Contrast is the Driving Force of The Seventh Seal

In Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, he wrestles with the idea of the existence and the role of God in everyday life.  It is the story of a knight returning from the Holy Crusades with a lack of faith.  The knight finds himself playing a game of chess against Death to prologue his life long enough to find answers to his holy questions that still resonate with him after his journey.  The film thrives on ironic contrasts in its religious investigation.  These religious contrasts are a prime theme in the film, but instead of being overbearing and obvious, they are the glue holding together the lost souls looking for answers.

The film addresses the question about God and Death.  Death seems certain no matter what, but one of the questions that Antonius wants answered is “where is God?”  Antonius’ experience throughout the film answers this question, but the contrasting theme in the film is set up in the first shots in the motion picture.  From 01:41-01:53, one can see an empty sky and then the same sky with a single black crow flying in the sky.  This crow represents Death and its omnipresence in the empty sky, which represents the limit to which one can find God and religion.

Crow flying in the sky (Time Stamp: 01:50)

Antonius is the chief character in the film, but not the only one of interest.  Each character is related to the knight’s quest in his search for religious answers.  The main question that Antonius wants to answer is the meaning of life and, in contrast, death.  The other characters are in contrast with the knight to the way the knight has chosen to deal with a problem that every human being must confront in one way or another.

Soon after Antonius’ chess game begins with Death, the knight gets involved with a traveling group of people.  There is a contrast among the group of cheerful traveling actors with Antonius’ seriousness:  Jof and Mia contain more pleasantry and sunshine than anything else in the film.  Together, their show stands in stark contrast to the surrounding misery.  Jof even has a vision of the Virgin Mary and Christ.  Together, Jof and Mia find God anywhere they can and whenever they can.  In the end, all the other characters in the film are ultimately unable to escape Death, but Jof and Mia are spared.  The thought of this dichotomy tortures Antonius.

Another contrasting element in the film is the condemnation of organized Christianity and not God himself.  The priests that walk by Jof and Mia condemn their performance and come across as dogmatic and apocalyptic.  Therefore, they do not worship God, but one that they have made up out of their own traditions, evil ways, and bitterness.  This is the opposite answer to Antonius’ question of the meaning of life.  One cannot find religion within the church’s walls, even though that is where Antonius knows God to exist.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Contrast is the Driving Force of The Seventh Seal

  1. The blog post makes a convincing argument. The contrast of the couple, named Jof and Mia or Joseph and Mary in some subtitled versions, and Antonius is perhaps the most crucial in the film as it rightly pointed out. It is also interesting to look at the contrast between Antonius and his squire who does not seek God, does not walk or speak with Death, but remains ignorant of both till the time comes. This also contrasts with Jof and Mia for although the squire doesn’t care for religion he is not like them with God and still suffers Death in the end.

  2. tjholt7790

    This argument is interesting because although the movie has a ton of contrasts, Antonius always seems on the fence. One would think that since contradists are so inherently clear-cut–you pick one or the other–that Antonius’s faith would be just as obvious. Rather, Antonius’s observantions of the world lead him to murkily perceive his religion. Ultimately he comes to question religion’s and God’s validity in general. When considering so many of the movie’s contrasts, the viewer thinks Antonius would develop a black and white standpoint on religion, but the director’s choice to depict him tottering between the two is compelling.

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