Though many of his 50+ films were admittedly lost on me, Sjunde inseglet, Det (The Seventh Seal (1957)) is hands down my all-time favorite movie.
Many have asked me where my fascination with the crusades may have started, and I honestly don't know for certain, but it may very well have been with this film. Antonius Block (played by Max von Sydow) is a crusader (from his garb (black with a white crusader's cross), it looks like he may have been a Hospitaller) returned home to Sweden after 10 years of fighting in the Holy Land. When he arrives he finds his homeland in the grip of the plague which kills young and old, firm and infirm indiscriminately. Death approaches him very early on in the film to claim his life, but Block isn't ready to go just yet. ("My body is ready, but I am not.") He wants to do something meaningful and important before he dies, and has some questions concerning the existence of god that he wants answered before he's ready to kip over. He wants proof. He wants answers. He wants to know, why? What's the point?
"Is it so terribly inconceivable to comprehend God with one's senses? Why does he hide in a cloud of half-promises and unseen miracles? How can we believe in the faithful when we lack faith? What will happen to us who want to believe, but can not? What about those who neither want to nor can believe? Why can't I kill God in me? Why does He live on in me in a humiliating way - despite my wanting to evict Him from my heart? Why is He, despite all, a mocking reality I can't be rid of?" - Antonius Block
He challenges Death to a game of chess to buy some time to find answers to his questions.
Everywhere he turns, he finds no answer but Death. In one scene he goes to confession. He believes he is confessing to a priest, but the audience can see it is Death facing away from the confessional screen so Block cannot see his face and will talk freely.
- Block - "My whole life has been a meaningless search. I say it without bitterness or self-reproach. I know it is the same for all. But I want to use my respite for one significant action."
- Death (disguised as a priest to find out Block's strategy in their game of chess) - "So you play chess with Death?"
- Block - "He is a skillful tactician, but I have not yet lost one piece."
- Death - "How can you outwit Death?"
- Block - "By a combination of bishop and knight. I will break his flank."
- [The "priest" turns to face Block through the screen.]
- Death - "I shall remember that."
- Block - "Traitor! You have tricked me! But I'll find a way out."
He ends up giving up a key piece which will cost him the game. He does this purposefully, a calculated move to distract Death from taking a young family, kind and simple in their faith. Death takes him in their place, and Block dies, none of his questions answered. But he has arguably made the"one significant action" he'd confessed to the "priest" he wanted to accomplish before he died, though he and he alone dies knowing what it was. He sacrificed himself and his quest for proof and answers in order to save a young kind family.
"Mia! I see them, Mia! I see them! Over there against the stormy sky. They are all there. The smith and Lisa, the knight, Raval, Jöns, and Skat. And the strict master Death bids them dance. He wants them to hold hands and to tread the dance in a long line. At the head goes the strict master with the scythe and hourglass. But the Fool brings up the rear with his lute. They move away from the dawn in a solemn dance away towards the dark lands while the rain cleanses their cheeks of the salt from their bitter tears." - Jof
Thank you for producing the most striking, thought-provoking film I've ever seen, Mr Bergman. You'll never be forgotten.