In “The Seventh Seal,” What Questions are Asked in Block’s Confession at the church? And Why?
Why must God hide in vague promises and invisible miracles?
What will become of us who want to believe but cannot?
And what of those who neither will nor can believe?
Why can I not kill God within me?
Why does he go on living in a painful, humiliating way?
I want to tear him out of my heart, but he remains a mocking reality which I cannot get rid of. I want knowledge. Not belief. Not surmise. But knowledge.
The confessional scene in The Seventh Seal (1957) is an incredibly iconic moment in which the knight Antonious Block (Max von Sydow) verbalizes all his inner atheistic concerns to a man he thinks is a priest. He goes on to discuss his ongoing game of chess with Death in which his life is the prize, revealing his tactics for winning, only to discover Death (Bengt Ekerot) was the priest to whom he had been confessing. Block is not discouraged by this, but motivated to keep on his path of discovery.
The scene serves multiple purposes. It illustrates the type of common questions that believers often struggle with, including director Ingmar Bergman. Most every person has wrestled with one or more of Block’s concerns at some point, whether out of faith or a lack thereof. Religious knowledge is important to believers, yet questions always go unanswered. Block’s confession highlights the challenges in believing in something you cannot see, feel, or confirm, and argues that such efforts are a burden on one’s soul. Block says that if God doesn’t exist, life is a senseless terror. And if God is only a symbol of comfort formed to ease humanity’s fear of death, then he’s nothing more than a symbol of human weakness and not something we should strive to appease. These are the themes and questions that the rest of the film will investigate.
The confession also makes note that Block’s purpose in playing chess with Death is to provide himself enough remaining time to perform a meaningful action that will give purpose to his life. So far, he feels he hasn’t achieved that goal.
“Note that although the action takes place in the XIV century, Block’s character is modern: he is not concerned about salvation and his own sins, as a medieval knight would be, but about the meaning of life, a typically modern issue. In addition, he strikes an existentialist note by claiming that he intends to perform a significant action before his death, as if the meaning of his life were to be found in his action, and not in the fact that it is created by God.” - Southern Illinois University film study.
Block’s character, like the overall use of the Crusades, is allegorical and presents a modern issue in an historic context.