The movie where the knight plays chess with Death. Time has rendered the once iconic imagery almost comical. Indeed, throughout much of the first act, I couldn’t shake an unintended sense of amusement as the production’s Gregorian chants, smoke-filled sets, and chain-mail costumes evoked Monty Python and the Holy Grail. But critics hold writer-director Ingmar Bergman’s film in high esteem for good reason. Starting with a scene in a tavern that begins innocent but turns dark at a rapid pace, the film gripped me.
First, this is no surrealist tale. The knight playing chess with death amounts to minutes of screen time. Bergman he leverages this abstraction along with the period setting to explore taboo themes of God’s existence and the meaning of life. The ending proves both hopeful and bleak, mirroring Bergman’s struggle with faith. Time may have softened the film’s impact, but it still packs a punch.