A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that while there are elements of the mystical here (and Death himself is a character), this classic will disappoint viewers expecting something like a horror-fantasy movie. It's wordy and philosophical, and it concerns the search for God and the existential dread that He may not exist. Traditional church-based Christianity is scorned by some characters. This film is not to be confused with the Demi Moore horror film The Seventh Sign, especially.
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What's the story?
After returning home to Scandinavia, Crusades-fighting knight Antonius (Max Von Sydow) is met by a pale-faced black-robed man, none other than Death. Not at all startled, Antonius challenges Death to a chess match, with his own survival the prize if he wins. The game takes place throughout the film's episodic storyline. We learn that Antonius is secretly in spiritual agony, his faith struggling against a violent world, filled with superstition, plague, and doom. He didn't find God while fighting in the Holy Land. In fact, Antonius learns that the clergyman who persuaded him to leave his wife for the Crusades is now a wretched excuse for a human being. En route to his long-neglected wife and castle, Antonius accompanies and protects fellow vagabonds, chiefly a small, fun-loving acting troupe run by a young husband and wife, Joseph and Mia.
Is it any good?
Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal concerns the monumental theme of a painful search for God, and has contributed some immortal moments to cinema. Joseph claims to see visions, like the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child, and Bergman seems to be suggesting if there is any God at all, the artists and creative types (including filmmakers?) are nearer the truth than the usual suspects. Characters grumble about the perilous times they live in, and many themes of The Seventh Seal, the wrestlings with religious doubt, are meaningful for the present, as Bergman intended.
Kids who are into medieval re-enactments and Renaissance fairs might be persuaded to see this. Harry Potter fans who notice a connection between this and the final book where Death plays a role may also raise an eyebrow. But it's still a tough sell.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the many layers of symbolism, parable, and meaning here. Ask kids what parallels they see in Ingmar Berman's Middle Ages shown here -- the plagues, the fears, the predictions that it's the "end times" -- and today, when some predict pretty much the same thing. Is there a proof of God or salvation after all in the movie's plot? Do you agree with Bergman that artists and actors are closer to the divine than the priests and the heroic knights? For Harry Potter fans, how is the character Death the same or different than the one depicted in the "Deathly Hallows" story within the final book?