Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

The Seventh Seal raises the related issues of the existence of God and of reality and meaning beyond this world. The film’s protagonist, the knight, returns from a crusade with his faith shaken. If God does not exist, he says, then life is “an outrageous horror. No one can live in the face of death knowing all is nothingness.” He is upset by the silence that answers his prayers and wants certitude about God. He also wants to perform a meaningful act.

During the course of the film, he does perform meaningful acts and he does find something to affirm life. He gives the accused witch a potion to stop her pain, for example, and he distracts Death so that Jof’s family can escape. Earlier they had shared their strawberries and milk with Block, and he had declared that his memory of communion with them would be for him “an adequate sign—it will be enough for me.”

However, it may not be enough for him when Death comes at the end. He cries for mercy to a God “who must be somewhere” and is still met with silence. Is the meaning people find in the here and now all there is, and if so, is it adequate, or must there be some transcendent basis of meaning? A secular existentialist would say this world is all there is, and the only meaning we find is that which we make. A Christian existentialist would say God speaks to us through the actions and experiences of the here and now. Bergman said the allegory of The Seventh Seal has a simple theme: the eternal human search for God, with death as our only certainty.