This movie is the visual and emotional equivalent of drinking bleach. But like, good bleach. At this point I feel like it’d be faster if Ari Aster just came to my house and beat me over the head with a mallet. At least then I wouldn’t have to sit through 20 minutes of AMC previews.
Commune-ism kills literally a billion people while advancements in gene mapping let a rag-tag group of pagans fingerpaint the bible.
College student Dani Ardor receives word that her bipolar sister murder suicided herself and their parents by tube. She seeks support from her boyfriend, Christian— forgetting that men are incapable of performing emotional labor. Christian had actually been planning on breaking up with her, but pussies out after learning about her family. A few months later, Dani finds out that Christian and friends, all anthropology students, are taking a trip to Sweden. They plan to visit the hometown (homecommune?) of the group’s token Swede, Pelle, and maybe catch A$AP Rocky on tour. Christian invites Dani to come ironically, but she ends up agreeing, demonstrating that she had, in fact, gotten r/wooshed.
The group arrives outside Pelle’s village, and tragically find that the Rocky concert had been cancelled for reasons. They cope by taking shrooms, offered to them by Pelle’s brother Ingmar, also returning to the village with his two English friends. At the commune, they’re greeted warmly by the elders, who functioned as Pelle’s adopted parents after he lost his own in a fire.
They eat dinner with two older people who harmonize, take shots, and get carried off in chairs. The townsfolk follow them to the beach, where, in what I can only assume is the standard Swedish method of euthanasia, the elders suplex a big rock at the bottom of a cliff. One of them survives, but the job is finished when another town elder smashes their head in with a big wooden mallet. It’s explained that the villagers see life as a cycle ending at the age of 72, at which point people die willingly, so as not to succumb slowly to the effects of old age. With this marks the beginning of a special rendition of their annual Midsommar festival, occurring just once every 90 years.
The next day, Ingmar’s friends (who had expressed desire to leave after the beach scene) disappear, although the townspeople claim to have driven them to the train station. Christian and his friend Josh, both of whom decide to write their anthro theses about the town’s customs, go around trying to collect information. Josh is shown the town’s sacred texts, which are interpreted from paintings made by Reuben, the town’s resident incest-child. Christian’s other friend Mark asserts dominance by urinating on the town’s customary burial site. This wins him the affections of a local woman, who leads him away into a forest. Pelle’s sister Maja expresses fondness for Christian, to which he responds in roughly the same way he does Dani, by looking confused and making vague, non-committal statements.
That night, Josh sneaks into the temple to livestream the sacred texts on periscope, but gets distracted by a guy wearing Mark’s skinned face before getting hit with the big hammer. The following morning, the villagers prepare for the Midsommar festival halftime show, featuring townswomen engaging in a dance-off to the
death falling down. They invite Dani to join in, giving her Swedish gatorade to keep her electrolytes up. Meanwhile, Christian is given viagra juice and led to a barn, where he engages in supervised sex with Maja. Dani wins the competition by accident, and gets crowned May queen (even though the festival is in June smh). She walks around and sees Christian in the barn, after which a bunch of women scream in her face.
Christian wanders around and finds the other visitors dead in various locations, then gets sedated by one of the elders. He wakes up in a wheelchair, unable to move. It’s revealed that the (special) Midsommar festival requires 9 human sacrifices: 4 townspeople and 4 outsiders, with the 9th being a choice between the two, made at the discretion of the May queen. Dani is given the option of killing either Christian or Torbjorn, a randomly selected villager. Struck by Torbjorn’s beauty, charm, and virulence, she opts to sacrifice Christian, who gets dressed in a fur suit and stuck in a yellow triangle, along with the corpses of the other victims. Dani and the rest of the townspeople look on as the triangle is set on fire. The end.
