What is the Significance of “The Seventh Seal’s” Strawberries and Milk Scene?
The Seventh Seal’s (1957) most joyful moments come in the form of Jof (Nils Poppe) and Mia (Bibi Andersson), a husband and wife pair of traveling performers, and their infant son, Mikael. They represent innocence and purity, and possess a love for life and each other that the knight (Max von Sydow) finds very comforting and elusive in his own existence. His time spent in their company provides him an escape from the questions of God and faith that normally torment his mind, and he forms a bond with them over that serenity.
In the iconic wild strawberries and milk scene, Jof and Mia provide the knight with sustenance in front of their caravan. Jof plays the lute, and Mia talks with the knight about their lives. The infant son, Mikael, pounces around as beautiful and innocently as one would expect of a one year-old. Jof is the film’s only other character capable of seeing Death as he plays chess with the knight. He also has visions of the Virgin Mary early in the film. These religious sightings, coupled with his angelic wife and infant son are a representation of the holy family and the knight drinking from the holy family’s bowl of milk is most likely a representation of the eucharistic act of communion.
The scene is one of optimism in a film of largely nihilistic impressions. But it’s notable that the knight is finding optimism not because he’s seeing an answer to his debates about faith and God, but in a moment where those questions are washed away and replaced by the simplicities of love and freedom. In a confessional earlier in the film, the knight poses the question as to why he is unable to cut God out of his life. In the moment with Jof and Mia, he does just that, and receives a temporary moment of serenity. The scene makes a romantic statement that the highlights of life are not found in understanding existence or loving/fearing God, but in loving another person and not living in fear.
“Serene and hopeful, this moment encompasses the underlying and unexpected optimism in Bergman’s film. “Love is the blackest of all plagues. And if one could die of it, there would be some pleasure in love. But you almost always get over it,” Jöns reflects. “If everything is imperfect in this imperfect world, love is the most perfect in its perfect imperfection.” Such positive and indeed romantic sentiments seldom come from a pragmatist like Jöns, or a misanthrope like Bergman, but they survive through Block’s lamentations and flourish in the scenes with Jof and Mia. Cerebral though Bergman’s films may be, the director takes a realist’s stance on love, acknowledging the effort (and naiveté) it requires; yet he insists that attaining love often presents a person’s sole purpose to keep going. He grasps the potential for complication with love, and when relationships are his central theme, Bergman often resolves that the toils are worth the plunder. Whereas the other characters seem consumed by the times, by religious hysteria or the quest for meaning, Jof and Mia’s cheerful survival suggests that death itself is nothing to fear, because fear brings demise all the quicker.” - Brian Eggert, Deep Focus Review