Living with Death
In his film The Seventh Seal, Ingmar Bergman openly addresses the human response to death. The film documents the return of Antonius Block and his squire Jons to their homeland after their ten years of fighting in the Crusades. During their return journey to Antonius Block's castle, the characters encounter death in many forms, including the devastating plague afflicting the population and (even less subtly) Death personified in his classic black garb. Each of Block's and Jons' confrontations with death provides opportunities for Bergman to display the different philosophies of death that he has intertwined with his characters. Through the manifestation of these philosophies, the audience is given a chance to understand the human responses to death.
The knight Antonius Block is the first of the characters to come across death. In the opening sequence, Death appears to Block in the form of man dressed in black. He tells the knight that his time has come and asks if Block is ready. To this question, Block responds, "My body is frightened, but I am not" (Bergman). Despite this gallant rejoinder, Block deftly postpones his demise by challenging the grim figure to a game of chess. At this point, the only clue to his rationale for dodging death lies in his frustrated attempt at prayer earlier in the scene. Bergman fully develops the knight's dilemma in a future sequence: in this critical scene, Block converses with Death dressed as a priest. Block passionately reveals that he seeks the knowledge of God's presence in life. The dialogue highlights the problems Block finds with the belief system of his era and introduces the Heideggerian aspect of his character.
Martin Heidegger reflects on death and its effect on life in his Being and Time. He notes that people know that the inevitability of their death is a fact, but instead of acknowledging that death is an ever-present possibility, people tend to categorize death as an event that happens to other people (Singer 52). Heidegger uses this disparity to describe how an authentic existence might be achieved. According to Jonathan Dollimore:
Heidegger takes up an old idea that death is not the event which ends life but a profound reality which in-forms it, and he seeks to take this truth so fully into our being that we are compelled to embrace authentic existence and leave the world of false sociableness (Dollimore 161-162)
In other words, Heidegger suggests that people generally carry out their lives and behave according to the established social structures (i.e. the "false sociableness" mentioned by Dollimore or Heidegger's concept of the inauthentic existence). Constant awareness of the possibility of death would free the part of an individual that must be compromised in order to follow the established social conventions; Heidegger refers to this freedom as the authentic existence (Kraus 98). This facet of Heideggerian philosophy can be seen in The Seventh Seal as...