Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Seventh Seal

The Gruntleds had a wonderfully nerdy Thanksgiving evening. After the guests had left, we settled in to watch Ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal." Mrs. G. and I had seen it in college, but we wanted to show it to Endub, who had been studying Kierkegaard.

The film is a fantastically made movie. Scene after scene is framed iconically. The serious moral quest of the knight to know God, the counterpoint of his cynical, worldly squire, and the terrible blankness of Death, are worth wresting with. For a Christian, the film is disturbingly ambiguous. The last word seems to go to Death and the squire - that beyond this life there is nothing and unknowing.

When we had seen it through, we did something I have not done before: immediately saw it again with the commentary on - in this case by British film historian Peter Cowie. Cowie brought out a helpful point. Bergman was surprised at the huge impact of "The Seventh Seal." He described it as a little movie that he and some friends made one summer. Bergman himself rejected the faith of his minister father, and became a hedonistic atheist. In the film, the director identified with the squire.

Endub and I agreed, though, that the film has its power because viewers identify with the knight. The knight does sacrifice himself to do a meaningful good act in this life. And the ending does not settle the knight's question about God -- whatever the director might think.

4 comments:

halifax said...

I can only assume that you followed 'The Seventh Seal' with a viewing of 'Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey', in which the protagonists play death in Battleship, Clue, and Twister.

peter hoh said...

Sounds like an excellent way to spend a Thanksgiving evening.

Doesn't Woody Allen include a parody of the chess scene in one of his films?

There's another great scene with Death in "Monty Python's Meaning of Life." If I recall correctly, there might be an allusion to another Bergman film at the end of that vignette.

There are a few other reasons that MOL pairs nicely with "The Seventh Seal." Both films ask, "Why are we here?" MOL answers in song.

It is, of course, a universal question, and present in most of my favorite films. "My Dinner with Andre," "Ikiru," and "Strangers in Good Company" come to mind.

Wonder when I'll be able to entice my kids to sit through one of those films?

Gruntled said...

According to "Waiting for Guffman," you could get My Dinner with Andre action figures to entice your kids with.

cafzal said...

Whatever Bergman may have told various media outlets about his faith, he was preoccupied with Christianity. Though the very dark film Persona can be read with Freudian eyes, it also seems to be a meditation on the Trinity. A great viewing is Bergman's take on family which is in his last "official film" Fanny and Alexander.