The Memoir Of A Beloved

The death of a beloved is an amputation.
~ C. S. Lewis ~

I’m fortunate. Not many writers are in a position to have two books launched at about the same time. While things are being worked out with Omonomany Publishing for final publication of my WWII fictionalized biography, The Third Reich’s Last Eagle (some early readers wanted maps included in order to follow the advances and subsequent retreats of Germany’s Wehrmacht), I’m the daddy of a memoir.

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The memoir, In This Love Together – Love, Failing Limbs, and Cancer, is perhaps a final honoring of Becca, my deceased wife. A brave soul, she subjected herself to too many radiation treatments of her squamous cell carcinoma for later chemo treatments to do her any good. She lived for many months with a feeding tube and tracheostomy in order to stay alive. A most giving person, she made cookies for the cancer doctors and technicians in her last months.

One day she stood before the kitchen counter where we generally prepared food, intent on her batter, occasionally rocking side to side. She hadn’t fallen yet, but I knew it was coming.

“You don’t have to do that,” I said. “For crying out loud, they don’t expect cookies from you.”

“I know.” She didn’t turn, kept working her dough.

“Okay, so why do it?”

“I want to.”

For a second she swayed like a pine on a breezy day. “You okay?”

“I’m okay.”

“What can I do to help.”

“Nothing.”

I sighed, softly, so she wouldn’t hear it and claim petulance on my part. “Just be careful. Sit if you need to.”

“I will.”

The oncologist who had urged her into a second round of radiation, the radiation that proved insufficient to stop her cancer, but which had destroyed the surrounding tissue, graciously accepted her portion of the cookies, along with a scarf Becca had woven. After she died, I received a too-late card of thanks from this doctor.

Following Becca’s death it was my turn: heart surgery, followed by replacement of a failed knee replacement, and several months of physical therapy, which did little to aid the leg, which had atrophied in the interim. Romance entered my life again, then fled rather than see me through my mourning. And just as engineering work had gotten me through an earlier divorce, writing – this memoir, in particular – got me through the long months of loss.

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I had an odd bill of hers to accommodate as the months passed, but the nettlesome item was returning again and again to the cemetery management to have them honor their agreement to put Becca’s death date on her gravestone. It took two-and- a-half years to accomplish that, and as I stood before the completed gravestone, I had an odd realization. Somehow the fates had aligned to free me from my mourning.

I’ve heard from older, wiser persons that once you love someone, that love never goes away, and now I know the truth of that. But love does strange, counterintuitive things, too. Somehow, standing before her grave, I could swear she was whispering to me that it was time to move on.

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information on my books. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

 

A Pittance For Your Soul, Mister?

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In browsing through the latest copy of Writer’s Chronicle magazine  my thumbing stopped on an interview with famed writer and writing teacher, Ursula K. Le Guin. I usually pass over interviews because they’re normally about the struggles of writers embedded in academia or some such, and they’re usually parroting the same stuff . As in “if you’ve read one interview, you’ve read them all.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. Occasionally, though, some bon mot within such an interview pops out that affects the way I see my own writing, and I read it over and over trying to get a grasp on its kaleidoscopic effect. I decided to read this interview in toto, since Ms. Le Guin has much to say about writing in general. part-way through, this rather opinionated statement stop out:

A fear of using the imagination is very deep in America.

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Interesting, I thought, and quite true. How many times have I been in conversation about one of my books – or another’s – when my conversation partner says ,”Oh, I don’t read fiction.” “Oh?” I reply. A nod from the other. “And why’s that?” “I don’t know, really. I guess I’m more comfortable with what’s actually happened rather than some made-up thing.” I consider telling the other how much is gained from such speculative voyages, that the second prime objective (No, make that the prime objective) of fiction is to inform. And so we concoct a tale full of symbolism that, along with it’s superficially entertaining impact, tells us so much by extreme characterizations and storylines.

But then what is real these days?  We’re constantly faced with “fake news,” as part of our political lives, and in any case memory is no longer considered an accurate reproducer of what has gone on before. “Reality TV” is considered the supplanter of sitcoms and drama on the idiot box, even though nearly everyone knows that on several levels such reality shows are contrived, managed, and in very few ways are they representative of anything real. This has created the most famous “reality star” in the person of our current president, a person who is so adept at managing his image that neither he nor his supporters seem aware of the dividing line between the real and contrived image.

