Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Nothing escapes me. No one escapes me.

No 335 - The Seventh Seal
Director - Ingmar Bergman

It is only natural, when travelling by train to search for light visual refreshment. And what better choice than this classically famous laugh-a-minute. To give it credit, I was expecting something very very dour.... but it isn't dour at all and isn't even half as pretentious as I imagined it would be.

There is one shot that I expect most people to recognise... Antonius Block, The Knight, plays chess with Death. I expected this to be the grand finale, but no, it happens in the first couple of minutes after The Knight wakes up on a beach. One would presume that he has died, either in the crusades or in whatever caused him to crash onto the beach.
He strikes the deal to play Death at chess and this takes place over the entire film. Each 'round' taking place during each evening. Over the days which occur between each 'round' of chess, the Knight and his Squire gather different people into their fold and their little group.

Over the course of this film there were a few things I realised...

1) Men look ridiculous in tunics and tights. Now, I'm aware that fashion is cyclic. I'm also aware that I enjoy dressing like a dandy, however.... there are limits and I hope that this fashion NEVER returns.. All these characters look stupid. Even Jos, and he is badass (but more on that later).

2) There are pretty ladies in this film! All anyone ever talks about is blah blah chess on a beach blah blah death. They have failed to mention the most important aspect of the film. The includance of pretty ladies. In this case I mean the character of Mary, played by the very pretty looking Bibi Andersson. I felt she definitely deserved a mention.

3) Death is a bastard! Now, I don't mean this in any deep or metaphysical manner... just that Death is a bastard. People die in this film and Death doesn't gather their souls.... no he's busy playing chess. However... when perfectly living people climb trees Death is there with his scythe cutting it down. There are hundreds of people dying, shouldn't he be focusing his attention on THOSE?!
In fact, Bengkt Ekerot might be one of my favourite Movie Deaths.... (Not my all out favourite - that is the blurry polo-necked death in The Eye. And my favourite Death full stop is Neil Gaiman's.... because she is a legend). But I like this Death because he is like a weird little creepy old man who pops up and just says "oh hello... you have to die now".... well that all felt a bit emo.

Death is not the only oddly comic character in this film. There is Jos as well.... the Knight's squire. He is regarded as the Fool and in typical Shakespearean manner he is the wisest man in the tale. He is also super bad ass.... seemingly able to attack and gouge out people's eye's.

He also has the best way to chat up a lady he has just rescued from an attempted rape. In such a bleak bleak film about God, Punishment and Death it is nice to see some black black comedy.

You see.... this film isn't really about one man trying to play against death, it is about the entire futility and temporary nature of man. There is a reason why the film is set during the plague, death is on everyone's minds and on everyone's lips and everyone is dying.
People try everything in their power to escape death but gradually Death finds his way and follows them all.

It is interesting, that the only two people who 'see' Death throughout the film (with the exception of Jonas Skat who only sees him as he dies) are the Knight and the Juggler - who are polar opposites. The Knight is full of existential angst, wanting to see God or the Devil, full of questions. The Juggler is a happy man who is constantly visited by visions of angels. These give him a love of life.
It is nice to see that in such a bleak film, only the happy people survive. Mainly because Jof, the juggler, sees the Knight with Death and realises that it isn't safe. He, and his family, leave the little group.

And that is all for the best. Because, once the group reaches the Knight's Castle Death reaches and takes them all.

I presume that this Death is the plague.
The Plague which has been following them from the start of the film.
A plague which has toyed with the Knight, letting him think he was in control.
A plague which is impossible to stave off regardless of flagellation, prayer or burning witches. Actually.... take this scene and watch it.... it is almost a relief when all the monks and stuff interrupt with their smoke and damnations.... Medieval entertainment was very very poor....

But the moral of the story is surely.... Don't hang out with your friends if they're playing games with the anthropomorphic representation of Death....

That way you can stay alive and the others can all do the Danse Macarbe up a hill....

No comments: