FILM REVIEW | THE SEVENTH SEAL
photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
with all the enduring and entirely understandable global HYSTERIA centered around the CORONAVIRUS pandemic, it got me considering WESTERN CULTURE's relationship to DEATH. the idea that we FEAR and DELUDE ourselves against its existence and when it does occur in close proximity, we use it to MYTHOLOGIZE in order to OBFUSCATE it and make it more CONCEPTUAL and ABSTRACT. fool ourselves in order to make DEATH seem more MANAGEABLE. during my time in eastern countries like JAPAN and MYANMAR and even non-BUDDHIST influenced countries like ALBANIA and NIGERIA there seemed to be a more PALPABLE, PERSONAL relationship to the idea of our eventual passing as a part of life. something as NATURAL as any other part of the cycle that shouldn't be hidden or shied away from.
in his famous film dealing with the nature of DEATH and the FUTILITY of attempting to negotiate with it, INGMAR BERGMAN's THE SEVENTH SEAL (AB SVENSK FILMINDUSTRI, 1957) revolves around a medieval knight stricken with the PLAGUE confronting DEATH (personified in human form) on a beach. DEATH is INEVITABLE and the knight knows it, but he is trying to fight it anyway. why?
because tempting FATE is what we do as humans. when have we ever accepted a role in the NATURE ORDER. our tendency is to define and redefine our role, consequences be DAMNED. its probably been that way since the advent of agriculture or language or PRIMITIVE tools that allowed small bands of humans to efficiently consolidate FINITE labor and resources. at some point our CLEVERNESS allows us to think that we have some type of POWER over the NATURAL world, but really we are just shepherds overseeing it. when i watch this film i read it as our collective inability in WESTERN CULTURE to accept our fate.
its odd for me because during my time overseas i've seen funeral processions with boxes being carried through busy streets (ALBANIA) or human remains cremated in public view (NIGERIA) and the end result is that, I feel, these cultures are better inoculated to deal with DEATH / FATE because they see it. they smell it. DEATH in their experience is COMMON, VISCERAL and TACTILE. in the WEST we are cutoff from the consequences of our collective choices. the CRUELTY of the meat industry or the INHUMANITY of our prison system. its all out of view and out of mind. in these countries i've visited DEATH is a CONSTANT reminder.
perhaps if we had more HONEST relationships with our FEARS, we wouldn't feel a need to exert such effort in attempting (with complete FUTILITY) to control over them. we'd understand their role and move on.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
WILD STRAWBERRIES (SVENSK FILMINDUSTRI, 1957) by legendary Swedish director INGMAR BERGMAN is my vote for most depressing film of all-time. straight up.
the conceit of the film is an elderly professor traveling to his alma mater to accept an award for his life's work, when he is besieged by regret for the choices of his life. the opportunities he didn't take as they would've competed with his academic ambitions.
the idea of regret at a point in which you have no agency to do anything about it was deeply affecting to me when i saw this back in high school as part of a film class. essentially this film was my introduction to the concept of impotence, which is genuinely devastating to think about too long.
i never got into horror films in general, other than pre-1970s suspense films (ALFRED HITCHCOCK, BILLY WILDER) and early german expressionist films and their immediate adherents (FRITZ LANG, ROBERT WIENE, F.W. MURNAU, JAMES WHALE), partly because the idea of immediate death really isn't that terrifying. it's almost a relief. the idea of slow contemplation over years mulling over bad decisions is psychologically far more devastating and torturous in my opinion.
BERGMAN in this film effectively showcases this existential dread ironically through beautifully composed, hazy impressionistic dream sequences of sun-drenched, never-ending midsummer afternoons in the Swedish forests where as a youth he'd bask in young love. too bad his ambitions left her in the rear-view. these delicately shot scenes of youthful naivety bely a much darker edge in the context of the film, as seeing the college students only further reinforces his internal struggle. essentially this film is a CHARLES DICKENS' A CHRISTMAS CAROL except no hope of changing your ways. only option afforded you is to wallow in the misery of your past decisions.
only BERGMAN could make such a beautiful film that is so depressing! and thats why i love him. definitely worth checking out his filmography, especially this film or THE SEVENTH SEAL (SVENSK FILMINDUSTRI, 1957) . can't go wrong, both are highly contemplative films where characters are caught in an internal conflict asking life's most consequential questions.