The Seventh Seal. I have watched very few films whose images have haunted me–and this one has stayed with me for over four decades. I first saw this Ingmar Bergman film in the mid-1960s, at my secondary school’s film club. I remember being very afraid by what I saw: confronting Death and having to play a game of chess for your life. I was chilled. When you’re young, you think and act like you’re immortal, so seeing a film where mortality is pushed onto you can be discomforting at that time. The film’s impact on me as a child was perhaps much greater because it is in black and white, very fitting for a really dark subject. If you’ve never seen the film, the following clips are a very limited set of teasers (even without knowing Swedish, I think the images are powerful). I’d recommend that you try to watch it.
As I recalled the film many times over the years, my feeling of being chilled changed into a sense of serenity. It’s a personal reaction, and I would not expect anyone else to feel either the chill or the serenity.
I don’t remember ever reading reviews of the film when I was young, but I have turned to analyses of it several times in recent years. It’s Christian Biblical problematic–the silence of God in the world–was not uppermost in my mind when I saw the film years ago, but I have thought about that on many occasions since, including several times in recent weeks. The film also made me think about prayer, which was also a topic that a group of middle school children were discussing during a session after church several Sundays ago. They had many interesting and varied notions of what prayer should be, and how and when they should have their ‘conversations’ with God. How and when children pray surfaced again a couple of weeks ago, when I was lunching with some third graders in a SE Washington DC school, and they said a simple Grace before lunch:
God is Great, God is Good; Let us thank Him for our food. By His hands we all are fed, Give us Lord our Daily Bread. Amen.
I wondered how many of those few words they believed. I may have to ask them, when I next see them.
I thought about how far we something look to find God. I wondered if we looked too far away. Remembering Bergman’s film reminded me that God, and godliness, is often right there, in ourselves.
My mind drifts back to shots of waves crashing against the rocks; the scenes set on the barren beach; the haunting theme music. The chess players pick their pieces. Death smiles confidently as he sees that he’s chosen black–it could not be otherwise–and the knight, holding white, plans his first move. He was not afraid. He thought he had God by his side. Did he feel God was within himself?