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Just Another 56-Year-Old Movie

10/20/2013

I should have watched the film classic by the famous Ingmar Bergman called The Seventh Seal many years ago.  It plotted the emotional trail for so many combat veterans.

In the mid-fourteen century, a priest convinces a young Swedish knight to leave his wife and castle to serve in the bloody Crusades.  Seeing death up close, smelling it, feeling life leave others, and loathing his own fear of it, he finally returns from the Crusades to await his own death, whenever and wherever he finds it.  When he returns to his native Sweden, the Black Plague is ravishing the country he loved.  Sorrow is everywhere.  Before he reaches his castle, he meets Death on a beach.  Stalling for time, he invites Death to play a game of chess first, which they play intermittently throughout the movie.  He realizes he is stalling, not to just continue living, but to do something, anything worthwhile in his wretched life; so weary of war.  He befriends a young couple with a baby girl and an infectious love of life.  When they find themselves in danger, the knight distracts Death with their chess game.  Once the young family is safely away, the knight is then ready to die.  He had accomplished something worthwhile, and Death takes him.  The final scene shows the knight dancing joyfully on a hillside, liberated from the sorrow of life.

The title of The Seventh Seal refers to a passage in the Book of Revelation in the Bible when “the Lamb opens the Seventh Seal, there was silence in Heaven.”  This refers to the knight’s continual prayers for God to lead him, but he only hears from Death instead.

The best known themes in existentialism are the love of absurdity and the obsession with death.  While there are some delightfully absurd situations and dialogue in the movie, the obsession with death is overwhelming.  But, another existential theme is the individual’s responsibility for his own life and his own death.  Doing something worthwhile in his life was more important to the knight than his death, and that’s good advice!

I couldn’t help thinking about my fellow veterans, who return from war more emotionally-damaged than physically-damaged.  Their feelings are not unique; just unbearably heavy.  Maybe, it would be helpful for them to view this movie, to see that doing something worthwhile in life is more important than their death by suicide.  Indeed, it is a predicate to dying.

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