Playing a game of chess against Death comes from the 1957 Igmar Bergman film The Seventh Seal. It is one of the most famous movie scenes of all time, and has been spoofed in hundreds of skits and shows, from Monty Python to Family Guy.
However, most people have never actually seen The Seventh Seal. Most likely the fact that it is in black and white, and the actors are speaking Swedish discourages people from giving it a look. That is a shame, since The Seventh Seal is a beautiful movie that still holds up to this day.
The Seventh Seal takes place in the Middle Ages, and Max von Sydow plays a knight who has returned home after 10 years fighting in the crusades. He finds his country very changed. The Plague is savaging the countryside and people are dying by the thousands. Many of the people have turned violent, blaming witches or each other for the Plague. Religion instead of being a comfort, has become just one more way to frighten the simple people.
Death comes for the knight, but the knight is still trying to struggle with the most basic questions of life. The knight makes a deal with Death. If the knight can beat Death at a game of chess then the knight can continue to live.
The knight does not want to stay alive just to enjoy pleasures. He has a deeper quest. He does not want to die yet since he is still seeking the answers to the basic questions of Life. What does it all mean? Is there a God? What comes after Death?
The story of The Seventh Seal is not really about the chess match with Death. The game takes many days, and the real plot is about what the adventures the knight has when he is not playing chess. As they travel, the knight and his squire meet priests, peasants, thieves, soldiers, actors and even a witch. All have completely different views on the meaning of life and death.
Do not expect the film to give you the Ultimate Answer. It does not try to force any point of view. Perhaps the most moving scene is when the knight meets a young mother and she shares a bowel of fresh strawberries with him.Such kindness and peace are in stark contrast to the evils the knight has seen elsewhere.
Sitting on the grass in the bright sunshine, the knight realizes that despite all its misery and pain, there are these wonderful times when Life can be quite beautiful.
- We rate The Seventh Seal Five Stars *****
- Be sure to read all our Movie Reviews