In the closing scene of Ingmar Bergman’s Seventh Seal, which happens to be one of my favorite movies of all time, one of the characters, the travelling minstrel, has a vision.
I see them! Over there against the stormy sky. They are all there. The smith and Lisa, the knight, Raval, Jöns, and Skat. And the strict master Death bids them dance. He wants them to hold hands and to tread the dance in a long line. At the head goes the strict master with the scythe and hourglass. But the Fool brings up the rear with his lute. They move away from the dawn in a solemn dance towards the dark lands while the rain cleanses their cheeks from the salt of their bitter tears.
The Seventh Seal is about man’s pursuit for meaning. A knight, back from fighting the Crusades, tries to understand his place in God’s plan, but instead of the answers he seeks, he finds the Grim Reaper, misery, and the silence of the great beyond. God, if he exists, does not care for human suffering. The only truth is Death, the inevitable end to everything, and religion, love, and faith are nothing but feverish convulsions of the human mind.
But this post is not about the symbolism and the imagery of the Seventh Seal, one can write a book on that.
It is about the Dance. The Danse Macabre.
There is a duality in dance.
When you are in possession of your own agency, there are few greater expressions of joy, rhythm, and independence than dance.
And when someone else makes you dance, it becomes a perversion of exactly these things.
Like frogs strung out on copper wire and animated by bolts of electricity, you shake your legs and move your hands, at the bidding of a power to whom you have surrendered.
In Seventh Seal, it is death who has dominion over souls. So he does not just make them walk. He makes them dance.
But death is not the only invariant. So is money.
There is something mythically terrifying watching some of the most powerful men and women of the world dance at the Ambani wedding, Because while we may never see Death, or at least an anthropomorphism of him, outside film, in real life we may get to see Money.
For death may make us dance in death, but Money makes us dance in life.
There is no feeling superior here. We all dance.
Me and you.
All that changes is how much it takes, the price we put on our agency.
Because at the end, as it is in the beginning, and all the way throug, the strict master bids them dance.