Scenes I Go Back To: The Seventh Seal

The film’s position in pop culture does nothing to deny its power and depth.

It seems almost clichéd to include a scene from The Seventh Seal in a list of “Scenes I Go Back To.” Not just because it’s one of those films, but also because Ingmar Bergman’s classic has become indelibly ingrained in modern pop culture due to countless spoofs and references. But that does nothing to deny the power and depth of the film itself.

I first saw The Seventh Seal after my sophomore year in college. I had recently finished a film history course during which we watched Bergman’s Persona, and so wanted to start flexing my newfound cinematic muscles. And where better to start than the man who is perhaps most commonly associated with “arthouse” cinema?

I was also going through something of a spiritual crisis at the time, and so The Seventh Seal’s themes of searching for God and meaning in a world seemingly gone mad resonated with me. And nowhere moreso than Antonius Block’s confession.

While journeying through a plague-ravaged countryside, Block and his skeptical squire arrive at a monastery. The knight, pious despite his doubts, goes into confession, and bares his soul to someone he believes to be a monk (though it is, in fact, Death himself).

Block confesses his alienation: “I see my face and feel loathing and horror. My indifference to men has shut me out. I live now in a world of ghosts, a prisoner in my dreams.” And he cries out against God’s silence: “I want knowledge! Not faith, not assumptions, but knowledge. I want God to stretch out His hand, uncover His face and speak to me… I call out to Him in the darkness. But it’s as if no one was there.”

When Death casually comments that there might not be anyone there after all, Block laments “Then life is a preposterous horror. No man can live faced with Death, knowing everything’s nothingness.”

Unfortunately, thanks to films like Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey and Last Action Hero, most people are probably unaware of this intense spiritual exploration and questioning, and are simply content to refer to The Seventh Seal as “that movie where that one dude plays chess with Death.” Their loss.

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