The Seventh Seal

Movie Information

In Brief: The Seventh Seal is probably the single biggest old warhorse of art-house cinema. But there’s a reason it achieved that status: It’s so damned good. When it first appeared in 1957, it was not at all like anything else that had come before it. It wasn’t even like Bergman. Oh, sure, there had been movies in which Death was personified, and Karloff and Lugosi had played a life-and-death chess game in Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Black Cat way back in 1934. (You can take that idea at least as far back as Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," in which the lady in the “naked hulk” shoots craps with Death.) But none of these — however connected — is quite like Bergman’s dark fantasy, where a knight (Max von Sydow) returning from the Crusades buys time on his journey through the plague-ravaged countryside by challenging Death (Bengt Ekerot) to a chess game. Reduced to its simplest level, that’s the essence of the film. But, because the game is played out in a series of sessions along the journey, it takes on the Knight’s spiritual quest in the process. The results are startling, a little disturbing, iconic and magical — all the more so (especially in light of the way “important” films tend toward bloat) for being a trim 96 minutes long and containing a good amount of dark comedy. It is also one of those rare films that seems to offer something new every time you see it.
Genre: Allegorical Drama
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Starring: Gunnar Björnstrand, Max von Sydow, Bengt Ekerot, Nils Poppe, Bibi Andersson
Rated: NR

Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present The Seventh Seal Friday, April 8, at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library).  Info: 828-273-3332,

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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