The Seventh Seal (1957, directed by Ingmar Bergman)
I had a bit of a panic attack earlier today when I logged onto twitter and I discovered that everyone was both sharing picture of the great actor Max Von Sydow and debating which one of his many roles was his best.
“Oh my God!” I thought, “Max von Sydow must have died! 2018 sucks now!”
I looked over at the trending topics and, to my shock, Max von Sydow was not trending. However, Mark Zuckerberg was.
“Goddammit,” I thought, “Mark Zuckerberg is totally overshadowing the legendary career of one of the most important actors of all time!”
I was prepared to take advantage of the no-filter atmosphere of twitter and start screaming at people for not showing the proper respect to the life and legacy of Max von Sydow. Fortunately, before I totally lost my temper, I decided to make sure that my assumptions were correct. That’s something that I rarely do but I’m certainly glad that I did it this time because, by doing so, I discovered that Max von Sydow was not dead.
Instead, today was his 89th birthday!
Happy birthday, Max von Sydow!
What is Max von Sydow’s greatest role? There’s so many to choose from. He’s got a whole new legion of fans as a result of his appearances in last two Star Wars films. Considering that he’s been an outspoken agnostic, it’s somewhat ironic that his first English-language role was as Jesus Christ in The Greatest Story Ever Told and that he epitomized everyone’s idea of the ideal priest in The Exorcist. He’s played assassins, saints, and intellectuals. He’s twice been nominated for an Oscar. When I asked my boyfriend for his pick for Max von Sydow’s greatest performance, he picked the Emperor Ming in Flash Gordon. Speaking of famous villains, von Sydow also played Blofield in Never Say Never Again and let’s not forget the assassin he played in Three Days of the Condor or his role in Minority Report or his performance as Leland Gualt in Needful Things! And what about his performance in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly or his Emmy-nominated turn in Game of Thrones…
Well, I could sit here and spend hours listing great Max von Sydow performances. But, when talking about the career of Max von Sydow, you have to start with the films of Ingmar Bergman. And when you talk about Bergman and von Sydow, you have to start with 1957’s The Seventh Seal.
(Some sites claim that The Seventh Seal was von Sydow’s film debut but that’s not true. It may have been his first film for Bergman but von Sydow actually made his screen debut in 1949. Before finding film stardom, von Sydow dominated the Swedish stage.)
In honor of both Max von Sydow’s 89th birthday and his amazing career, today’s scene that I love is from The Seventh Seal. This haunting and atmospheric film is one that you definitely should see if you haven’t see it already. Here von Sydow’s knight first meets Death (Bengt Ekerot*) and settles in for a game of chess.
Happy birthday, Max von Sydow!
*While Bengt Ekerot never went on to achieve the type of international fame that von Sydow did, his performance here set the archetype of how Death, as a character, continues to be portrayed in books and films to this day.