I watched this movie back in my college days but all I remember is the iconic scene with Death playing chess with a medieval knight.
Yes , this scene …
Anyway, when I watched it again I got this overwhelming sense of deja vu.
Cuz since I last saw The Seventh Seal I have seen at least two dozen Woody Allen films over the years and, frankly, a lot of the moral quandaries in this 1957 classic have been recycled (some would say endlessly)in Allen’s films.
Of course, the Woodman has never been shy about professing his adoration for Bergman’s work.
It was just kinda shocking for me to realize what a big influence the Swedish writer and director has had on Allen’s art.
I kinda felt like I did when, as a lifelong Bowie fan, I first heard those Velvet Underground LPs at my cousin Cam’s place in Port Angeles. (Karen, his wife at the time, was from NYC and had actually seen VU at Max’s Kansas City.)
I still like those old Bowie records. I simply realized that one of my heroes was not quite as creative and innovative as I thought.
To be fair, Bowie was a big admirer of the Velvets. After all, he covered“White Light White Heat” on one of his albums and producedLou Reed’s second longplayer (yes, the one with “Walk on the Wild Side” on it.)
But I digress (I’ve always wanted to say that) …..
The knight, whose name in the film is Antonius Block, has just returned from the Crusades as the film opens and is wondering just what that was all about.
Hmm, a foreign army invading the Middle East for a dubious reason … sounds familiar.
Anyway, Block is feeling more than a little lost and guilty about his role in the conflict and there is a lot of talk about life and death, the nature of faith and man’s relationship with God. Is there a higher power in the universe? Block is looking for proof.
Bergman’s strict Lutheran upbringing seems to have left him with some lasting psychological scars. Is he trying to exorcise some of his inner demons in this film?
“Why can’t I kill the god within me?” Block agonizes at one point in the film.
However, The Seventh Seal isn’t all moody meditations about mortality.
Believe it or not, the film does have its playful side. There are moments of light comedy and even a note of hope at the end.
Max von Sydow, still in his 20s when he played the part of Sir Block, is a formidable screen presence. No wonder Hollywood snapped him up. He even appeared in a Woody Allen film later in his career (1986’s Hannah and Her Sisters.)
Bergman deserves credit for making the most of a modest budget.
With the help of his hand-picked crew he convincingly creates a medieval milieu in which to tell his timeless tale.
The Seventh Seal has enough food for thought to fuel a dozen coffee breaks or (in the case of many of Allen’s films) dinner conversations.
PS After watching The Seventh Seal I suspect Allen’s true genius may lie in his ability to discuss Bergman’s philosophical musings within the framework of a sophisticated American comedy.