Midsommar has a very unique visual style, to the point that you could probably identify it from one frame of a landscape. Most prominently you’ve got the radiant bright light over most of the Sweden scenes, making it look like all the cameras had their ISOs up too high (everything still looks nice). There were a lot of “psychedelic effects”, which saw some of the natural textures moving, melting, and pulsating around the actors. As pointed out by my friend Addison, the actors’ eyes were dilated throughout the whole movie. On all these counts, there was also a distinct rift between the introductory section and the parts in Sweden. When the actors were still in the US, there were a ton of extreme close-ups, with the camera getting right into their face. In Sweden it switched to a wider framing, with multiple people occupying many of the shots.
There were a few other cool cinematographic choices, like the use of shot-reverse-shot done in mirrors, so both actors would occupy the frame simultaneously. Ari also decided to take a note from some of his cool Hereditary tricks, using vertical camera rotation and occasionally even putting the whole thing upside-down.
The question then becomes why all of this was done in the first place (other than to look cool, which it accomplished). The movie-level explanation would probably be related to drugs: Dani didn’t listen to her D.A.R.E. officer, so the audience saw her spend the entire time high off her gourd. The association becomes stronger if you consider perspective— if we’re seeing Midsommar through her eyes, the subtle psilocybin symptoms would showcase her frame of reference. But there’s probably a more significant reason for why this was there, which brings us to…
As others have pointed out, Midsommar is kind of a gritty take on folklore, making Ari Aster the Zach Snyder of fairy tales (#releasetheastercut). The movie opens on a mural depicting what I’m assuming is traditional Scandanavian iconography. The rustic setting and plain, conservative clothing of the villagers gives off some strong fantasy vibes. The whole pole dancing bit is straight from Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, itself based on stories of pagan rituals in Russia. Add in some light subversion, like when one of the villagers references Austin Powers, throwing an anachronistic wrench into the movie’s setting.
Now as to what the actual meaning was, I think there are probably a few different angles here. Some people seemed to take Midsommar as a critique of relativism, the idea that “objectivity” is largely a myth, and cultural mores can be valid within their own societal context. Arguably the film contains arguments for both sides: while some of the village’s customs seem shitty, others get (somewhat convincingly) rationalized. Using anthropologists to explore this angle was a cool narrative choice— Christian and Josh spend much of their time trying to understand the cult-ure (heh), adding some nuance beyond “pagans wylin fr.” Of course, the movie could also be read as a satire of that point, with the libtard Academics trying to explain everything to pad pubs while people get murdered around them. So I guess you can just confirmation bias whatever meaning you personally agree with. Moving on.
Using Hereditary as a reference point, my interpretation would go more along the lines of loss, and the role isolation plays in coping. Dani experiences trauma after trauma, and doesn’t really have a good support system to deal with it. Her entire family dies; Christian, whom she appears to rely on the most, is emotionally distant and uncaring. All her panic attacks happen when she’s alone— she actively distances herself from others, seeking seclusion to suffer. This doesn’t work so well in the village: when she arrives, her privacy is effectively stripped away. She sleeps in a communal area with dozens of others, contrast to her apartment earlier on in the film, where she lies in bed alone, even with Christian there.
She assimilates into the cult better than any other foreigner primarily because it provides a sense of community that she never had (and also drugs). Pelle seems to realize this before anyone else, identifying her loss and believing her to be a good fit for the cult. As a reddit commenter pointed out, when Dani is first taken into the village, the elders greet her saying “welcome home,” which I guess foreshadows the twenty minute scene at the end when the villagers all sign her adoption papers one by one.
There’s a flip side to the “coping” angle, and it has to do with storytelling. And not in the dumb season 8 Game of Thrones way where we’re jerking ourselves off for writing plot good. A pervasive theme in Midsommar is the use of stories, tales, folklore, etc. as a way to explain facets of life. In a sense, the Swedish cultists do have it “figured out.” They’re not concerned with death; their faith absolves them of their fears. In a perverse sense, this is really only a horror film from the perspective of the Americans— the Swedes see it as a celebration of a long-honored tradition.
