The Seventh Seal

The Seventh Seal ★★★★½

While this film is important and influential in the world of cinema, it also looms large over the genre of black metal (and black metal adjacent artists such as Chelsea Wolfe), Swedish bands in particular. The Seventh Seal is a huge personal influence on Funeral Mist, and when Arioch joined Marduk he and Morgan Håkansson bonded over their shared love of this movie. Indeed, these dark medieval times, choked by funeral fog and the ultimate death worship could practically be a template for the ideological and aesthetic qualities of the black metal scene as it emerged in Scandinavia the early 1990s. Most famous for the game of chess that takes place throughout The Seventh Seal's runtime between Max Von Sydow's knight and Death, while it has a reputation for being something of dirge, the film is anything but. It's northern darkness is balanced not only by a strong element of irony, but also by passages of light. While there is a morbid fascination of death, Sydow's Antonius Block is a life lover. He finds that there is no God, but in His absence there is always hope, and so dedicates what time he has left to this. Faith has been his torment, he finds answers not in the dead eyes of the false witch he couldn't save but in three innocents that he could (named, most unsubtly, after Mary and Joseph).

While there are certain historical anachronisms, the point of The Seventh Seal is not to recreate the Middle Ages but as a channel for director Ingmar Bergman to work through his fear of death: something that is universal to humanity and explains the success of religion - without false promises of eternal life beyond the grave the concept would never have caught on. Indeed, Block and his squire have just returned from the Crusades, which were nothing but slaughter in the name of God for the promise of heavenly rewards. They return home only to find the plague stalking the Earth, which the same people who called for the re-taking of the Holy Land now just as falsely identify as divine punishment. It's noteworthy that the heroic characters question faith while the theologian who inspired Block to take up arms and ride to Jerusalem is now a snivelling thief. Overflowing with atmosphere, ideas and iconic shots, The Seventh Seal is a classic for the ages. Perhaps it will prove too dense for some, but then as now, many prefer safe comfortable delusions to harsh reality, just like the mummer's show being interrupted by the flagellants, beware, here cometh the barer of dark words.

Nick liked these reviews