So cool. Maybe the coolest. I don’t want to rush to any conclusions, but I will. I’m going to bet that Max is the Swedish equal of Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford and Richard Gere all rolled in one! ( I figure Richard Gere will NEVER get another mention in this blog, so why not?)
How many great movies has Max been in? Wait, let’s see… um about a million. The old guy is in his 80th year on Earth, but he has embodied so many great characters in so many great films, he seems timeless, utterly invincible, fucking immortal. We will never lose Max von Sydow. On the last day of the world, Max and Clint Eastwood will be sitting there on some plastic furniture (plastic never dies either), sipping their respective drinks (I imagine whiskey for Clint, maybe a fine white wine for Max) and shooting the shit about life, death, and the unknowable.
Max has played God, the Devil, and everyone in between. He’s been in great films, awful movies, and even a Bond flick. For now, let’s quickly look at Max von Sydow’s more than illustrious career. And we’re starting with the heavy shit.
The Seventh Seal
The Seventh Seal is one of the most essential films of all time, film only being in existence for a hundred odd years. This film heralded the arrival of not only von Sydow, but director Ingmar Bergman. The iconic Swedish film maker and von Sydow, himself a Swede, worked together more often than De Niro and Scorsese. Which means they worked together a lot.
The Seventh Seal takes place in midieval Sweden, right smack in the middle of the black plague, and everyone is basically losing their shit. Max plays chess throughout the film with Death. He and his squire roam around, with not much to do after ten years crusading the Holy Land. They show up and see how disgusting and abhorrent their homeland is and figure, maybe death ain’t so bad after all. I know I’m trivializing it, but really this is one of those films that is so heavy, so dense and dark and packed with such confronting philosophy, that to really talk about it would take forever. It should have its own post, but then I’m lazy.
Safe to say Mx would appear in many other brilliant Bergman films, some as stunning and sacred as the Seventh Seal, some merely minor masterpieces. Here’s a couple of ones I’ve seen
The Virgin Spring- The most bad ass Bergman film, Max totally fucks up these two guys that killed his daughter. (I told you this stuff was dark)
Through a Glass Darkly-No, not the Phillip K Dick story, you nerd. But where do you think Dick came up with his title? Max is married to a schitzo who talks to God, who is a giant spider. I love this stuff.
In Sweden, Max von Sydow’s name is synonymous with deep philosophical thought, existential malaise, and a yearning for the meaning of life. In America, he may just be known as the guy who gets pea soup barfed up on him.
As classic as the Bergman films were/are, von Sydow’s American legacy will always begin with the Exorcist. I mean, he is the Exorcist. As the priest with a compelling power, he fought the Devil. The Devil, people. You wanna fight the Devil? Or you wanna call Max and have him duke it out with the prince of darkness?
Max von Sydow was only 44 years old when he made this, so I’m hoping there was a fantastic make up man on set. (In fact there was, his name is Dick Smith and he made the scariest little girl I have ever seen. Good job) The whole movie is a classic, but especially Max, I really think it’s his performance that sells it.
So now that you’re a famous actor in America, Max, what are ya going to do now?
Steppenwolf- Max’s performance is this film. He is everything we take away from the screen.
Awakenings- Max is so good at playing doctors, priests, fucking 14th century knights! These are men of respect, of character, of honor. Coincidence?
Conan the Barbarian-Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. “What daring! What outrageousness! What insolence! What arrogance!… I salute you.”
OK, let’s talk about David Lynch’s Dune. This film is best known as one of the most monumental failures in film history. But really, let’s talk about the film, not the story around it. Dune is a sweeping, stunning opera of sci-fi allegories and moralities. And while hot shot Kyle Maclachlan gets the reward, old Maxxy is there to back him up and kick some sandworm tail!
I like Dune. I like anything David Lynch will do, but really, I feel that Dune wasn’t his thing. Lynch was an upstart himself, coming off the success of the Elephant Man and the reputation he earned with Eraserhead.
Sooo, those whip smart executives figure that the guy who’s been making all of these dark and bleak character studies, who can unravel nerves and confound the most poignant of critics, let’s give him the multi million dollar budget mess we’ve been prepping in the Mexican desert for a year. Why? How does David Lynch directing Dune make any sense on paper? And yet the guy sort of pulls it off. He gives us creepy, he gives us scary. He gives us Sting. What more do you people want from him? Truth be told, Dune is just too big a story for one film.
As for Max, let me say this. As a lead in the films he leads, he is fantastic. As a character actor, usually in a supporting role, he is unbeatable. So many movies he’s in only briefly are changed because of him, enhanced, richer for his involvement.
Come to think of it, Max has starred in a lot of sci fi, weird right?
Flash Gordon- Oh yea. He’s in this.
Judge Dredd- Yes, he is in this too. Don’t judge him too harshly. Get it? Judge him? I crack myself up.
Minority Report-ZZZZzzzzzzzzzzz Huh? Wha? Oh, I typed the words “Minority Report” and suddenly became so sleepy I just ZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
The Ice Pirates- Seriously? Yes and yes on this one.
One last mention. Max von Sydow was uncredited for but was in fact the voice of Vigo the Carpathian in Ghostbusters 2.
I mean it. This is not a joke . Motherfucking Vigo. So, how cool is Max von Sydow then? You tell me. Tell me he’s not the coolest old guy acting it up out there right now. Tell me this, and I’ll call you a fool.
Personally, I can’t wait to see him next in Shutter Island, the upcoming thriller/mystery from Martin Scorsese himself. Max is looking good too. As fresh as the day he beat the Devil.