The Seventh Seal Summary
by Ingmar Bergman

Start Your Free Trial

The Seventh Seal Summary

Antonius Block, a weary, disenchanted knight returning to his native land from the crusades, is the central figure in Ingmar Bergman's 1957 cinematic masterpiece, The Seventh Seal. While on the road with his squire, Jons, the knight encounters the figure of Death and challenges him to a game of chess, which he is playing to stave off his demise.

Download The Seventh Seal Study Guide

Subscribe Now

As the knight continues on his journey through the plague-infested countryside, he comes upon a young family of actors, Jof and Mia, who have an infant son, and their manager, Jonas Skat. Jof is prone to religious visions and has a variable relationship with truth.

Block and Jof visit a church where a fresco of the common medieval theme of the Dance of Death is being painted. The knight enters the confessional and pours out his angst-ridden soul:

I want God to put out his hand, show his face, speak to me. I cry out to him in the dark, but there is no one there.

The person hearing Block's confession reveals himself as Death. Departing the church, the knight meets a young woman soon to be burned at the stake for consorting with the devil. He seeks some insight into the afterlife from the woman, but her response is incomprehensible.

The group of travelers arrives at a tavern, where Raval, a former theologian turned rapist, leads a mob bullying Jof into dancing like a bear. Their merriment is broken up by Jons, who, also knowing of Raval's unpunished rape, slashes him across the face with a knife.

Block invites the acting family and Plog—a blacksmith whose wife, Lisa, has run off with Skat—to save themselves from the plague by accompanying him to his castle. They gladly agree. As they continue on, they meet Skat and Lisa. The remorseful woman returns to her husband, and Skat tries to feign remorse by faking his suicide. Yet the omnipresent Death chooses this moment to dispatch him in reality.

Block again encounters the supposedly possessed young woman on the way to her death. He asks to speak to the devil that he might question the demon about God. But the knight then grasps that it is only fear which possesses her, and he gives the woman some herbs to lessen the pain of her ordeal. Block and Jons watch as she is consumed by the flames.

As the group moves on, Jof one day observes the knight playing chess with Death. He and Mia realize the danger they are in and decide to make their escape while Death is preoccupied. Block, aware of this event, flips over the chessboard to distract Death from the family's departure. Yet, when the board is reassembled, Death declares checkmate and warns the knight that his life will be over at their next meeting.

Block finally reaches his castle and is reunited with his wife, Karin. As they sit at the dinner table, she reads from the Book of Revelations:

And when the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about the space of half an hour. And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets.

That night there is a terrible storm. On the following day, Jof, now far off with his family, has a "vision" of the knight, Karin, and his retinue retinue being led across the hills in the Dance of Death.


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Antonius Block, a knight newly returned from a crusade, turns around from his morning prayers to encounter Death. Block challenges Death to a game of chess, asking to live while the game is in progress and to be released if he wins. Death agrees, and they begin to play. The images of a knight playing chess with Death and of Death leading a communal dance (in the film’s last sequence) are two images that Ingmar Bergman saw as a boy in churches. They suggest the inevitability of death, no matter the strategies we employ: All must eventually dance with him.

Jöns, the knight’s skeptical, irreverent squire, wakens, and he and Block resume their journey to the knight’s castle, passing a wagon in which sleep a troupe of actors.

Jof, one of the actors, tells his wife, Mia, of a vision he has had of the Virgin Mary and her...

(The entire section is 1,655 words.)