The film was produced in a world recovering from the devastation of WWII, and living in fear of the mushrom cloud.
A knight and his squire are returning home from the crusades. Disgusted and desillusionised by what he has experienced, the knight just longs to die. He has just one last wish: to find out why he has lived. Death does not care, but agrees to let him live for as long as they continue their chess game.
They travel through a land ravaged by plague, fear, and banditry. Helpless the knight sees the world falling apart around him. Everything he believed in as a young man has been tainted or proved false.
Death cheats in the chess game. In the end the knight loses, but he gains some solace when he saves a young family from Death. Still, he leaves this world as unknowing as he entered as a child.
This film has a tremendous impact on the mind. It deals with the big questions: Why am I here? Why does evil exist, and why is it so powerful? What can one human do to affect the world? The last question is the only one that is answered: small things, but small things are also important.
The acting is briljant, with Max von Sydow as the knight. The personification of Death has inspired writers as different as Woody Allen and Terry Pratchett.