Death in “The Seventh Seal (1957)”

“I have been waiting.”Image

Death, or in other works, The Grim Reaper, is perhaps the most perplexing representation of the walking dead that one can imagine when it comes to monstrosity because of his ambiguous nature. He defines the terms “walking dead” and “undead” literally–it’s his name, it’s what he does, and it’s what he is–yet there is no other undead being that is comparable to him because he represents so much of what can be considered human. In “The Seventh Seal,” he exhibits human characteristics in his ability to rationalize and communicate with others, but one can question his humanity and consider him monstrous in relation to his free will and morality.

In an essay, Bergman himself states: “Clutching the branch of a tree was a naked man with staring eyes, while down below stood Death, sawing away to his heart’s content.” One may say that as the “Angel of Death,” it is his job to take life, but does that justify his killing spree? This movie symbolizes him as the movement and the embodiment of the Bubonic Plague, or “Black Death,” across Europe from the mid-14th to late-15th centuries that killed dozens of millions of people. As mentioned in class, diseases have monstrous physical characteristics, but since it is represented as a simple, human-like figure, does the figure become monstrous, or does the concept of the plague become human?

Death is both the plague and immortal, and where he supernaturally appears, life ends and he continues on. As a disease, death is bound to happen wherever it appears, but since he demonstrates mortal characteristics, one can say that he does in fact have free will. Therefore, his choice to wipe out millions of people is immoral, and his rationale that it simply has to be done is horrifying; he selectively chooses each individual that shall die without any motive or remorse, and that is what makes him so dangerously and undeniably monstrous.

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Works Cited

  1. Abu-Lughod, Janet L. Before European hegemony: The world system AD 1250-1350. Oxford University Press, 1991.
  2. Bergman, Ingmar. “Focus on the Seventh Seal.” Ingmar Bergman. Arts April (1958), n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2013. <http://ingmarbergman.se/en/production/seventh-seal-15435&gt;.
  3. Crowther, Bosley. “The Seventh Seal (1957) Seventh Seal’; Swedish Allegory Has Premiere at Paris.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 13 Oct. 2004. Web. 02 Dec. 2013. <http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9B00E3DC173DE73ABC4C52DFB6678383649EDE&gt;.
  4. Steene, Birgitta. Focus on The Seventh Seal. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1972. Print.
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One response to “Death in “The Seventh Seal (1957)”

  1. I found this post to be an interesting analysis of the Grim Reaper because he is a monstrous figure who as you say “exhibits human characteristics in his ability to rationalize and communicate with others, but one can question his humanity and consider him monstrous in relation to his free will and morality,” a dilemma also applicable to monsters like Grendel.

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