a secret though. 

This movie has it all. Death, Block and an acrobat who has heavenly visions. One such vision is of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus. (This is Ricky Bobby’s favorite version of Jesus for those playing at home). There’s a tavern brawl and many deep conversations on the nature of existence. It’s a fun time. I mean that in a sincere way. It’s not going to be the same thrill that you get from seeing flames engulf a building – the glorious beauty of rebirth that only fire can bring – but what else can? If you put yourself in the right frame of mind, then “The Seventh Seal” will be a great viewing experience.  Especially if you play the drinking game that goes along with the film. 

Every time Jöns says something nihilistic, take a drink. Every time Death pretends to be a priest in a confessional, take a drink. Every time you see a body ravaged by the bubonic plague, take a drink. Whenever Block and Death are playing chess you need to take a shot though. And, every time you feel an existential dread, take a sip. You’re going to want to pace yourself on that one though. You can also enjoy the film sober; it’s up to you.  

Block encounters Jof and his family. He escorts them through the woods and offers them shelter in his castle. Acts of kindness are juxtaposed with acts of brutality. But I know what you’re asking, where is the fire? Does anything burn? You’re in luck, it just so happens that a woman is burnt to death because villagers believe she is a witch responsible for the plague. Unfortunately, despite popular opinion of the time, that does end the plague. Block tries to comfort the woman before her execution and brings her water. He tries to get her to summon Satan so he can ask him about death. Satan never appears although the woman screams that she sees him as she stares off into the distance. This is interesting to note since the character Death is anthropomorphized, as well as the visions of Jof that are seen on screen, but Satan never makes an appearance. God does not make an appearance either.   

The entire movie is filled with even more thought-producing scenes than those brought up here so you should definitely check it out. It’s streaming on Kanopy so anyone with UNH credentials can watch the movie online. There is also a hard copy in Dimond Library in the multimedia center that you actually rent in person and put into a DVD player. 

This is a great film to watch if you want to ponder on the role of religion in the human understanding of existence. What do you do on Earth if you can never outrun Death? Where do you turn for answers? Why aren’t there more scenes where things burn?  Alright, alright, if you still want to light the newspaper on fire, go ahead you silly kid you.  

Good job, I admire your restraint for not lighting the newspaper on fire. You see, when we are able to control our urges… Is that smoke? Oh god, you’re doing it. You’re actually doing it!  Stop it, put it out! It burns! Stop shouting!  Soli Deo Gloria? I don’t know what that means!?