“To Believe is to Suffer” – The humble Meal Scene from “The Seventh Seal”


“To Believe is to Suffer. It is like loving someone in the dark who never answers”.

While I was an undergraduate in University during my senior year I had a  heavy course load as I recall & to help make ends meet I held a part-time job, working for one of my professors so that I could eat a tad better than your typical Kraft Dinner (“KD”) meal every third night. Well in truth I think I used the part-time money I made to help out my beer budget, but I digress. Anyways back to my heavy course load, I had one elective I could take that could be out side of my core course requirements, and as was the standard practice at the time, I decided to take an elective that I felt wouldn’t be overly demanding on my time. As such I decided to take a course via the theater department called the “History of Film”.  Lectures were held in a large lecture theater. A group of us who were in the same major at University took the class together as we were all in the same sort of course load situation and wanting to take a course we deemed “easy” compared to our typical high-powered Math related course we had to take. Our instructor was this middle-aged Japanese/Canadian women named Joanne Yamauchi. Every week Joanne would lecture and discuss  about various aspect of the History of Film (Silent films, French New Wave, etc.). At the end of each week of discussing a central aspect of the History of Film we would always watch a movie related to that weeks series of lectures. Discussions after a movie had been viewed were typically very interesting on how a particular film was reviewed from an artistic view-point. It was during these classes that I really fell in love with films as an art form. The movie I discuss briefly in this article was a film I saw in that theater class I took.

The line noted at the beginning of this article is spoken by the Knight Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) as he shares in a humble meal on a bluff overlooking the ocean with his traveling companions, near the mid-point in the movie, “The Seventh Seal”. For those who have never seen “The Seventh Seal”, it truly is one of the classic films of all time by the renowned Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. The setting for the movie is 14th Century Sweden. Made in 1957, “The Seventh Seal” tells the story of a Swedish Knight, Antonius Block and his squire Jons (Gunnar Bjonstrand) who have just returned to Sweden after spending several years away from home while off fighting in a senseless Crusade. The disillusioned Knight returning from the Crusade is trying to make his way home and upon arriving on the shore  meets Death (the Grim Reaper). Trying to out wit Death, the Knight challenges Death to a chess match to try to stay alive.  The narrative of the film moves along as the Knight encounters various people and events on his return to his castle as he tries to desperately out think Death in their protracted chess match. The central premise of the movie is the inner psychological struggles that Antonius Block finds himself in regards to the existing or lack there of God and the potential meaninglessness  of life. Block tries to have God answer his prayers but the silence of God weights heavily on him with the horror of death getting closer and the meaningless of life, if there is no afterlife. Ingmar Bergman, the director of the movie was brought up in the Lutheran Church, but lost his faith in his Christian believes as a young man. “The Seventh Seal” and other films that Bergman did during this period in his life reflected the various thoughts, struggles and concepts that the director had to personally deal with in his own believes.

For the uninitiated or someone who is use to fast pace Hollywood style film’s, “The Seventh Seal” I’m sure won’t be their cup of tea, to say the least. It’s not an easy film to watch if you don’t like foreign films or films that deal in various levels of interpretation on an artistic level. As I recall the first time I saw it I didn’t really enjoy it, however when I saw it for a second time and really dove into the analysis of the film and learning more about the director, the movie really began to grow on me. The movie is over 190 minutes long, and I’m just sharing a brief 10 minute part of the movie, so without the proper context of the entire movie at your disposal it might not make sense to someone who is not familiar with Bergman’s style of movie making. My suggestion would be for you to view this piece I’ve attached, and look for the symbolic meaning behind the meal, the chance encounter of the strangers and the altruistic love that is demonstrated during the meal. Simple altruistic love with no sense of conditions attached, is where God shows his existence.  The scene of the meal, at least from my view-point, is an incredible beautiful moment.  On the bluff the Knight and his squire meet up with a traveling theater group who are resting from a hard day of travel. This chance encounter shows the simple beauty of the wondering heart, a shared meal and a shared sense of humanity. Please enjoy and let me know what you think of this scene

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