On journey in search of God: Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal” (1957)

Existence of the mighty God, overlooking the world we live in and cruelly deciding our fate, is something that the humanity has questioned for centuries. Unconditional love, helpless mistrust and absolute negation are continuous states that people tend to choose when it comes to the question of God. Ingmar Bergman has shared his take on this dilemma with his critically acclaimed “The Seventh Seal”. One thing could not be denied – this film is one of the most important works in the history of cinema and it has earned this place rightfully.



“The Seventh Seal” is a film based on Bergman’s own play and the story takes place in medieval Sweden, ravaged by the plague or “The Black Death”. Film starts with scenery of a beach and two men laying in there – Antonius Block and his comrade Jons. The space of beach creates somewhat claustrophobic feeling, makes the audience alert and curious, where these two gentlemen are going to go? Antonius and Jons are knights, who are back to their homeland after unsuccessful Crusades, that they set out to in order to find salvation. However, suddenly before Antonius, Death makes an appearance. Coming in a presence of man, with very pale face and long black robe, that makes Death resemble a monk. Death informs Antonius that his time has come and he will be taken away, but to everyone’s surprise, the Knight challenges Death for a chess game. Death seems to be excited and accepts the challenge, which could spare Antonius’ life. This challenge to me seemed somewhat as trying to cheat Death, in order to gain time to do something that has not been done, which later in film appears to be true.

Antonius is a devoted servant of God, however, this film depicts his doubts about his faith. Is God real? Why they would not answer? When Antonius got back from the Crusades to Sweden, he found his country swallowed by Black Death and it only strengthened his resentment and mistrust towards God. He cheated on Death in order to find the real, naked knowledge about the creator and find out, why God has never answered him? Antonius is a noble knight, man of his word and he all he seems to want is reassurance from God about his undying love. The way his heart is tearing apart and his desperate search of knowledge reminds me that of Dostoevsky – he has been too, tormented about the existence of God. Interestingly, Bergman and Dostoevsky have a similar background; both of them were brought up in very religious families under a lot of scrutiny and strictness. I feel like “The Seventh Seal” has reflected a lot of what Bergman had in his heart for many years.

In contrast to Antonius Block, other characters in this film are reaching different kind of extremities. His companion, Jon, is nihilistic, in constant negation of what Antonius seems to believe in. To him, it seems that life and death are not of a matter anymore, he is laid back and he is not waiting for anything, letting his time to pass. Then, there is another extremity, a family of actors, husband and wife with a small child. Their naivete and simple happiness is the delight of this dark film. They are not questioning God or things that are happening around them, they love and enjoy being together. When Antonius meets this family we can see him smiling and indulging in conversation in a carefree manner. The family eases up his concerns and lets him forget his anxiety for some time. Even the lighting in these scenes is the clearest and sunniest it can get; Bergman emphasized the sweetness and happiness found in the ignorance and naivety.


What strikes me the most with this film is the use of shadows and lightning, which Bergman is famous for. The lightning in this black&white picture is that of a silent horror movie; Bergman creates misery, fear and hope. When Death makes an appearance, the lightning tends to be mysterious, and at the same time haunting, especially in the last moments of the film, to be honest I could feel shiver down my spine.

Another interesting element of this film is the usage of Christianity symbolism. The name of the film and the opening and closing verses are coming from The Book of Revelation. The Seventh Seal refers to the last seal binding the scroll of God, which once opened, all secrets about God will be revealed and apocalypse will befall. In the last moments of this film, Antonius with his group are sitting for the last supper and reading the Book of Revelation, and then upon this, Death makes its appearance. One of the characters that Jons brought into the group, a mute woman, utters the only words of hers in this film saying “It is done”, that are also the last words of Jesus Christ. With these words, film is being closed by the last scene of Death dragging the other characters to the other side.

While “Seventh Seal” could be interpreted in various ways, this film seemed like the paradigm of the life and death, grace and punishment, hope and despair. Human’s life is a continuous roller-coaster of happy and sad times. The happiest ones in this film appear to be the most ignorant ones, the ones who constantly seek answers and enlightenment are the ones struggling the most.


