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The Seventh Seal (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on July 15, 2014

This is my fifth time watching this film.  The first time was before I started writing reviews, and in fact it was my discovery of Bergman that made me want to start recording my thoughts on the movies I saw.  The three reviews that followed were pretty goddamn light on content, and used phrases like “one of those films that speaks for itself”.  Which is really code for “I don’t wanna be the guy who just repeats what everyone else says, so why bother”.  But it’s a movie I love, it’s been in my top 100 since that first viewing.  Right now it’s in the lofty position of #21.  I owe this movie a proper review.

But something happened that makes this a very difficult review for me to write.  You see, I was showing it to my fiancée for the first time… and she was bored silly.  Visibly bored.  It’s a most uncomfortable feeling to be sharing something you love with someone you love, and that person not only doesn’t love it… she pretty much hates it.  We discussed it afterwards and although I respect her opinion, most of the things that bothered her don’t bother me.  But it did make me question my feelings about the movie.  Because truth be told, I wasn’t all that thrilled with it either.

I loved it before, though, right?  I’m not so sure.  I mean, there’s a lot of stuff I love about it.  Let’s not go crazy here.  The picnic scene is beautiful.  The witch burning scene is powerful.  There are some lovely thoughts throughout the film.  The cinematography is stunning and stark and full of rightfully iconic imagery.  And the movie is unfocused in the best way, covering a wealth of themes and scenarios and viewpoints.  It’s as if Bergman is trying to depict not a situation or a story, but life itself.

Yet, I wasn’t captivated.  I could attribute this to having a person next to me struggling to maintain her interest, but that’s not all there is to it.  Bergman wrestling with his faith is something that runs through much of his work… but doesn’t the trilogy of Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light and The Silence form a much more eloquent and thoughtful approach to the subject?  Harriet Andersson proclaiming “God is a spider” is more artful, more chilling than Max Von Sydow openly asking God to speak to him.  Really, looking at it through the lens of today, isn’t the image of a knight playing chess with Death rather… trite?  Yes, bearing in mind that it’s an image that’s been endlessly copied, honored and parodied, but does anyone watching it now feel that inspired by it?  Does it still hold its power?

I don’t know if it ever really did for me.  I look at my old (mini-)reviews and something feels a bit fraudulent about them.  I have a sense that some — not all, but some — of my love for the film came from the expectation that I was supposed to love it.  It’s The Seventh Seal, for fuck’s sake.  You don’t talk shit about The Seventh Seal.  But the truth is, I don’t recall ever having very enthusiastic feelings about it.  Maybe my memory is poor (it is) or maybe it’s clouded by my experience this time (probably) but I can’t remember ever having that magnificent feeling of adoration or awe or wonder that I associate with most of my favorites.  It’s a really original and beautifully-made film.  Parts of it are captivating, and it undeniably was influential and made a huge mark on the cinematic landscape.

But I’m not feeling “favorite” any more.  It didn’t sweep me off my feet.  It didn’t even make me laugh very much this time… the humor in it is surprising, but not especially good.  It’s more amusing than funny, which I guess just means it’s not laugh-out-loud funny.  And it’s not amazingly thought-provoking.  It’s full of ideas and some of them are interesting ideas or are phrased in a poetic way, but it’s not like the movie fills me with a whirlpool of thoughts.  Or emotions, for that matter.  And that’s what it boils down to.  This film, as easily as I could rhapsodize about its virtues, doesn’t stir enough in me to be considered a favorite.  Not like Fanny and Alexander or Scenes from a Marriage or Shame or the “faith trilogy”.  And that’s okay.  In a time when I’ve been feeling like my “favorites” are too codified and stale, it’s actually something of a relief to let go of one.  Rating: Very Good (87)

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4 Responses to “The Seventh Seal (rewatch)”

  1. Martin, that’s precisely why I don’t discuss great cinema with my female friends 🙂

    Btw, a couple of years back I had tried to muster all my courage in order to conjure up a review of The Seventh Seal (would love to have your thoughts on the same). Here’s the link:

    http://www.apotpourriofvestiges.com/2012/06/seventh-seal-1957-legendary-swedish.html

    • Fantastic review, Murtaza, as always! I envy your eloquence and dedication. However, I know many females who appreciate great cinema and can discuss it intelligently and defend their viewpoints vigorously. My fiancée is one of them.

  2. nancy said

    I feel the same – I know I’m watching great imagery and lots of symbolism, but I don’t find the film engaging.

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