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The irony here, I think, is that we’ve grown cynical for perhaps extraneous reasons, and cynicism has shaped a general belief that nothing real underpins much of our existence anymore. Marriage? That’s just something we can step into with one foot dangling outside in order to make it easier to escape when we can no longer “dig it.” Technology? A postmodern tool for creating mirror images of what’s real, one we feel secure in wallowing in. Hence we e-mail instead of phoning; we text instead of talking. Death? Yes, that seems real enough, and we do fear it, indeed. Patients with terminal cancer will beg for treatments that remove vestiges of an individuals’ life quality in exchange for another three months of evading death.

So, yes, we fear our imagination, I think, precisely because it’s the avenue to something our lives touch into that’s not only real but enduring. Imagination has given us so much in our quest to be complete in our humanity, only to be eschewed now in that same endeavor. Imagine if you will a state of evolution in which we have virtually everything at our touch to manage our human functions, but a state in which we have no idea of how these things came to be and no idea that we may exchange them for the blood, sweat, and sleeplessness that would give us freedom from them.

What Ms. Le Guin is saying, in essence, is that we’ve exchanged bits of our souls for ephemerality. And that’s a very sad state of affairs.

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information on my books. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

Redemption and Violence

When I can’t thing of anything much to say about writing in general, or haven’t seen a movie, or not much rubs me right about communication technology, I, out of desperation just may post something I’ve written. This is one such night.

The following story was inspired by part of Cormac McCarthy’s cowboy trilogy, but it says something, I think, about family, about personal insecurities, what sort of social creature we decide to be – and how we redeem all of that.

It’s a story from my recent collection of short stories, published by AuthorMike Ink Publishing. I’m very grateful that Mike Aloisi liked the collection enough to publish it.

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FAMILY BUSINESS

by

Bob Mustin

 

The man dropped his hunting jacket over a wall peg and sauntered to the back end of the pool hall. Shirt stretched to fullness at the shoulders, he bent his tall frame over the bar and whacked its gleaming surface with a flatted hand. Sam pushed away from the day’s newspaper and peered over his glasses.

“Shot and a beer,” the man said in a booming voice. “Two times.”

A flush of annoyance settled over Sam at the stranger’s overly loud exuberance. “Two?”

The man scratched at his jaw line, where a pair of intersecting scars lay all but hidden by a week’s worth of bristles. He nodded toward the door. “Me and my brother got us a big ol’ deer this morning.”

Sam eyed the front entrance as he poured the shots and drew the beers.

“Jeb’ll be along directly,” the man said. One hand dropped to his belt and began fingering the hilt of a broad-bladed skinning knife. “We gutted that ol’ buck in the woods, but Jeb still wanted to cut off the hind quarters and slice up the shanks. We been doing that out yonder. Been at it a while, so we decided to cut the dust and celebrate a little. I left Jeb to watch the meat. Say, you got ice?”

Sam gave the man a sour look and nodded. He found it mildly insulting for a customer to imply the need to leave someone in his parking lot to guard the day’s kill, but in truth he recognized the need for it. His pool hall was an outlier at the eastern boundary of Striven, a somber little town a twenty-minute drive off the Interstate, between Lake Martin and Opelika. An establishment often preached against in the town’s four Baptist churches and its two Methodist ones and complained about once in a great while in the Church of Saints and Sinners. Dope peddlers, hookers, and contraband sellers occasionally tried to set up shop in Sam’s parking lot. The local police rarely came in person, leaving Sam’s Place to the State Patrol’s random, bothersome visits. So Sam had learned to enforce his own version of the law, and for the most part he’d managed to keep middle Alabama’s nefarious types – and the boldest of game robbers – at bay without the taint of police help.

He looked the man up and down. “Don’t believe I know you.”

“Macabee Waters,” the man said, “but ever’body calls me Mac.” He offered a hand, and Sam took it. “That deer we got was an ol’ granddad,” Waters went on. “Sixteen points. We measured his rack at thirty-some inches across.”

Sam squinted, gave the man a slow, disbelieving headshake. “Don’t think I ever seen one that size hereabouts.”

Mac Waters threw back his whiskey and half the beer. “You want to see him?” He finished the beer, clattered the pint beer cup onto the bar, and strode, chest out, toward the door.

