Few films escape the pitiless skewer of parody, and The Seventh Seal is no exception. Yet as I was thinking about this black-and-white Ingmar Bergman movie today, I wondered if all the jokes are warranted. The fact is, they diminish public opinion of this great philosophical masterpiece, putting it in the attic of Works of Art That Are Too Frequently Lampooned to Be Taken Seriously Anymore.
That’s a shame, because this flick is as relevant and powerful today as it was 56 years ago.
One of the only films I’ve ever seen that evokes the fear and horror pervading the Middle Ages credibly—and done on a limited budget to boot—TSS features a stupendous central performance by Max von Sydow as an introspective knight who has returned from the Crusades to find his country ravaged by the plague. The surrounding cast, which includes Bibi Andersson and Nils Poppe as traveling actors, is brilliant, too, as is the wonderful, humor-filled (yes, humor!) script, brooding score and iconic cinematography. Of course, the black-clad, bald-headed Death also plays a part, in a memorable turn by Bengt Ekerot.
Is all of this worth making fun of? Perhaps. But I think the silliness has run its course. Now it’s time to revisit this glorious film and absorb its myriad pleasures—a bird hovering with menace in the sky, a squirrel jumping on a tree stump after Death has cut down a man trying to escape him, and the famous final “dance” in silhouette are but some of the movie’s glories. I believe it’s one of those must-watch motion pictures, and although I understand where all the jokes are coming from, I feel they hide its true worth.
So I’m going to open up this Seal again and ignore the parodies made of it. I hope it’s a start—I know it’s worth taking seriously.