The Seventh Seal (Swedish: Det sjunde inseglet) is a 1957 Swedish film written and directed by Ingmar Bergman. Set during the Black Death, it tells of the journey of a medieval knight (Max von Sydow) and a game of chess he plays with the personification of Death (Bengt Ekerot), who has come to take his life.
The film is considered a major classic of world cinema. It helped Bergman to establish himself as a world-renowned director and contains scenes which have become iconic through parodies and homages.
The representation of Death as a white-faced man in a dark cape who plays chess with mortals has been a popular object of parody in other films. One that is exclusively focused on Bergman is a 15-minute parody of Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberriesentitled De Düva (mock Swedish for “The Dove”), which contains a final scene in which the protagonist plays badminton with Death and Death is defeated when he is hit in the eye by the droppings of a passing dove. The photography imitates throughout the style of Bergman’s cinematographers Sven Nykqvist and Gunnar Fischer. The trailer to the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail also includes a game against Death being cut short, when the game of chess is interrupted by Death hitting the Knight’s face with a pie. In the BBC comedy The Young Ones series two episode “Nasty”, Death is shown playing chess and, upon realising he had lost, swats the chess pieces off the board in a fit of anger and annoyance, shouts ‘Bollocks to this!’ and promptly kills his opponent.
The idea of Death playing games other than chess was further parodied in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, in which he appears as a major character (played by William Sadler) who is beaten by the protagonists at Battleship, Clue, electric football and Twister. An episode of the television series The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy includes a similar theme, with Death becoming a major character tied to the main characters after they defeat him in a game of limbo. The 2001 Cinema Insomnia screening of The Seventh Seal included sketches in which the presenter and his co-host play chess while dressed as the film’s characters.
Woody Allen, an enormous fan of Ingmar Bergman , references his work in his serious dramas as well as his comedies, including Love and Death, a film which broadly parodies 19th-century Russian novels with a closing “Dance of Death” scene imitating Bergman. Allen has even written a short, one-act play entitled Death Knocks (published in Getting Even), in which he depicts a man playing Death at gin rummy.
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