The Seventh Seal – Playing chess with Death

You’re sitting on a chair, at home. In front of you, majestically, reigns a big chessboard. And on the other side of the table, wearing a big black mysterious hoodie, Death Itself. Mercilessly, It moves a black horse to another house and says, ironically looking at you in the eyes: Cheque mate.

How many times have you tried to play chess with death? Challenged It, Feared It, tried to deceive It?

And how many times have you won? No one has, but our human condition demands that we try.

Ingmar Bergman reproduced, in 1956, the fight between Man and Death. This legendary movie came, in my perspective, to prove that, although Death always wins, the victorious one is inevitably Man. Paradoxical? Not really.

Antonius Block is a knight of the Middle Age, and one day, on his way home, he finds Death. It comes to take him, but he asks for an opportunity to escape: if he wins a chess game, he will be spared.

The game lasts for a few days, and Antonius keeps walking home. In his way, he meets some people who have different ways of facing Death. Meanwhile, the knight tries to find an answer for the many questions that assault him: What is Death? What is God? What is Life?

Ingmar Bergman places his own fear of death in the character of Antonius, while making a parallel between the twentieth century - when World War II had just finished, and death and devastation are in every men’s mind, and the fear of dying without finding our purpose is very present -  and the Middle Age, with the fear that the Christian Church imposes: public hangings, scourges and bloody parades, a degrading scenario, where people face Death every day.

Despite the negativism of this almost apocalyptic movie, there’s a simple dialogue that, for me, is more important than all of the others, and even more important than the classic Dance of Death in the end: the one when Antonius says “I shall remember this hour of peace… the strawberries, the bowl of milk…you faces in the dusk. […] I shall remember our words, and shall bear this memory between my hands as carefully as a bowl of fresh milk. And this will be a sign, and a great content”.

Isn’t that what we all live for?  The small things, the memories that content us in the end? A great author, Vergílio Ferreira, once said: “How could you not learn that it is stronger to create a flower [...] than to destroy an empire?”.


Carolina Bastos Pereira