Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Seventh Seal (1957)

The Criterion Collection is leaving +Hulu . The Halloween season is upon us.

So The Seventh Seal seemed an appropriate movie.

For those who've never seen it, you should. Highly recommended.

It's one of Ingmar Berman's masterpieces. A crusader, Antonius Block, returning home from 10 years of war in the Crusades, during the time of the Black Death, is weary of spirit and sees a personification of Death who has come for him. Here we see perhaps the first use of Death playing a game to delay the inevitable.

This methodology was put to great comedic effect in Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey. I'd forgotten when I saw Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, that they cribbed even the look of Death from The Seventh Seal.

As a personification, Death here is, well, mild. He knows he has all the time in the world. He plays with Antonius and is in turned "played" by the crusader, but the viewer never knows if those plays by Antonius are successful or just Death allowing them to appear such.

As a personification, it could be "higher" than the Gods in a standard fantasy campaign. It doesn't need to be malicious like Bhaal or other Death Gods tend to be in the Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk. It's just something that happens.

Antonius Block is an interesting character if one were to look for inspiration for role-playing traits and motivations.

The later leads into the former.

Antonius is tired of NOT hearing God. He's always questioning. He's always seeking that big truth. He seeks it from Death, who remains silent on the matter. He seeks it from the Church, which provides no answers. He seeks it from fellow pilgrims and travelers. He is always questioning the overall purpose and arc of life itself, of his life itself. This questioning provides a tragic frame to Antonius, much like Warlock from Marvel Comics or Elric, seeking to fight his nature but being trapped in the world, must eventually yield to it.

His squire, Jons, is a man of the real world. He knows what life is and it's not happy. Described as a nihilist, he nonetheless isn't evil. He saves a woman from being raped and killed for example. He sees evil being done and would rise against it to another woman condemned to die as a witch. He merely sees things the way he thinks they are and is frank about it. This stoic nature makes him a great contrast to his seeking master.

There's also the setting. The Black Plague is everywhere. People die from it frequently. It's referenced as the end of the world. It sets the stage for a death that cannot be reasoned with. Cannot be bargained with. A death that strikes noble knight and lowly leper with equal ease.

Then there's the background of where the knight's coming from, the Crusades and 10 years of war. During the trip back to the knight's manor, Jon finds the priest who convinced his master to go to the Crusades in the middle of stealing from the dead and about to rape and murder a servant girl. Jon is not happy. His master's demeanor changed by the horrors of war and he lets the fallen priest know, should they meet again, Jon will mark the priest so others know what a liar and fiend he is.

These huge events, the Black Plague, and the Crusade, showcase how vast and uncaring the world is. There can be several things going on in your campaign at the same time and they should all have an impact to those that must experience them.

There is no raising one's hands and begging enough. There is no exception for already having suffered from one calamity. There is just life and the events that must be endured.

This is a movie I could watch again and again. The black and white filming, the nature of the questor and his stoic squire, the background characters, the threat of plague, the damnation of a man spent 10 years in war... it's all powerful stuff and well told.