Midsommar also functions as a breakup movie, on authority from the Ast-man himself. If the film is from Dani’s perspective, then the death of Christian and co. could be a representation of their egress* from her life. First disconnecting from his social circle, then him, and finally “burning” his image, signifying he’s out of her life completely. The process is bittersweet; Dani’s pained by the sight of the temple, but the movie ends on her smiling, finally free to be with her true soulmate, Torbjorn.
*My editor reproached me for using the word “egress,” so I’m leaving it in.
I think we should start off by talking about the most important couple in the film, by which I mean Christian and Pelle’s sister, Maja. At first I was sort of uncomfortable with the pairing, mainly on account of the age difference. But then I remembered what Jack Reynor said in Transformers 4: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cz9OgW4JAJ8, which really redeemed the movie for me.
Ari’s kinda the master of producing superlatively tortured characters, making me somewhat concerned for his own mental health. Toni Collete’s floor screaming is one of the most emotionally visceral scenes I can remember in any movie, and it’s more or less replicated here. Aside from the first “breakdown” scene, which is probably the most attention-grabbing, Florence Pugh’s more subtle portrayal of mental illness and grief is exceptionally good. In the beginning of the film (even before finding out about her family), we see her take lorezapam, indicating she probably already had some underlying issues with anxiety. She spends half of the movie having panic attacks, also portrayed with pretty impressive accuracy.
I think at this point Will Poulter is just getting typecast as “kind of a dick who likes drugs,” but I’m happy for him. That man is the Daniel Day-Lewis of hitting vapes.
Onto Pelle. Few people know this, but Midsommar is actually a canonical extension to the 2003 hit holiday film Love Actually. At the end of the movie, Liam Neeson’s character, Daniel, meets Carol, a Swede who stands there in the hallway with her Swedish son. Immediately following that scene, the two actually travel back to Sweden to rejoin Carol’s husband, Peder. One night, while making preparations for the annual cult cookout, Peder leaves borger on grill for too long, starting a fire that takes both his and Carol’s life. Pelle is then raised communally by the villagers, but maintains a lifelong aversion to borger, which we never see him eat in the entire movie.
Despite how emotionally devastating this movie is, it’s actually really funny. In addition to Will Poulter’s entire character being comic relief, the movie does a good job of interspersing comedy within the broader horror, which serves to make the viewing experience more disorienting.
The contrast between the movie’s visual esthetic and the gruesome events taking place, in my opinion, make the thing more disturbing. We’ve watched people get murdered in dark basements and alleyways a million times, but seeing someone blood eagled in a chicken coop is definitely a first. Horror is all about tension, and that dissipates if the setting is too normal. Overuse of cliches in dramas elicit eye-rolls; in horror, laughter, or, in the worst case, no reaction at all. Midsommar breaks convention enough to stand out, while adhering it to enough to be effective.
This section has been omitted out of respect for Rocky.
I’m gonna be honest, I was kinda hoping this movie would be bad, mainly so I could call it a “dis-aster,” but I ended up liking it a lot. Granted, this movie wasn’t as disturbing as Hereditary. Then again, the only thing more unsettling than that film would be the US returning all of its land to Native Americans. While Hereditary was a much more effective horror movie, Midsommar was a more interesting experience overall. I would absolutely recommend this movie to anyone who can handle it– if not for the film making, then just for the really cool sex scenes. Bro Ari Aster should go into por-
Good for: Couples (either you break up immediately after, or you’re probably going strong for awhile)
Bad for: Sweden’s tourism revenue
Edit: I just watched the director’s cut, which was pretty much identical to the wide release, except for a few additional scenes interspersed which explain a few of the plot points and make the film more coherent. I don’t think the DC actually changes my opinion of this movie at all, but if you want a longer version of Midsommar with some additional Will Poulter banter, you can check it out.