By today’s standards, Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal must be the most boring kind of movie. It moves slowly, it meanders, it falters, it has lots of monologues, it has no action to speak of, and it is in Swedish.
But if Christian conservatives can sit through 3 hours and 40 minutes of The Ten Commandments, they should certainly be able to tolerate the 96 minutes of The Seventh Seal. The movie is relevant today because so many people seem to believe that Christianity is under attack and faith in the general public is eroding. It may be useful to take a step back and get a little perspective by looking through the lens of an era when belief in God was really in genuine jeopardy.
The Seventh Seal takes place in the era of the Black Death. A knight and his squire had just returned from the horrors of the Crusades only to find their homeland population decimated by the Plague. The knight engages the Grim Reaper in a game of chess and earns a few days of reprieve to find the meaning of life. Then he proceeds to wrestle with the question, “Where is God when all the world is praying for help?”
It must have been terribly difficult to believe in God in the era of the Plague. When all the unanswered prayers of the world lie as corpses all around you, how can you believe in the existence of an almighty savior? There is, of course, no happy ending for a movie like The Seventh Seal, but there is an element of hope. Faith survived.
Over the dead bodies of 200 million unanswered prayers, Faith still survived. People continued to pray. Churches kept operating.
You do not have to be particularly religious to grasp the gravity of this historic fact. Now contrast this to the screechy, hysterical, over-blown alarmism of modern Christian conservatives preaching about the attack on their faith. Could these drama queens in robes possibly have the resilience to take on a real theological crises like the Plague? One must realize that the constant screeching of the religious victimhood pushers is only weakening the backbone of Faith.
Christianity has never been safer in the history of humanity. There are more Christians today than ever before. There are fewer challenges to Christianity than ever before.There is no need for alarmism when the biggest challenges are coming from people who wish you “Happy Holidays” on Comedy Central and HBO.
Which brings me to the flip side of the political spectrum; the sort of people who hysterically protest against Halloween costumes or dive into tantrums when women are complimented on their looks. If you are protesting that white girls are dressing up in Indian costumes on Halloween, it leads me to think that you are not really in touch with the real problems facing modern Native Americans. (Hint: They have more pressing issues than Halloween costumes.) And women who believe that it is a major affront to their dignity to be told that they look “attractive” should chill and realize that women in first world countries are safer today than in any other time in the history of humanity. There are bigger problems facing women in other parts of the world than being complimented on their looks.
Some have said that people today are being too sensitive. I do not believe they are. They are being self-important. On December 5, 2014, a Korean Air passenger liner was forced to abort a take-off from a JFK runway when the airline vice president Heather Cho, who happened to be seated in the business class section of the plane, flew into a rage because macadamia nuts were served to her in a bag instead of in a bowl. After a heated confrontation with the flight attendant, during which she assaulted him, she ordered him off the plane, requiring a return to the gate and delaying the flight, which incidentally happened to be against international aviation law. Although Korean Air eventually issued and apology, the company initially tried to cover up the incident in order to shield the vice president who was also the daughter of the CEO. Heather Cho herself eventually expressed remorse, but she was initially adamant that her reaction was appropriate to the level of humiliation she experienced. As reward for her grudging repentance, she was given a suspended sentence on her obstruction of aviation safety.
The Korean Air incident, otherwise known as the “nut rage incident“, has been attributed to social class problems specific to Korea, but entitlement and privilege knows no borders, as evidenced by the behavior of American privileged youth on airliners.
Privilege makes you see transgressions where they do not exist. The richest people are enraged at the smallest slights. The Christians of predominantly Christian countries complain the most about the erosion of their faith. I do not know which is more tragic, the pampered women who complain about sexism so often or the abused women who so seldom complain of the same. Not everyone in the world is rich or privileged, but it seems that more and more people are adopting the entitled attitudes of kings. They are not being sensitive so much as believing their problems to be more important than those of lesser people.
These are the people who need most to go back to The Seventh Seal. They need to see this depiction of a world where the strongest belief was called into question and humanity itself hung in the balance. A world where people had real problems.
Movies like The Seventh Seal will probably never be made again. And in spite of an ever growing library of “hyphen-awareness” books, truly introspective fiction is long dead. When real crises of faith has been replaced with outrage over “Happy Holidays”, social courage is exemplified by Caitlyn Jenner, and the biggest media concern is Kanye West and the Kardashians, what place is there for a story about the human soul crushed to the absolute breaking point?
I wish I could tell the whole lot of them to sit down, shut up, and just watch the movie. Forget about your own petty problems and just take in the spare, spooky story of a world falling off a cliff.