The Seventh Seal

Year: 1957
Production Co: Svensk Filmindustri
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Writer: Ingmar Bergman
Cast: Max von Sydow
You couldn't call yourself a movie buff and not see Ingmar Bergman's seminal tale of...

Exactly. It's mostly for the black turtleneck and beret brigade, and you'll find as many people who say it's a definitive moment in cinema as you will people who say 'so that's where the idea of playing games with death came from that was in Bill and Ted'.

Not surprisingly given my formative years during the early blockbuster period when Lucas and Spielberg took over Hollywood, the latter reaction was the extent of my Bergman education until now.

A pair of lost souls cross the cold medieval forests of Europe in the time of the Crusades, a knight (a ridiculously young but unmistakable Sydow) and his steward.

We start by seeing the knight - apparently exhausted from his travels, dying on a rocky and forbidding beach. Approached by the Grim Reaper for collection, he issues a challenge instead; beat me at chess and you can take me.

If that seems the core of the movie, it's a theme we only revisit quickly and a couple more times. The rest of it involves he and his sidekick hooking up with a band of travelling entertainers, one of whom flees the scene after being caught at adultery, the remainder of the gang finding their way back to the knight's castle home.

Bergman (and Antonius, the knight) seem to be asking the time-honoured question; why do we have the rely on faith that God exists or that there's life after death, why can't we just see the proof in front of our eyes?

The rest of the movie seems superfluous to that question/quest even though it's peppered with biblical symbols (the performers' name - Mary and Joseph - with their new baby), but if it's related, it must be through symbolism or subtext that was too deep for me to piece together.

Endlessly referenced and spoofed, and quite possibly the first appearance of our idea of Death as a character in popular culture, which gives the film it's power.

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