The dadaistic version of “Oedipus Rex”: “Funeral Parade of Roses” (1969)

This film will essentially throw you back to the age of hippy, fluxus and postwar art era, the late 60’s. Art and self-expression were a counterattack by disappointed society and the intelligentsia on the wasted age of WWII and its aftermath. “Funeral Parade of Roses” is that kind of time travel and somewhat a documentary of Tokyo’s gay counterculture. This gold piece of Japanese New Wave embodies the aesthetics and sexuality of postwar Japan in late 1960s.


While being largely ignored in the West back in 70s and to this day, the time has proven “Funeral Parade of Roses” to be an important piece of cinema history. Casting non-professional actors, funding received from Art Theater Guild, clashing different genres in one, Toshio Matsumoto really made this film see daylight and be adored. While I have found some reviews written in West in 1970s, that were not pleased with the film, it is possible to logically explain why; a great part of the cinema at that time was little invested in the experiments and liberal expression of thought, so to some it seemed like a psychotic gibberish. However, at this time, with art moving towards liberation and freedom of expression, we can understand why “Funeral Parade of Roses” has secured a position within Japanese cinema history.

Toshio Matsumoto defined very important change in the way we perceive the reality through films. He claimed that the the documentaries are too conventional and possibly will never live through their time, because they are too focused on observing their subjects from the outside and not analyzing their inner world enough. He was confident that merging surrealism with documentary, a film maker will be able to tell not only the events that are visible to the eye, but the also the psyche. Using avant-garde elements, it is possible for a film maker to dig deeper into their protagonist mind and tell of it visually; as our mind is not always one logical sequence of thoughts, but we too can be frustrated, overwhelmed with joy or anger, depressed and paranoid, therefore, the experimental and unconventional visualization of it will make the viewer understand more of what is going on in the hearts of the protagonists.


Eddie (played by Peter), the protagonist of the film, was a complex character; a popular drag queen in one of Shinjuku’s gay clubs, she plots against the main hostess Leda to become a hostess herself together with her lover Gonda, the owner of the club. Eddie is frail and suffers from constant flashbacks of her traumatic past – the murder of her mother and father not being present in her life at all, with even the pictures of his face burned out. In this film, the Oedipus’ father is the deceased mother, constantly appearing in Eddie’s visions, making her fall unconscious or have a mental breakdown. Eddie’s neurotic fits and her internal despair is depicted with the avant-garde elements, that Matsumoto emphasizes to be important in his writings on documentaries, giving the film unique touch and aesthetic direction to go by.

Horrible and tragic fate of Oedipus plays out when Leda kills herself in despair. She did not succeed in making Gonda turn to her and in the end, he still chose Eddie. She cursed the couple for making her pathetic and unhappy, and her curses combined with the grudge of deceased mother, which eventually led the sequence of events turn to Gonda learning the truth that his mesmerizing lover is actually his son. He kills himself, while Eddie stabs her eyes.


The film does follow a plot line, however, it employs fragments of flashbacks, random scenes, comic relief, events and even characters, and, therefore, becomes a puzzle, somewhat a mosaic. Matsumoto includes “real-life” interviews from his cast and merges this “reality” with fiction into neo-documentary. No doubt Matsumoto put a lot of thought and effort, but he seemed to gamble a lot, since the movie seems experimental, maybe even frustrating for some. However, when you finish watching it, you get a satisfying feeling, that everything in the end makes sense and there is no need to question every random shot, which is why “Funeral Parade of Roses” seems like a remarkable masterpiece.

Amidst pivotal changes in Japan’s political climate, LGBT community was also to find their place within the history and define their sexuality through art, entertainment and activism. Toshio Matsumoto played his part in documenting some of the culture through the lens of avant-garde and fluxus while employing the story of Oedipus Rex. Neo-documentary (or neo-realism) might be a confusing concept for some, but it definitely gives a glimpse of 1960s mentality.


Imagine a planet, a vacuum space where all your deepest wishes, desires and even curses can become reality. This is what happened to the astronaut crew of mission “Solaris”.




