Seventh Seal, The: Ingmar Bergman’s Masterpiece, Starring Max Von Sydow

The Seventh Seal was one of the first Ingmar Bergman films to get international attention. Max von Sydow stars as a knight who has spent ten disillusioning years crusading in the Holy Land. On his way home he plays chess game with Death.

Bergman uses this fanciful pretext to examine the realities of human existence. The chess game becomes a symbol for the importance of the personal struggle to find meaning in the face of death. The outcome of the game is inevitable, for Death will win, but the personal struggle still contains great hope. In 1960, Time magazine reported: “The Seventh Seal marks the great divide in Bergman’s life and work. With it death and desperation fall away, life and hope appear.”

The inspiration for The Seventh Seal came to Bergman one morning in January 1956, while he was shaving. He was listening to one of his favorite pieces of music, Orff’s opera Carmina Burana, when images from Picasso’s Les Saltimbanques and Durer’s “Knight, Death, and Devil” came together in his mind. Literary influences on the finished film include the Book of Revelations, and Faust.

In one of the film’s most haunting sequences, the knight comes upon the burning of a “witch” who has reportedly had sexual relations with the Devil. The knight asks her to introduce him to the Devil: “I want to question him about God. He, if anyone, must know.” Another memorable scene is the “solemn dance toward the dark-lands” led by Death at the end of the film.

Bergman’s Short Bio

Bergman was born in 1918 in Uppsala, Sweden. His father was a pastor, and ingrained in him concepts, which would later surface, in his films: sin, confession, punishment, forgiveness and grace. Bergman became a student of art history and literature at the University of Stockholm, then an errand boy at the Royal Opera House, and finally a filmmaker. His films include Wild Strawberries (1957), Persona (1966), Cries and Whispers (1972), Scenes from a Marriage (1973), Autumn Sonata (1978) and Fanny and Alexander (1983). He recently wrote Best Intentions (1992).

Running Time: 96 minutes