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Jöns: "Who will take care of that child? Is it the angels or God or Satan... Or just emptiness? Emptiness, Sire..."
Block: "It can't be so!"
The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet) is a classic film from Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. The film is highly symbolic and explores many philosophical and existential concepts, including death and the meaning of life.
It has moved beyond the realm of the classic, to the point that it is often used as a punchline about stuck-up film majors, critics, and film studies teachers. However, it was never intended to be high art, and is rather straightforward, humorous and melodramatic despite its dark theme.
When Antonius Block, a disillusioned crusader and his squire Jöns return from the Holy Land, they find little solace. Even far from the battlefields, Death still stalks him patiently.
When Death arrives, Block challenges him to a game of chess, to which Death agrees. If Block wins, he goes free, but Death's Anthropomorphic Personification seems undaunted. He is the Trope Namers of Chess with Death, after all.
Block and Jöns travel through a Crapsack World of cults, the black plague, and ravaged countryside, with Death on their tail all the while. Jöns saves a mute girl from a Fate Worse Than Death at the hands of a roving bandit. She cowers from him, expecting the same, and he sets himself somewhere between Magnificent Bastard and Complete Monster by sighing that the Crusades have made him tired of rape.
She accompanies Jöns as a servant and soon they find themselves at a church, where Block goes to the Confessional. Unfortunately, Death is standing in for the priest, and Block inadvertently reveals his chess strategy. Block discovers the trick and vows that he will still beat Death, though he is clearly shaken.
Block, Jöns, and the mute girl meet up with a family of traveling actors, in a rare moment of beauty, peace, and simple joy. Bloch invites them to accompany him as he returns to his castle, where they may all be safe from the encroaching plague.
They arrive at a small town where a mob is burning a witch. Jöns idly considers killing them for their ignorance, but in the end decides it would make no difference. He then embarks on a diatribe over The Nothing After Death, explaining the film's Leitmotif, just in case we failed to put it together ourselves.
However, Block is unwilling to let Jöns strip away his hopes. Despite this, Block loses his match with Death, but is granted one final reprieve so that he may return to his wife for a last meal.
Death arrives and Block tries again to beg him off to no avail. The family of actors sees Death leading the others off in a disturbing Danse Macabre, but Block's kindness to them has spared them from the plague.
- Affably Evil: Death. He seems to genuinely enjoy his conversations with Block.
- Anachronism Stew: Block's chainmail armour suggests a date no later than the 13th century, before the days of widespread witch burning and before the Danse Macabre became a popular artistic motif (both of these only took off in the 15th century). Flagellantism never really came to Sweden.
- It's sometimes thought that the references to the plague are also anachronistic, as the disease supposedly didn't arrive in Europe until 1348. Modern medical historians believe, however, that plague has always existed in Europe as a low-level simmering endemic disease which flares into epidemic status when a new strain of the bacteria arrives from Asia. The earliest plague epidemic known to history was in 541 CE, but that was unlikely to have been the first.
- The Anti-Nihilist: Laps over with Desperately Looking for a Purpose In Life, in Block's case.
- Anyone Can Die
- Bittersweet Ending: The majority of the established characters meet their appointment with Death, but Jof, Mia and Mikael walk into the sunset, alive.
- Black and Gray Morality: The knight and his squire are anti-heroes of differing flavours. Most of the people they meet are thieves, murderers, religious zealots or complete idiots, and Death is a largely impersonal entity patiently stalking them at every turn. The only ones who are neither black or grey are Jof, Mia and their son Mikael.
- Black Comedy: Believe it or not, but this movie does have more than its fair share of laughs, for a little levity. Courtesy of Jöns.
- The Black Death
- Burn the Witch
- Cessation of Existence: What Block fears most.
- Chess with Death: Trope Namers, although the concept is an ancient one.
- Chiaroscuro: Ooh boy, big time.
- Crapsack World: It's Medieval Sweden ravaged by the Black Death, what did you expect? On top of that, men and women - driven into despair - believe it's the end times, so they've taken to roaming around the countryside flogging themselves. They also accompany other religious zealots who burn innocent young women suffering from mental illness. Our two (anti-) heroes are shown to be too ineffectual to change things and the best one can honestly hope for is to live as long as possible. It's a mad, empty, horrible world.
- The Crusades: Never shown, but it's where Block and Jöns spent ten years of their lives prior to the plot.
