Facing Death, Nothing and the Absence of God
Death (disguised as a priest in a confessional): How can you outwit Death?
Crusader: By combination of bishop and knight.
I saw a 1956 Swedish film titled (in English) the Seventh Seal, with college friend Dan Hugger this afternoon. The film, a beautiful piece of art, tells the tale of a crusader, Antonious Block, who is returning home doubting his faith and finding Death.
The medieval land is filled with rumors of supernatural horror, plague, sightings of Death and expectations of Doomsday. The knight is trying to find God, but he is being met only by Death, who is following him and ravaging the land.
The crusader meets Death on the beach. Death is clothed in black, telling the crusader his time has come and Death never waits.
So the crusader challenges him to a chess game.
To me, this idea was so artistically grand that the film could have fallen away and I would have been happy with only this one idea. Death and chess. Man and time. Refusing to make fear god. The bleak end of existence and the hope for something more than the nothing. Outwitting Death with a combination of the bishop and the knight.
They play, Death and the Crusader, throughout the film. The noble yet doubting man delays the inevitable--knowing it is inevitable--with the hope of gaining knowledge and knowing God. It is a game, and a bleak search for answers.
In between playing chess, the Crusader and his squire head north, meeting a family of actors (seemingly representing the Holy Family), a farm girl, a theiving theologian, a blacksmith and his unfaithful wife, priests flagalating themselves to end the suffering, a woman being crucified, and the host of medieval men and women fearing Death, nihilation, doom.
The plot is, perhaps, a little to simple but the themes considered are not. The film looks at people facing death and nothingness.
The parts are interestingly developed and it gives a bit of a look into the age, especially such a period when men thought they were experiencing the wrath of God and the end of the world.
It is the story of men facing fear and a man facing the greatest fear, the abscence of God.
The crusader recognizes the religion around him is just fear, erected as an idol. He lives in a world of ghosts and is a prisoner of dreams. He sees on terror in the eyes of the dying, looks again and, with dismay, finds nothingness.
He faces Death, beocming familiar with him, hoping to find knowledge of the presence of God, refusing to stop asking questions about God and Existence.
The depressing film closes and "the strict lord Death bids them dance." And yet a family and a troupe of actors--a man named Joseph, his wife Mary and a little child--have been spared by the Knight's delay of Death. In the search, the noble man has saved God and maybe even found him.