“You want that ice now?” Sam called out.

“Naw,” said Mac. “C’mon. We won’t be a minute.”

Sam followed.

“What’s up?” asked Donnie, one of the finest shooters ever to shark a game of eight ball at Sam’s.

“Got a big ol’ deer outside,” Mac said. He beamed as he retrieved his coat. “Y’all come on out and see it if you got a mind to.”

Donnie rolled his cue onto the table, and he and another half dozen shooters trooped out behind Sam and Mac. It was the week before Thanksgiving, an important time for hunters. Not many in the town of Striven could afford to serve up turkey on that day, or even a salted ham. Most would feast on game meat, venison more often than not. The less able hunters would serve rabbit, and a few others would make do with squirrel and dumplings, or maybe fish and hushpuppies. Thus, freshly sliced venison bestowed on everyone at Sam’s the thought of a fine holiday meal.

The day had turned glisteningly warm. Sam shaded his eyes and peered past Mac to a rusty pickup and a scar-faced man. The man, one knee to the truck bed, was busy cutting at the deer’s hindquarters. A dented camp cooler sat before him, lid open.

Mac pulled the cooler close and peered inside. The proud grin that had possessed him since he’d entered Sam’s Place fell away. “Where’s all them shank cuts?”

Jeb, who was a good bit shorter than his brother but just as beefy, didn’t look up. He wiped the long-bladed knife on a pant leg, then made three slits in the deer’s fur, peeled it back, and began slicing at the remaining flesh on the hind quarter.

“You hear me?” said Mac. “I said where’s all them shank cuts? They ain’t enough meat here to feed a five year-old. What you think I’m gonna have for Thanksgiving?”

This time Jeb wiped his blade on the deer’s fur, made a few long strokes across a whetstone, and stood. “Nelda drove by,” he said, “on her way back from Wal-Mart. She saw me and so I had her take them cuts home.”

Mac’s eyes narrowed.

“Better part of that meat’s mine,” said Jeb. “That was our deal, if you remember.”

Archie, a deep-voiced string bean customer of Sam’s, pointed to Jeb. “I know that ol’ boy. I seen him on the TV. He got sent up. Burglary, I believe it was.”

A hum of voices.

“He didn’t burgle nobody around here,” said Donnie. “We ain’t had no break-ins in years.”

“It was over in Montgomery, where we used to live,” said Mac. His glare remained fixed on Jeb. “When he got out of jail, we moved Mama and our women and kids here so’s we could live a little bit cheaper.”

“What’d he do?” someone asked.

“He broke into his own lawyer’s house,” said Mac. “The Good Lord never did give him the sense a ‘possum might have.”

Jeb’s face flushed, highlighting the web of scars on his cheeks and forehead. He stood and waggled his butcher knife. “I did my time,” he said. “I made amends.”

Mac eyed Sam, then jabbed a finger at the deer carcass. “And yet you see what he done. He stole my meat.”

Jeb’s jaw worked back and forth. He jumped to the ground. “I shot that deer. I said you could have some of it, but them shanks is mine.”

Sam studied the two, eyed Jeb’s knife and the growing crowd of onlookers. He edged from the throng, pulling Archie with him. “This might come to nothing,” he whispered, “but get back inside. If I give you the high sign, call the police.”

Archie backed away and made for the pool hall.

“I saw that deer first,” said Mac. “I pointed him out.”

“Yeah, but I shot it,” Jeb yelled. “That gives me rights.”

In a blur, Mac threw his jacket to the ground, thumbed open the sheath at his belt, pulled out the skinning knife, and flicked the blade at Jeb’s cheek, x-ing an existing scar.

Sam lurched into the space between the two brothers and shoved them apart. “Now don’t even think about it, you two.” He faced the shorter man. “Your brother ordered you a drink, and it’s sitting on the bar right now.” He turned to Mac. “So put them blades away. Come on inside and cool down.”

Mac shoved Sam. Caught unawares, Sam fell in a heap.

Jeb bellowed, made a downward pass with the butcher knife. The sleeve above his brother’s knife hand fluttered open and blood coursed. Mac winced. A rain-spatter of blood began to gather at his feet. Mac slipped the knife to his other hand.

Sam rose with the help of a pair of bystanders and waved to Archie, who disappeared inside. The two brothers slowly circled.