- Dark Is Not Evil: Death might be a Manipulative Bastard, and he is the closest thing to a main antagonist this movie has, but he's not a God of Evil out to destroy the world. He's part of the natural order of the universe, merely carrying out his assigned duty to usher mortals into the land of the dead. He can be reasoned with, at least to the extent one can invite him to a game of chess and stretch out their lifeline for a slight reprieve.
- The Dead Can Dance
- Deadpan Snarker:
- Jöns. A grade-A medieval Jerkass.
- Even Death sports shades of this, particularly when he comes to collect Jonas.
- Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?/Did You Just Scam Cthulhu?: What Block hopes to achieve if he wins his game with Death. Nice try, Block.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Jöns may be a man of a sordid past, and he isn't the nicest bloke in Medieval Europe, but even he finds the unjust burning of an innocent - though deluded - young woman an atrocity. He goes as far as to try to - in his own, small way - help his sire cope with the horror of the execution.
- Face Death with Dignity
- Faux Affably Evil: Death again. The scene with Jonas in a tree desperately trying to weasel his way out of his appointed date cements it.
- Foil: Jöns serves as Block's foil.
- Friendly Enemy: Death isn't particularly malicious or even spiteful towards Block. Actually, he's rather affable. For one scene he even acts as a sort of confidante for Block's confession and angry rant against God. That being said, he'll do whatever he can to win the game.
- The Grim Reaper
- Happily Married: Jof and Mia, the only ray of decency and hope in a Crapsack World of Black and Gray Morality. They genuinely love and support one another, as opposed to the other human characters who are trying to save their own skins during The Black Death.
- Heroic Sacrifice: While Block was unable to save himself, he was able to save the family by distracting Death during their game, allowing the three to escape.
- The High Middle Ages; The Late Middle Ages: See above regarding the confusion.
- Humans Are Bastards: The scene at the bar, when the patrons cruelly torment Jof the actor, demonstrates this trope.
- Subverted, however, with Jof and Mia, who represent the better qualities of humanity. They're also the only named characters of the film to live and escape Death.
- Knight in Sour Armor: Block. Very much so.
- The Lancer: Jöns effectively functions as this to Block's Hero.
- Literary Allusion Title: The first line in the movie quotes the Bible verse from which the title is taken.
- Manipulative Bastard: Death. Is anyone surprised?
- Mind Screw: If you watch this film, try not to understand it so hard and you'll be fine.
- Nietzsche Wannabe: Though Block is The Anti-Nihilist, Jöns - as his Foil - falls squarely into this role.
- Nothing Is Scarier
- Oh Crap: EVERYONE has this reaction at the climax when Death appears in the dining room.
- Oh God, with the Verbing!: At the end, the actor Jof sees a vision of the knight and his family doing a dance of death. His wife, Mia, turns to him and says "You with your visions and dreams."
- Peek-a-Boo Corpse
- Primal Fear
- Servile Snarker: Jöns to Block, happily.
Block: "Must you keep singing?"
Jöns: *Smug grin* "Yes."
- Signs of the End Times: Jöns has heard stories about bad omens such as horses eating eachother and four suns in the sky. Another character tells about a woman giving birth to a calf's head.
- Sliding Scale of Anti-Heroes: Block is a solid Type II. At his core, he's a good man, if a broken one. Jöns (Type VI, maybe a V), on the other hand, freely admits to having raped women until "it got boring." While he does save Jof the actor during the tavern scene, he's certainly not a nice man. If anything, this serves to contrast between the two. Block aims to rise above the nihilism that surrounds him, while Jöns seems to embrace it and rolls with it.
- Tempting Fate: Jonas vocally expresses pride over his last performance; that of playing dead to get away from a jealous husband. When he then mentions he's free and all he'll have to do is hide from anything that might kill him for the next little while, Death appears immediately behind him. Cue a fairly comical exchange where Death takes his time in sawing a tree and chats with a panicked, weaseling Jonas.
Jonas: No. My performance!
Death: Cancelled... because of Death.
- The Voiceless: Jöns' mute girl. Says one line when Death comes to take them all away: "It is finished."
- Wangst: In-universe example. The village smith is trying to drown his sorrows after the actor and director from Jof and Mia's troupe runs away with his wife. Jöns takes great pleasure in ridiculing him for it.
- Warrior Poet: Antonius Block. His squire Jöns arguably more so.