At first, second, and third glance, these two movies have nothing in common. The first, The Seventh Seal, is a black and white Swedish film from 1957 which uses the black plague as a background for a consideration of death, suffering, and religion. The second, The World’s End, is a fast-paced action movie about drinking, consumer culture, and assimilation. What the films share, though, is an understanding of humanity’s desire to engage in pleasureful activities even as the world seems to be collapsing. They are quest narratives where the end of the quest involves the destruction of the world around them, even if a glimmer of human hope lingers on. Though each film examines very different societies and does so in very different modes, they end up confirming similarly humanist ideals in what makes for the most whiplash-inducing but also thoroughly interesting double feature I’ve yet to discover.
The Seventh Seal is Ingmar Bergman’s entrance into greatness as a director, and no scene proves this more than the terrifying conversation between the returning crusade knight and a woman about to be burned as a witch. Here the knight hopes for a story of her time with the Devil, because if Satan exists so must God, and that means that death and therefore life have meaning. What she gives him is no comfort, though, as her thousand-yard stare goes right through him and the audience, giving her a sense of cold detachment from humanity. “Look into my eyes,” she says, “Well, do you see him?” The knight responds, “I see terror. Nothing else.” That terror is one side of the movie’s coin, and it is indeed horrific. But wait.