“Ever’body get outta the way!” Sam yelled. He began pushing at the onlookers.

Jeb swung his knife again and danced away, agile as a boxer. Mac’s shirt opened at the waist. His abdomen showed a pink welt, but only a trickle of blood. Jeb swung the butcher knife again and missed. Mac caught Jeb’s wrist with his bloody hand and made a sideways swipe with the skinning knife. A red sea gushed from Jeb’s armpit, a thin layer of adipose curling outward on both sides of the cut. His plaid shirt darkened to a sodden red.

Archie ran to Sam. “I called ‘em,” he said. “The chief cussed a blue streak, but he said they’d be here soon’s they could saddle up.”

Sam shook his head. “This ain’t good. This ain’t good at all.”

Sunlight caught the brothers’ blades as they continued to circle and slash, each knife stroke scribing long, shimmering arcs in the space between them. Then another pass of Jeb’s blade cut deep into Mac’s abdomen. Mac stumbled into the crowd. The onlookers retreated.

“Lord, no!” said a woman, she and her husband out-of–staters who had pulled into the parking lot to scan a map. She buried her face in her husband’s shoulder.

An old Chevy Malibu pulled off the highway, stereo blaring. The driver revved his engine, flung up a double line of gravel, and plunged the car into a space alongside Sam’s building. Doors flew open. Five boys burst from the car, laughing and elbowing.

Sam thrust a finger at them. “The police are coming,” he called out. “If any one of you adds to this fuss, I’ll have ‘em haul you in.”

The boys backed away.

Mac and Jeb had been orbiting at the crowd’s core, preoccupied with their wounds, a bloody oval on the gravel tracing their movement. Jeb stopped at the mention of police. He glanced contritely at Sam. “You see these scars?” he said, pointing to his face. “He done this to me.”

“Shut up,” said Mac. Another flick caught Jeb over one eye.

Jeb blinked, shook his head, sending a spray of sweat and blood into the crowd.

“I got you now,” said Mac. “You ain’t gonna run to Mama this time.”

A faint whine grew to a howl on the road from Striven. A police car hove into view, cleaving the sunny day with arcs of red light.

Jeb dodged Mac’s lunge and cut a furrow in his brother’s shoulder.

Two policemen leaped to the gravel, the first one clenching a blackjack, the other a nightstick. The first one shoved in, swung his blackjack at Mac. Jeb cursed the cop, kicked at him, then lunged at the second. He sliced the policeman’s club arm, dyeing his khaki uniform sleeve a deep crimson.

Mac had fallen with the blackjack’s glancing blow. He clambered to his feet and butted the first cop, who again raised the blackjack.

“No!” said Sam. He grabbed the cop’s arm, pulled him from the crowd, held him there. The cop struggled, but Sam’s strength was greater.

“You hit at one like that after this much blood,” said Sam, “and the other’ll always come after you.”

The policeman eyed his partner, took in his wound. He dashed for the patrol car and a first aid kit.

“Hey, scarface!” one of the five boys hooted from their car. “Cut ‘im again!” His cronies howled their agreement.

A second police car bounded into Sam’s parking lot and swerved to a stop. Wayman Tucker, Striven’s chief of police, pushed his pudgy frame to the gravel from the rider’s side. Sam left the crowd to meet him.

“What got this going?” Tucker asked.

Sam nodded toward the truck. “They got to jawing about who gets what off that deer.”

Tucker glanced to his wounded officer, the other wrapping the arm cut with a long bandage. Then Tucker eyed the two circling brothers. “Hell, I got to stop this.” He shoved into the crowd.

Sam grabbed at the chief’s arm, missed. “You can’t,” he called out. “You’ll just get pulled in.”

Mac flicked his blade. Blood spread across Tucker’s broad chest.

The chief stumbled back. He touched the cut, then looked to Sam. “This is on your property, and you ain’t controlling it.”

Sam grunted. “Things get to a point, they ain’t no controlling it.”

“Then why the hell’d you call me in?”

Sam stiffened. “Law needs to be here, I reckon, for what that’s worth.”

Tucker glared. “Then I’m gonna cite you for letting this get started.” He glanced to his cut. “And for putting the law in jeopardy like that.”

Sam spat at the chief’s feet.

