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  • Writer's pictureGökçe Yavan

Ingmar Bergman's “The Seventh Seal” : Checkmate of the Soul

''I want to confess as best I can, but my heart is void. The void is a mirror. I see my face and feel loathing and horror. My indifference to man has shut me out. I live now in a world of ghosts, a prisoner in my dreams.''

- Antonius Block

The Seventh Seal
(The Seventh Seal)

The Seventh Seal
(The Seventh Seal - Antonius Block)

(The Seventh Seal - Death)

A maestro of the silver screen and one of the most important figures in contemporary Scandinavian cinema, Ingmar Bergman, guides us through the labyrinthine corridors of the human soul with each masterpiece he crafts. Known to deal with the profundity of life, he explored complex themes such as God, death, love, humanity, hatred, loneliness, and truth in his works. Bergman not only captured the complexity of human experience but also touched on the common essences of mankind with every frame.

Among these timeless treasures he bestowed upon us, "The Seventh Seal", released in 1957, stands as a testament to Bergman's genius. This piece of art beckons those who have bestowed their gaze upon the screen to embark on a profound odyssey through the mysteries of the human soul. Fear not should you find yourself adrift in the vast expanse of this timeless journey, for within its frames lies an unwavering invitation to the depths of philosophical exploration.

The cinematography of Bergman, with its familiar sharp black-and-white images, not only makes the sense of existential dread more powerful but also serves as a visual representation of the psychic desolation that dominates the narrative.

The narrative unfolds with the grace of a medieval fresco, introducing us to Antonius Block, played by Max Von Sydow, a weary knight returning from the Crusades to his plague-ridden homeland in disillusionment. On the way, the Knight faces the figure of Death and tries to buy himself some time by offering him a game of chess. We find ourselves at the crossroads of existence, where the chessboard becomes a battleground for the eternal struggle between life and death. The chess game for the Knight's soul lasts throughout the movie. His purpose in trying to buy time is to make a meaningful deed after all the meaningless decisions in his life.

In the grand scheme of things, isn't life like some sort of a game of chess? Each of our moves is a choice, and each pause, a delicate breath suspended in the absolute awareness of our own mortality. The deep silence of contemplation echoes through the corridors of our shared humanity. Block shares this deep existential game, as do all of us.

The scenes exploring existential themes are truly an exceptional journey through the many facets of the human experience. Disillusioned by the cruelty of the Crusades and the plague, Block is left with the forlorn silence of God. On the other side of the mirror that reflects Block's existential tribulations, Jof and his wife Mia’s innocence and simple but joyful lives reflect a more optimistic perspective. Reminding us that even in the face of all uncertainties, it’s still possible to find benevolence and connection.

Jof and his family become Antonius's consolation. Unable to find answers to questions about his faith or lack thereof, Block is given a renewed purpose by the artist family who represents hope and a happy future: Jof, Mia, and their son Mikael. Block fulfills his search for a meaningful deed by helping them escape Death after he deliberately knocks over the pieces in the final chess game in which he is defeated. The ending is relatively optimistic, the gloomy sky that greets us at the opening giving way to a bright, sunny day. The future for tomorrow will not be his but for Jof and Mia's son. This family gives Block's life a purpose beyond his own mortality.

The Seventh Seal Death
(The Seventh Seal - Death)

Bergman often explores his fears and concerns about death in his cinema. And with the Dance of Death sequence, there lies a symbolism that transcends mere choreography into the depths of philosophical contemplation.

The Seventh Seal
(The Seventh Seal - Closing Scene)

At the end of the movie, Jof tells Mia about his last vision. He sees that seven people, including Death and the Knight, are dancing the dance of death. It is important to address the historical significance of this scene, which emphasizes just how intimately connected everyone is to death. A symbol from the time of the Black Death, this dance echoes the medieval concept of the "Danse Macabre." Traditionally, a skeleton figure leads the dance, symbolizing the omnipresent nature of death that transcends social, economic, and cultural boundaries. This haunting dance is a timeless portrayal of mortality.

At the core of “The Seventh Seal” lies the tragic necessity of the human condition, a desperate search for meaning that resonates harmoniously with the complex melodies of our existence. It’s not only a film but a mirror reflecting the complexities of our shared humanity. A mirror that encourages introspection and connection with the profound mysteries of life. Essentially, the loss of love and modesty is considered tantamount to catastrophe. The resolution to godlessness lies neither in rationalism nor in religious extremism. One who is aware of the self and admires the beauty of existence shall find God within themselves.


Ingmar Bergman
(Dear Ingmar Bergman, 1918-2007)


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