• I was completely unaware when I picked this date that it’s Bergman’s 99th birthday.

  • DJ JD led a discussion yesterday about works on the subject of “having fun in a doomed world,” and The Seventh Seal has to be on that list. What Bergman shows is an entire range of responses to the existential question: how do I live knowing I’m going to die? and one of those responses is humor.

    The thing that goes through all of Bergman’s films and especially here is his earthiness, something you really see in the performances. However philosophical he gets, everyone’s acting is naturalistic-as-hell, even sensual. He gives the feeling of real people caught in real problems, and that’s what gives his questioning such impact.

    Well done, @scb0212:disqus. You really got what makes this film work and makes it better than its reputation suggests–it’s not just revered, it’s enjoyable, dammit.

    • Conor Malcolm Crockford

      I was shocked at how I wasn’t watching a grim, dour art film but something lively and joyful and playful. People think of the chess game and forget well the entire rest of the film.

      • And the chess game gets points for its iconicness:

          • DJ JD

            I liked the first Bill & Ted’s movie better, but there were some scenes in the second one that I couldn’t possibly love more than I do. That scene still just kills me.

          • thesplitsaber

            ‘Best of seven?’

            ‘DAMN STRAIGHT!!’

      • pico79

        It’s never dour, but I don’t think its reputation is undeserved: apart from the chess game, we have flagellants, attempted rape, apocalyptic storms, corpses, and whatnot. And one reason the grimness tends to stay with me is that the ending really does feel like “a silence in heaven,” the sense of real and final doom that awaits, and the danse macabre is outright chilling. It’s just nice to spend time in the company in such lovely people on the way down.

        • BurgundySuit

          The way see it, the joy and bleakness have about equal weight, and everyone’s going to gravitate to to the one that interests them more.

    • Thanks! I do think I shorted the family here, and they provide so much of that underlying warmth and humor. Reducing them to “holy fool” status wouldn’t feel right because they aren’t as archetypical as Antonius or Death.

    • DJ JD

      Voltaire, on his deathbed, was asked by a priest to renounce Satan, and he replied, “Now, now, my good man, this is no time to be making enemies.”

      I didn’t say this yesterday, but I worked in an E.R. for awhile and I can vouch that people in truly horrifying circumstances very often find ways to laugh about it. (And so do docs, nurses, police, firefighters, etc. I’ve been told that submariners joke that they hope their number of surfacings matches their number of sinkings.) Humor seems like the most natural possible response to overwhelming darkness, and I take it as poor – or at least unconfident – writing that we don’t get a great deal more of it in the current milieu.

      Great read, @scb0212:disqus! I threw that Voltaire bit in because I quite liked your opening quote, and it only got better from there.

      • BurgundySuit

        Bringing Out the Dead was so great at capturing that.

        • thesplitsaber

          Massively underrated film, both in Scrosese’s filmography and in the culture at large. I really wish someone could do a tv series about EMTs that captured the same hallucinatory tone. Its exactly what ive imagined from my many friends who have worked in that industry.

      • Thanks! I love Voltaire – did you know he once scammed the French lottery?

        • DJ JD

          I think so? Wasn’t that his primary access to “real” wealth, beyond that of his writings? I love him, too, but the man created a rather lot of history to remember.

          • Voltaire realized that the cost to buy all the tickets was less than the amount of prize money, so he & his friends bought every ticket and split the winnings for a profit.

  • BurgundySuit

    Want to be as cool as Scott? Sign up for your own Year of the Month essay! Here’s just a few of the awesome albums no one’s snapped up yet (more here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1957_in_music)
    Chuck Berry’s Afterschool Session!
    Johnny Cash’s debut album!
    Odetta at the Gate of Horn!
    Birth of the Cool!
    John Coltrane’s Blue Train and Self-Titled!
    Buddy Holly’s The Chirping Crickets!
    Ella and Louis Again!
    The Great Ray Charles and his self-tiltled album!
    Here’s Little Richard!
    Songs by Sam Cooke!
    Miles Ahead!
    Ella and Louis’ Porgy and Bess!
    Frank Sinatra’s A Swingin’ Affair!
    The Weavers at Carnegie Hall!
    Machito’s Kenya!
    Elvis’ Christmas Album!

  • BurgundySuit

    I like to say that despite its reputation The Seventh Seal is the feel-good movie of the year. You make a great point about how the medieval setting enhances the medieval approach Bergman took to the story. The literature of that period through the Renaissance tried to represent all of life instead of sicking to a consistent tone, and the wacky shenanigans fit just as well into the broader tragedy here as the wisecracking gravedigger in Hamlet, or Dante and Chaucer’s fart jokes.

    I have to wonder if its reputation comes from people getting it mixed up with Bergman’s later films. His early work, this included, are some of the most joyful and life-ful movies ever made. Something must have happened around The Virgin Spring (I’m sure Scott, with his wealth of biographical knowledge, could confirm this). All of his films I’ve seen up to then have these wonderful characters who are so full of the life drive, like Jof and Mia here, Harriet Andersson in Dreams and Smiles of a Summer Night, the students in Wild Strawberries. The plot of Virgin Spring kicks off with that character getting raped and murdered, which is almost too perfectly symbolic for the turning point that follows after that film.

    Speaking of characters, the main reason I love The Seventh Seal is it’s such a perfect hangout movie. Block, Jons, Jof, Mia, and all the rest are just a joy to spend an hour and a half with.

    • I honestly don’t know what might have caused Bergman to lose that sense of humor. As the humor declines, you can eventually see a similar shift to more personal and literal movies. I wonder if as he aged, he wanted more direct movies without the symbolism of his earlier ones. Aging is almost a bigger concern than death towards the end.

      • BurgundySuit

        The funny thing is, even when he was young, he seemed very concerned with aging. Wild Strawberries came out the same year!

        • With as many blonde actresses he was sleeping with, you’d think he’d have an appreciation for youth instead of mourning it.

    • thesplitsaber

      ‘I have to wonder if its reputation comes from people getting it mixed up with Bergman’s later films.’

      I think its important to note that in America most if not all audiences saw un subtitled versions of the film. A lot of the dialogue undercuts the imagery which is pretty uniformly bleak (barring the little visual jokes).

      • BurgundySuit


        • thesplitsaber

          my bad haha i misunderstood an anecdote

  • HypercubeVillain

    “But what about my play?”
    “Canceled…because of a death!”

    The tree scene and the Danse Macabre are among the funniest and saddest images, respectively, I’ve ever seen put to film. The last scene especially so, taking place not long after Block finally reunites with his wife.

    I confess when I first saw this, I was hoping Block would be able to rearrange the pieces in his favor after knocking them down. It’d totally undermine much of the rest of the movie, but I can dream, can’t I?

    Thanks for this fantastic write-up, scb!