The brothers were stumbling now, their clothes a canvas of tatters and ballooning stains. Their cuts yawned wide, exposing slashed muscles and pink bone. Jeb’s cut eyebrow flopped, flag-like. Below it, a clot had begun to jut. One arm hung limp against its gashed armpit. Mac’s cut shoulder slumped, the arm dangling, its strength gone. A tube of intestines peeked from his abdomen.

Donnie glanced to Sam, then to Tucker. “You ain’t gonna do nothing? These two gonna kill each other.”

The chief and his two policemen had turned slack-jawed and rapt as the fight continued. The cop with the cut arm eyed Donnie and shook his head.

“Hey!” one of the boys yelled. “Somebody cut somebody!” His friends took up the taunt.

Sam turned to the boys. “Shut up!” He turned back, pawing the ground with a boot toe and mumbling to nobody in particular.

“Jesus,” Tucker said, suddenly awake from his trance, “I can’t stand here and watch them boys snuff each other out.”

“They’re slowing down,” said Sam. “Maybe they had their fill of it.”

The brothers made ever-weaker passes with their blades. The crowd quieted.

Suddenly Jeb staggered forward. He plunged his knife into his brother’s chest. As the blade hit bone, he lost his footing. The knife jerked down, opening a long, wavering path into Mac’s abdomen. Freshly cut muscles wriggled like live wires. Mac dropped to his knees.

The chief turned to his approaching driver. “Willis, call Doc Quincey, see if he can break loose. Step on it, now!”

Willis raced off.

“That deer’s mine,” Jeb gasped.

Mac didn’t look up. “You can have it,” he croaked.

Jeb slumped against the tailgate, drooling blood. He looked to the crowd. “You heard him, didn’t you? That deer’s mine.”

“Yeah,” someone said. “It’s yours, fair and square.”

“Think you’re better,” Mac gasped. “Just ‘cause you got a mama.”

Jeb spat a long string of blood. “‘Dopted bastard.”

Mac pushed himself to his feet. “Gonna kill you.” He rose, teetering.

“You ain’t,” said Jeb. He tested the butcher knife’s edge with his thumb.

Mac slurred, “Son of a bitch.” He staggered, his knife slashing.

“He’s gonna fall!” someone said.

Mac lunged for his brother. A slight pop sounded as Jeb’s blade disappeared into Mac’s chest. The two came together. Jeb turned wild-eyed as they fell to the ground. Mac rolled away, his stubby knife like a monument in Jeb’s chest. A pink bubble appeared on Mac’s lips. He groaned, issued a final breath, and went limp.

Sam dropped to his knees and bent over Jeb. “We called the doctor, son. You hang on, you hear? He’ll be here in a minute.”

“Hurt,” said Jeb.

“I know,” said Sam. “It must hurt awful bad.”

“Here,” said Jeb, holding a quaking hand to his heart.

“You just hold on best you can,” said Sam.

“He dead?” said Jeb.

Sam glanced to Mac’s still body. “‘Fraid so.”

Jeb’s arms and legs spasmed. He groaned as the gravel ground into his back. “Going to hell,” he mumbled, “Killed my brother.”

“He had as big a hand in this as you,” said Sam. He pulled the knife from Jeb’s chest. The lung’s puncture frothed and announced a faint, bubbling whistle.

“Straight to hell,” Jeb muttered.

The boys had left their car and joined the crowd, as if pulled there by magnet force. They stared at the two mutilated bodies, their faces drawn and penitent.

A car drove up, parked next to the boys’ Chevy. A tall picket of a man climbed out, a medical bag in his hand. “All right,” he said in a deep, cigarette-hoarsened voice. “What’s been going on here?” He shoved in until he stood before Sam and the two brothers.

“Knife fight,” said one bystander.

“Never saw nothing like it,” said another.

“Killed each other,” said yet another.

Sam looked up, a scowl pressing new folds into his fleshy face. “Give Doc Quincey some room!” he yelled. Then quieter: “And have a little respect for the two on the ground.”

Doc Quincey pressed a finger to Jeb’s neck. “Why didn’t someone stop this?”

“I tried,” said Tucker, now holding a soggy wad of gauze to his cut. “They wouldn’t have any of it.”

Sam set a hand on Jeb’s chest. “I guess you could say this one finished it.”

The doctor fingered open one of Jeb’s eyes. Jeb squirmed feebly with the surge of light.