The film focuses on crew heading to unknown space material called Solaris, in which couple of scientists went missing. After the mysterious mass material shows a movement, Kris Kelvin (played by Donatas Banionis) sets out to investigate the mystery. He succeeds to reach the spaceship and joins the crew of two other scientists (played by Yuri Jarvet and Anatoly Solonitsin). Kris is faced by coldness and unwelcoming crew members, who appear to be hiding something from him. His suspicion grows as he starts seeing unidentified people around the spaceship; it appears that the spaceship is hijacked by some kind of supernatural presence. All becomes even more confusing, when his own wife, who died long time ago, approaches him. Kelvin sends her back to earth by a rocket, however, she keeps on reappearing. The crew draws a conclusion that this is all done by the power of Solaris. First reluctant, Kelvin finally accepts Khari’s company and defends her in desperate and delusional way when his fellow crew members try to dispose of her. She decides to commit suicide, but comes alive once again, until she mysteriously disappears while leaving a goodbye note. Film ends with Kelvin rhetorically returning to his father kneeling down on the ground with regret. At first it appears he returned to his hometown, but as camera moves further away, it appears that it is not the earth we are aware of, but an island in big waters; the sea of Solaris. Therefore, this work poses two questions – did Kelvin really return to the Earth or has he stayed in Solaris? Where does his heart want to stay?


Film critics usually align “Solaris” with “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) by Stanley Kubrick and I think that in the visual and art department they come in tandem. While Kubrick’s movie employed more drastic colour tones and visuals, Tarkovsky used pastels, the emotions of his characters are developed gradually, showing the desperation and frustration of Kelvin. I do have to agree that both of the movies visually are stunning and barely it is possible to surpass them taking into account that they both were directed in roughly the beginning of 1970’s.

What I like is the way Tarkovsky portrayed the mood in this film. “Solaris” itself is a little melancholic, but it is not like that throughout the film. Director lets the audience put themselves at ease by giving hope, showing the affection between Khari and Kris. For these kind of moment he used bright colours and what is noticeable, that there is barely any sountrack at all; giving the viewer sense of the silence and tranquility of space. Meanwhile, sad, desperate and metaphysical moments are depicted in daunting mood, cold colours (like Khari’s suicide attempt). All characters seem to hold something secret, there is a continuous riddle going around them. Kris seems somehow trapped in this puzzle, trying to find out the reason behind all unknown things that are happening in the spaceship while creating a lonely, horrifying feeling to the audience. The artistic elements used to depict this kind of atmosphere were used, in my humble opinion, spectacularly well; not too much, not too less. Another thing that the viewers might enjoy is that there is a bold contrast between the Earth and Solaris; Solaris is unknown, different and mortifying. The Earth in this film is bright, familiar, nostalgic – we can relate to the feelings of the protagonist. “For I was at that moment very happy to find myself living on Earth” that is how Akira Kurosawa felt after screening of this film. Kris’s farewell to home before embarking to claustrophobic and lonely space journey makes you feel homesick too. This relationship with “home” imagery that Tarkovsky established is something that disbalances the emotions and frightens the audience.

Genuinely, I find “Solaris” one of those films, where you search for the meaning yourself and do not question the directors intentions. At least, that is how I was willing to enjoy it. “Solaris” embodies one of the finest pleasures in sci-fi (absolutely not tacky and tasteless!). Indulging with futurism enough, but not making it the main focus; leaving a lot of space for the development of characters, mood and story. The planet (or the matter) Solaris seems to be the space, which discloses the most sensitive feelings of the person’s heart, making them vulnerable and helpless in front of their bare desires, which is not alien to Tarkovsky: similar background is visible in “Stalker” (1979). This is an amazing approach to the depths of human’s soul – employing mystery and a certain surreal story; in this way director does not bore his audience and avoids cliché.


Humanity has got a long and wishful urge to discover the undiscovered, to advance to space and look back to earth from a different view. This has been reflected in cinema for many occasions starting with “A Trip to the Moon” (1902) by Georges Méliès to this date with multiple blockbusters with enormous budget like “Star Wars” saga. However, Tarkovsky’s “Solaris” by far is one of the most sensitive and realistic depictions of human’s experience in lonely undiscovered place. People long for discoveries, but are they ready to face their own feelings and reality when they are all alone, far away from home?


This amazing encounter of Akira Kurosawa and Andrei Tarkovsky on set of “Solaris”:

Akira Kurosawa on watching ‘Solaris’ with Andrei Tarkovsky