“The Seventh Seal” by Ingmar Bergman Essay
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This paper is devoted to the film by Ingmar Bergman “The Seventh Seal” – a tale about the journey of a medieval knight. The form of the story is very difficult: realistic details were blended with religious and mythic overtones. The main hero was traveling with the target to find manifest of God, his journey was physical and at the same time spiritual one. The title of the film was related to the Book of Revelation, it was used at the beginning of the film and at the very end: “”And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour” (Revelation 8:1).
Bergman studied the themes of death and mortality, existential and apocalyptic fears and finally “silence in heaven” – the silence of God in the world. There was an idea that the whole film was in reality an allegory for the modern disquiet among people after they lost medieval faith, “with one character embodying tortured doubt, another simple faith, still another defiant unbelief.” (Greydanus, 2001).
The film can not be considered an absolutely philosophical or purely religious one; it dealt with religious issues in the society and human souls, reflected the fear of people, that there was probably no afterlife and no God if he was so silent. One of the main messages of the film was not to search for concrete answers, as at any rate they could be absolutely different from the initial expectations.
Most of the film scenes were based on the balance between drama and comedy, at the same time the themes of revenge, anger, freedom, fear interchanged. The optimistic moments of the film were significant, due to them, the inevitable end of the world could not make people give up. There was a strong contrast between the disappointment of the knight and his squire and the exasperated crowd, claiming that a girl was a witch and ought to be burnt, it is clear that the girl was innocent, but the process of burning helped the mob to deal with their fear of death.
It was easer for them to believe that they annihilated evil, when burning the girl, than looking for the evil inside of themselves. This heart-rending scene was reinforced with the constant impression that the Judgment Day was inescapable and was coming closer and closer. The most evident reminding of it could be seen, when the leader of the procession of the self-torturing people was shouting about the God’s punishment and inevitable perdition waiting for all humans.
The film was rich in symbols as well as existentialist themes – death, religion, and metaphysics. The plague was not a simple disease, but embodiment of the intrinsic destructive forces of people; it was supposed to verify the inherent values and strength of individuals. One of the key themes of the film was contrast: between reality and illusion, between faith and skepticism, between intellect and emotions, between courage and cowardice, between love and lust.
Death was a character in the film along with the others – from time to time he seemed to reveal some human feelings, like for example sympathy with the Knight; at the same time a phantom and a force. The main controversy about Death was either his freedom or obedience to an omniscient God. In reality he didn’t help the Knight to find answers to his questions.
The family of the actors: Jof, his wife Mia and their son Mikael, met by the Knight were also in a way contrasted to his religious doubts and anxiety. The names of the man and woman as diminutive forms of the names Joseph and Mary, contribute to building the association with the Holy Family (Marshall, 2004). Also at the beginning of the film Jof had a vision of the Virgin Mary when she was teaching Jesus to walk. Later in the film Antonius saw Mia teaching her son in the similar way.
This parallel however seemed to be rather strange for the overall skeptical tone of the film. It was never clear why Death left Jof and his family alive, when Antonius helped them, distracting Death for the moment, to run away through a bore in their wagon, as nobody was supposed to escape from Death. We don’t know whether this was their destiny to die later or some other reasons. For the other heroes Death played various roles: Plog met Death with modest dignity, the Girl, who probably had a lot of suffering during her life, met Death as salvation, associating it with Jesus.
The main reason why the Knight didn’t want to die was his hope to conduct one meaningful act before dying and to find the answer to his question about God’s existence. Probably after doing this significant act the Knight expected to get the proof, that the universe was not absolutely absurd and there was a force controlling the lives of people, however this would be also in a way ambiguous proof.
Within the whole film he was not able to find piece and conciliation, he was the prisoner of his doubts and fantasies, apart of the meal with Jof and Mia; even cheating of Death didn’t bring the desired satisfaction. The main internal conflict of the Knight rooted from the fact that he lost pure faith and could not find the meaning of life and death without it. He started his fight with shadows not wanting to accept the absurdness of the universe. He saw the main problem in the absence of proofs of God’s existence, but in reality his intellectual confinement caused it.
Overall, the film is very profound and controversial, there are no answers, and there are only new intricate questions about life and death, about faith and science, about eternal values and nihilism.
Greydanus D. S. (2001). The Seventh Seal (1957). 1-4
Marshall. B. (March 5, 2004). The Seventh Seal, Movie Review. 2-5