The Seventh Seal  

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"And when the Lamb had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour."--Book of Revelation

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet) is a 1957 Swedish historical fantasy film written and directed by Ingmar Bergman. Set in Sweden during the Black Death, it tells of the journey of a medieval knight (Max von Sydow) and a game of chess he plays with the personification of Death (Bengt Ekerot), who has come to take his life. Bergman developed the film from his own play Wood Painting. The title refers to a passage from the Book of Revelation, used both at the very start of the film, and again towards the end, beginning with the words "And when the Lamb had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour". Here the motif of silence refers to the "silence of God," which is a major theme of the film.

The Seventh Seal is considered a classic of world cinema, as well as one of the greatest movies of all time. It established Bergman as a world-renowned director, containing scenes which have become iconic through homages, critical analysis, and parodies.


Disillusioned knight Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) and his nihilistic squire Jöns (Gunnar Björnstrand) return from the Crusades to find Sweden ravaged by the plague. The knight encounters Death (Bengt Ekerot), whom he challenges to a chess match, believing he can forestall his demise as long as the game continues. Death agrees, and they start a new game which continues throughout the story.

The knight and his squire pass by actors Jof (Nils Poppe) and his wife Mia (Bibi Andersson) with their infant son Mikael and actor-manager Jonas Skat (Erik Strandmark). Jof, prone to lying, has visions of Jesus and Mary.

Block and Jöns enter a church where a fresco of the Dance of Death is being painted. The squire draws a figure representing himself, chiding the artist for colluding in the ideological fervour that led to the disastrous crusade. In the confessional, Block admits that he wants to perform "one meaningful deed". Upon revealing the chess strategy that will save his life, the knight discovers the priest is Death. Leaving the church, the knight speaks to a young woman (Maud Hansson) condemned to be burned at the stake for consorting with the devil. He believes she will tell him about life beyond death, only to discover her beyond sanity.

Jöns saves a mute servant girl (Gunnel Lindblom) from being raped by Raval (Bertil Anderberg), a theologian who ten years prior convinced the knight to join the Crusades. Jöns vows to brand him on the face if they meet again. The servant girl joins Jöns into town, where the actors are performing. Skat is enticed by Lisa (Inga Gill)—wife of the sentimental and violent blacksmith Plog—away for a tryst. The performance is interrupted by a procession of flagellants.

At the town's public house, Raval manipulates Plog and the other customers into intimidating Jof, who is forced to dance on the tables like a bear. The bullying is broken up by Jöns; true to his word, he slashes Raval's face. The knight and squire are joined by Jof's family and a repentant Plog. Block enjoys a picnic of milk and wild strawberries gathered by Mia, and declares: "I'll carry this memory between my hands as if it were a bowl filled to the brim with fresh milk... And it will be an adequate sign—it will be enough for me."

Block relaxes his pursuit of religious meaning, and invites Plog and the actors to shelter from the plague in his castle. They encounter Skat and Lisa in the forest. Lisa returns to Plog, while Skat fakes a remorseful suicide. The group moves on, and Skat climbs a tree. Death appears and cuts down the tree, killing Skat.

Meeting the condemned woman again, Block asks her to summon Satan so he can ask him about God. The girl claims she has done so, but the knight only sees her terror, and gives her herbs to take away her pain. Jöns and Block watch grimly as her sentence is carried out.

They encounter Raval, dying of the plague. Jöns stops the servant girl from bringing him water, and Raval dies alone. Jof tells his wife that he can see the knight playing chess with Death, and decides to flee with his family while Death is preoccupied.

Death states "No one escapes me", and Block knocks the chess pieces over to distract Death while Jof's family slips away. Death restores the pieces and wins the game on the next move. He announces that when they meet again, the knight's time—and that of those traveling with him—will be up. Death asks if he has accomplished his one "meaningful deed"; Block replies that he has.

Block reunites with his wife, Karin (Inga Landgré). The party shares a "last supper,” and Block prays to God, "Have mercy on us, because we are small and frightened and ignorant." The mute servant girl speaks: "It is finished."

Jof's family sits out a storm, which he interprets to be "the Angel of Death... and he's very big". In the morning, Jof’s second sight allows him to see the knight and his followers being led away over the hills in a solemn Dance of Death.


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