Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Seventh Seal, The

(ot Det Sjunde Inseglet) Swedish movie (1956). Svensk Filmindustri. Pr Allan Ekelund. Dir Ingmar Bergman. Screenplay Bergman, published as The Seventh Seal * (1957; trans Lars Malmstrøm and David Kushner 1960 UK). Starring Bertil Anderberg (Raval), Bibi Andersson (Mia), Gunnar Björnstrand (Jöns), Bengt Ekerot (Death), Inga Gill (Lisa/Kunigunda), Maud Hansson (Witch), Inga Landgré (Karin), Gunnel Lindblom (The Woman), Nils Poppe (Jof), Erik Strandmark (Jonas Skat), Max von Sydow (Antonius Block). 95 mins. B/w.

The Christian Knight Antonius Block returns with his atheistic squire Jöns after 10 years at the Crusades to find his homeland scourged by the Black Death and concomitant religious frenzy. The figure of Death comes to take him ("I have long walked beside you"), but Block persuades him to postpone his errand until after the two have played a game of Chess, with Block being given his life should he win; the game both punctuates and is the next 24 hours, which is the scope of the movie. Block at one stage makes confession to a priest, whom he finally realizes is in fact Death, coaxing out of him his next chess move – but not before he has admitted his wish to die and his personal view of God ("We have to hew an image out of our fear [of death] and call it God"), and stated that his reason for begging the respite is so that he can commit a single meaningful act before his life ends.

The plot of TSS is not easily summarized. In its own terms it forms a perfect structure, with Fate performing its dance from the start to the rhythm of the chess game, while the tensions between the movie's opposites – between Good and Evil, between God and Satan, between faith and atheism – are maintained and expertly manipulated through dialogue, action and performance alike (often surprisingly comic). There can be no disputing TSS's visual power: it has been a trove for later moviemakers, including parodists (e.g., Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey [1991] and Last Action Hero [1993]): particularly memorable are a procession of flagellants preaching the End of the World and the final enactment of the Dance of Death (according to Bergman this latter was impromptu, with production crew filling in for those of the cast who had left for the day). TSS is arguably Bergman's masterpiece. [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.