Last Updated on July 25, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 361
This film by Ingmar Bergman centers on the contest between the knight Antonius Block and Death. Other important characters are Block’s squire and the members of a traveling theater troupe.
Antonius Block is a knight who has returned home to his unnamed native land after serving in a crusade. He is depicted as a principled but discouraged man who claims that he has lost his faith. Not quite willing to give in to the idea of a godless world, however, he hopes that God will speak to him. For much of the film, he engages with Death, sometimes deliberately and other times because Death fools him. Notably, they play chess.
Jöns, Block’s squire, is generally a loyal figure. He travels around the countryside with the knight. Despite his rough, jaded persona, he also shows compassion and generosity. Jöns takes on Raval, saving a girl from his attack and later defending Jof from him.
Death plays a leading role in the film. The character is encased in a voluminous dark cloak and hood (which is presumably black, although the film is in black and white); his face is so pale it almost seems a mask. Death has numerous conversations with Block and intervenes in the action with various other characters. He accepts Block’s challenge to play chess, and their game becomes a symbol of the possibility of cheating death—at least for a while.
Jof, Mia, and Mikael
Jof and Mia are a married couple who are part of the troupe of actors; Mikael is their young son. They represent the Holy Family, of which Jof has a vision. They provide a refuge for the weary knight, who later helps all three escape Death by knocking over the chess pieces. Jof has another vision of the Dance of Death.
Raval, the villain, is a violent man who lashes out at several characters. Ten years earlier, he had convinced Block to join the crusade. Now in the time of plague, he steals from corpses. Raval tries to rape a girl who catches him defacing graves, and he later attacks Jof. The plague, in turn, takes his life.
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