Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Max Von Sydow and Religion

The Greatest Story Ever Told

The Greatest Story Ever Told 

Max von Sydow, the German actor who had roles in many Hollywood films, sometimes as a villain, has died at the age of 90, which is a pretty good run, all considered. He was one of those actors for whom we might say, "oh, right, he was in that movie!" He may have been the bad guy in some pictures, but he wore halos in others, figuratively speaking, playing religious roles, even though he became an agnostic through the years. 

Max Von Sydow in the Exorcist

The Exorcist

He was a stern missionary attempting to take Christianity to the Hawaiian people in the 19th century, with Julie Andrews as his bride. He was the Jesuit priest doing battle with Satan in the creepy and very successful film, The Exorcist. 

He also went "all in"playing Jesus in The Greatest Story Ever Told surrounded by an all-star cast, including Telly Savalas as Pontius Pilate -- did Pilate have a lolllipop? 

Julie Andrews and Max Von Sydow

Von Sydow won a Golden Globe for his role as a missionary to Hawaii

One of the most striking and meme-like scenes in any of his films was as a crusading knight in Ingmar Berman's Seventh Seal. He returns to his homeland with his faith in tatters, and ends up playing a game of chess with the Grim Reaper. This became an iconic image, perhaps because we are all playing that game of chess, hoping that our faith will sustain us through the uncertainties and doubts and disappointments of this life. Isn't that what our journey through Lent to Easter and resurrection hope  is about? . 

Mr. von Sydow, right, in Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal” (1957), in which he plays chess against Death (Bengt Ekerot), an unforgettable image in film history.

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