Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Classic Films: The Seventh Seal

"You're lucky to have such a fluid tongue that you believe your own twaddle." - Blacksmith Plog
I worry that I'm not qualified enough to deal with literature heavy in symbolism. I always wonder whether or not I'm taking the right messages away, or whether I'm simply projecting, or even if I'm too dumb to get it. Or perhaps I am meant to inject myself into art, in which case I worry any such interpretation will come off as primitive and shallow.

Det sjunde inseglet is a film about a man having an existential crisis in the face of his imminent demise. More specifically, he wants to overcome the problem of divine hiddenness, for he foolishly seeks meaning in God. If there is no God "Then life is a preposterous horror" the knight Antonious Block laments. This quest for God manifests itself mainly in conversations with a personification of death, which no doubt carries far more symbolic significance than I can project onto it. It's a Faustian bargain sans bargain, though the cynic in me writes this off as a way of sparing us (the audience) an internal monologue.

Setting the film during the plague - and having the protagonist serve in the crusades - adds a sense of authenticity to the struggle. While Woody Allen might craft out meaning through opining into a camera in modern-day Manhattan, a conversation with death while surrounded by plague victims and repenters engaging in self-flaggelation really hits home. It's a cruel and vicious world; a world normally far removed from what modernity has given us, but the great existential questions are still the same.

It felt more like reading philosophy than watching a film; with characters and events merely serving as vehicle for exploring underlying themes. The dialogue was clever in a profound way, giving much for the willing viewer to contemplate. In the week or so since I watched the film, I've found myself going back over certain scenes in my mind; and rereading the "memorable quotes" that people put on the Internet. Yet it feels like I've only scratched the surface.

Not having a strict religious upbringing, I felt that a lot of the symbolism of the film was lost on me. I found myself confused at the knight's dilemma; nodding along to the squire, laughing at the fools whipping themselves, pitying the plight of the blacksmith, and (like the knight) finding comfort in the familial. And if I were to draw a conclusion of what the film-maker wanted the audience to come away with, it was the most important move the knight made in his game. It was that same lesson that Ridley Scott masterfully portrayed at the climax of Blade Runner. The Danse Macabre is our eventual fate, and there's no escaping that. Until then there's life.

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