Film / The Seventh Seal
"I am death."

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 Swedish film from director Ingmar Bergman, said to be his personal favorite of his own. The film is highly symbolic and explores many philosophical and existential concepts, including death and the meaning of life.

Max von Sydow stars as Antoninus Block.

This film provides examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Death. He seems to genuinely enjoy his conversations with Block.
  • All Are Equal in Death: The film ends with the deceased characters — from a range of walks of life — forming a Danse Macabre on the horizon.
  • 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.
  • Anti-Hero: Jöns, who 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.
  • The Anti-Nihilist: Laps over with Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life, in Block's case.
  • Anyone Can Die: And nearly everyone does.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The majority of the established characters meet their appointment with Death, but Jof, Mia and Mikael walk into the sunset, alive. Antonius Block's questions about God and the afterlife are never answered, but he does manage to perform one last meaningful act in saving Jof and his family.
  • 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 and the surprisingly sardonic Death.
  • The Black Death
  • Burn the Witch!
  • Cessation of Existence: What Block fears most. Death himself offers no comfort, claiming that he is unknowing, and his only purpose is to claim the lives of the living. Anything else that might lie beyond is of no concern to him.
  • Chess with Death: Trope Namer, although the concept is an ancient one. Most media depictions of playing a game with Death are based on the film.
  • 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.
  • 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: The very end of movie
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Jöns. A grade-A medieval jerkass.
    • Even Death sports shades of this, particularly when he comes to collect Jonas.
  • Did You Just Scam Cthulhu?: What Block hopes to achieve if he wins his game with Death. While he fails to prevent his own demise, he does manage to distract Death while Jof's family escapes.
  • Don't Fear the Reaper: Death seems like a reasonably amiable fellow, even postponing someone's death to play a game with him.
  • 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.
    Jöns: That little child... I can't be bothered, I can't be bothered...!
  • Face Death with Dignity: Even in his last moments, Jöns does not stray from the same mocking tone he's held throughout the entire movie, and even takes a minute to make fun of Block for his last, desperate prayer.
    Jöns: Feel in this final minute the triumph of rolling your eyes and moving your toes.
    • The Smith as well, who tells his wife to bow for the "high lord" (den höge herren) Death. Dying or not, they are Swedish, and there are certain social proprieties to acknowledge. The scene loses a lot due to cultural translation, but to a Swedish audience its very relatable.
  • 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
  • Hanging Up on the Grim Reaper: When Death comes to take Block, he doesn't accept it; he stalls Death by challenging him to chess.
  • 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.
    • Block does love his wife, and she loves him, even though they haven't seen each other for at least a decade while Block was out on his Crusade.
  • 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.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Jöns, to a degree; he's easily the most cynical character. He inverts the trope to some extent by being rather cheerful in his cynicism and far from the most immoral person in the story.
  • 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.
  • I Have a Family: Jonas tries to use this to get out of death. Death calls him out on the lie.
  • Invisible to Normals: Only the Knight is able to see Death. Until the climax that is.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Block. Very much so.
  • The Lancer: Jöns effectively functions as this to Block's Hero.
  • Le Film Artistique: Averted for many people, often somewhat to their surprise, as the film contains a surprising amount of comedy, isn't too difficult plot-wise, and contains very relatable (if depressing) themes.
  • 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.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: When they're holed up in the forest and Death is nowhere to be seen... But neither is God.
  • 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: The man Jöns asks for directions is actually dead, his decomposed, eyeless face hidden by his hood.
  • Primal Fear: Death is an everpresent companion, who will follow you all your days. And God, or Jesus, or anything else? It's a comforting hope at best, an outright lie at worst. But Death is always there.
  • 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 each other and four suns in the sky. Another character tells about a woman giving birth to a calf's head.
  • Standard Snippet: The "Dies irae" Gregorian chant shows up several times in the soundtrack as well as being literally sung by a mob of religious penitents.
  • Stock Shout-Outs: Playing Chess with Death.
  • Straw Nihilist:
    • Though Block is The Anti-Nihilist, Jöns — as his foil — falls squarely into this role. He believes that love is just "lust and lies" and is convinced that death only leads to emptiness (see page quote) and that nothing remains after death, mocking Bock's faith and hopes to find meaning throughout the film.
    Jöns (to Block): In that darkness where you claim to reside, where we probably all reside, you'll find no one that listens to your complaint or is moved by your suffering.
    Jöns (presenting a ridiculous drawing of himself to the Artist): This is Jöns. He grins in the face of Death, mocks the Lord, laughs at himself, and smiles only for the girls. His world is Jöns' world, believed in only by him, ridiculous to all including himself, meaningless to Heaven and of no interest to Hell.
    • The Artist in the church, who holds views similar to Jöns.
  • 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 a 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.