“He won’t make it,” said Quincey. “Pulse is too weak. He’s lost too much blood.”

Jeb sighed and expired.

“He’s gone?” Sam asked.

Quincey looked up. “Yes.”

Sam picked up Mac’s hunting jacket and draped it over Jeb’s head. Then he rose, eyes sparking as he looked to each face in the crowd. “I guess you all got an eyeful, huh?”

A wave of mumbles passed through the onlookers.

“You see what happens?” Sam said. “It ain’t exactly the sporting affair you figured it for, now is it? Hellfire, folks, nobody wins a fight like this.”

Tucker broke a long silence. “I still got to cite you,” he said to Sam. “Get on inside so I can write you up proper.”

Sam kicked at the gravel. “I tole you, law don’t work in this sort of situation.” He turned again to the crowd. “I’m closing up shop for a few days, so get on home.” He lumbered toward the steps to his place. Tucker lurched along behind, blood from the soaked wad of gauze dripping from his fingers. Quincey followed.

When the door had closed behind the three, a man in the crowd pointed to the bodies and said, “They wasn’t brothers. Not really.”

“They was,” said Donnie. “Don’t you know nothing? They killed each other over a deer. A dang deer! If they wasn’t brothers, do you think they’d of carried it that far?”

Anna’s Crisis – and Lévin’s

Anna Karenina – Section Seven, by Leo Tolstoy

  Imagesimage via hostilework.blogspot.com

There’s been a slowly fructifying issue in the story to date, and I haven’t been giving it its due: that Lévin is slowly creeping toward an existential showdown within himself over religious belief. In this section, having read book after book of philosophy trying to explain life, he must take Kitty to Moscow, ostensibly for her pregnancy – but it’s also to visit friends there.

For a while he’s unsettled  – as usual – in the city, but he quickly acclimates. Eventually, however, his unsettled feeling returns, as he finds nothing there to "feed his soul," as he might term it.

Meanwhile, Anna and Vrónsky’s split-up is slowly coming to pass – Vrónsky wishes more “male” freedom, and as Anna seeks to draw him ever nearer, the more Vrónsky edges away.

Finally, Kitty’s pregnancy comes to term, and in some of the most entertaining writing of this long book, Lévin comes unhinged in classic fatherly fashion. Despite his anxiety, and after a long wait, Kitty delivers – a boy.

Vrónsky has left after a final fight with Anna, promising to return soon. Anna has decided that Vrónsky doesn’t love her and, since Alexéi Alexándrovich won’t agree to a divorce, she follows Vrónsky to the train station in a state of despair. Spoiler Alert!!

She commits suicide by throwing herself under a train.

So Tolstoy has masterfully led Anna to the depths of despair as he’s led Lévin to one of life’s cherished moments. To many, this should end the story, and for Chekov and many modern writers, the story would have ended with these opposing life experiences. But Tolstoy isn’t done yet – there’s one more section to go. More then on Lévin's existential crisis and its resolution.

 

My rating 20 of 20

 

 

 

Inanity and Meaning

The Seventh Seal – cinema by Ingmar Bergman

Not every film made is replete with action, adventure, and their consequent joys and sorrows. Bergman's famous film goes where cinema hardly treads these days – it's a meditation on death and the search for meaning between birth and death. 

Set in the Middle Ages, during the time of the Christian Crusades against Islam, a knight, played by Max von Sydow, appears on a beach and in the presence of anthropomorphized death. They play an ongoing chess game, which is meant to determine the knight's death. In the several interims, the knight and his squire encounter the best and worst in humankind. The squire is a bit hardboiled during this series of encounters, the knight seemingly hopeful that some sort of knowledge will allow him to see both life and death in some semblance of perspective – a perspective that will engender meaning. 

The movie was filmed in the 1950s. By the standards of today's acting, cinematic technology, and storytelling, the minute-by minute progress of the movie seem at times as inane as Gilligan's Island or I Love Lucy. But perhaps this was by Bergman's design – depicting life's inanities as sandwiched between the rigors of birth and the helplessness of death. Still, the movie provokes viewers to a new relationship to both life and death, and that's all to the good. 

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image via originalprop.com

This particular version of the movie also contains a documentary with Bergman, an interview with von Sydow, and several commentaries. All in all, a worthy testament to cinema as art.