The Seventh Seal | Chicago Reader

The Seventh Seal

96 minutes 1957

Returning from the Crusades, a 14th-century knight finds his homeland devastated by the plague and swept by religious mania. He's no longer able to pray, but just as his faith reaches a low ebb, death comes calling in the person of a very grim reaper. The ending is a cliff-hanger: the knight challenges death to a chess game, hoping to win himself enough time to settle his doubts. Ingmar Bergman's 1957 film is still his most celebrated (probably because the stark imagery reproduces so well in still photographs), yet he later repudiated it. It survives today only as an unusually pure example of a typical 50s art-film strategy: making the most modern and popular art form acceptable to the intelligentsia by forcing it into an arcane, antique mold (here the form of medieval allegory). The film in fact consists of a series of dull speeches spun on simple themes; Bergman barely tries to make the material function dramatically. With Max von Sydow, Bibi Andersson, and Bengt Ekerot. In Swedish with subtitles.

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