This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Logan’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
WATCHED THE DIRECTORS CUT
Midsommar is a movie, like Hereditary, that took me a little while to fully connect with and to find the underlying fears that it holds. On my first watch I felt it as a breakup movie, emboldened and represented through this twisted ceremony. And while that's still what the movie is about, I think this time I really read into it as a story about selfishness versus selflessness and the fear of letting people act selflessness for you in fear of becoming selfish in your indulgence of it.
It's about a character, Dani, who keeps doubting her relationship with her boyfriend, feeling that she's the issue and that she is asking for too much emotional support from Christian. She's constantly apologising for shit that she shouldn't have to and she tries to play off Christians dickish moves and pretend she isn't pretty hurt by them. She doesn't want to be a burden or drag anybody down, it's kinda like how her sister almost dragged her parents down with her in her suicide, bringing them with her and her problems, which literally consumes them all.
She has constant panic attacks because of her crumbling relationship and the loss of all her family, but whenever she has them she always walks off on her own, getting away from people and suffering through her pains alone. But in Hårga, there's nowhere to hide her problems, she has no real place to run to. Everything is held out in the blinding light of the Swedish sky. And she's able to find a new family within Hårga, ones that actually support her and make her feel welcomed and loved, best exemplified with the scene where Dani and the other girls are screaming and feeling pain together. They're coming down to really try and feel her pain and suffering and just let it all out in this cathartic way. And you just cannot overlook how Florence Pugh is exceptionally great in this role. Her emotional outbursts are felt so much and hold so much genuine weight to them and you feel that vulnerability and grieving behind every word and every look.
But this theme of selfishness extends beyond Dani, it's present in the other characters and is ultimately why they all die and she doesn't, from a thematic perspective.
There is an air of cultural appropriation going on underneath the surface. These outsiders to this culture and this world try to fit into it, but ultimately they all have selfish motives behind what they're doing.
Josh is there to write his thesis. He seems interested in learning the facts about the culture, but it doesn't ever feel like he actually takes the time to feel or appreciate it, it's like he's distantly observing an unknown species of animal. He constantly is pushing against their privacy by taking photos and digging into every last detail, which directly leads to his death in an incredibly unsettling scene where he takes photos of the sacred texts after being told not to. He's lifting these sacred writings for his own self benefit and so his thesis has an edge over Christian's. And what better person to play the smart student writing a thesis than William Jackson Harper (although I will say, Ari Aster, how dare you do that to my boi Chidi Anagonye)
Mark on the other hand is pretty different. This man just wants to vape and fuck. He seems super indifferent to the idea of exploring and understanding this culture (He literally pisses all over it) and he's more interested in getting some Swedish ass, he says that he's only really there for the drug experiences and the hot Swedish women several times, and his attitude throughout the whole film is pretty laid back and jokey (which is why he is the Fool that gets skinned in 'Skin the Fool')
Simon and Connie are a little different. They seem from the start open to experiencing and learning about this culture, but once it crosses the line and upsets them, they both become angry and confused by the rituals and refuse to try and understand it. This maybe isn't as poetically strong as Mark or Josh, because thats a fair reaction to seeing two old people killing themselves while everyone passively watches, there is still a sense that they switch to being completely single-minded on the commune from that point forward and are furiously trying to leave. Moreso I think they're there to contrast against Dani and Christian's relationships, and to show Dani's greatest fear where she's led to believe that Simon abandoned Connie, which she's been trying so desperately for Christian not to do to her, and when she sees Christian's passive response to the news that Simon left, she realised that fear could very well come true, which she hates at first because he's all she has at that point.
And then there's Christian himself, that piece of shit boyfriend. He’s probably the clearest cut example of selfishness in this movie. He's not one-dimensionally a dick, nobody in this is, he feels just like a very self-centered guy, which do exist in the world. He constantly feels like he’s leeching off people for his own benefit. He’s trying to keep this obviously failing relationship going, because it's easier and makes him less emotionally vulnerable to end it. He steals Josh’s idea to write a thesis based on the things around them because he's so void of any driving passions of his own and when Josh goes missing and they commune start asking questions, he makes it extra brutally clear that he isn't a part of Josh’s supposed theft of the texts.
He constantly leaves Dani on her own, when she's clearly going through shit, which leads Dani to pressure herself into participating as to not be dragging Christian down.
And of course he willingly ends up cheating on her with another woman because again, it's easier than him actually feeding into a relationship and open himself up. You could argue he did the mating thing under the influence of drugs that made him suggestable, but that's not true because he was told this, and still made the choice to drink it, he wanted to lose that part of him telling him that it's wrong and he wanted it to happen. And once that trip fades away, he realises that he's fucked up, but by that point its too late and he is burnt up in this temple.
The temple just really feels like Dani cathartically overcoming these fears and these toxic relationships in her past while embracing this new supportive family that she's found within the commune. It's almost like she’s finally realising her own self value as a person and she is no longer tying that self value to the selfish validations of her dumbass boyfriend.
I watched the director's cut this time, which adds about 20 minutes of new content into the movie, which is what Aster originally wanted to include, but he had to cut it for the theatrical. For one thing, this scene adds in a new nighttime scene, where we see another ritual where a child is almost thrown into a lake as a sacrifice, before they're sparred. This is another pretty chilling intense scene to add to the roster of horrific shit in this movie. Plus it gives us a bit more clarification on what happened to Connie.
But because this scene was cut, there's a lot of subsequent scenes Aster had to cut because they directly called back to that night scene. One amazing scene that happens directly after is an argument between Dani and Christian where they really get mad at each other and acknowledge each other how broken their relationship is, the flower she gifts him is called back in exposing Christians narcissistic perspective, which is nice.
There's also a scene added in the beginning where we see Christian actually invite Dani to Sweden with them, which is some nice context and adds a bit more of a conclusion to that excellent scene. It's mostly minimal additions that are made, I might have forgotten to mention a couple or not realised some of them were added, but suffice to say the Directors Cut is THE way to watch this movie, as it feels far better paced, despite now being almost 3 hours.
Aster’s filmmaking still shines through and is just enchantingly terrifying. The way scenes are shot in his movie have such a distinct look and feel. The symmetrical framing, the strange focus and tilt shifting of some shots, the disorienting handheld camera moves and uncomfortable sweeping angles. It's gorgeous!
Pawel Pogorzelski’s cinematography is stunning as usual. He's able to really use lighting in great ways, with the bright, colourful world of Hårga where everything pops and it feels uncomfortably overexposed, which is contrasted between the beginning, where everything is cast in harsh darkness and has a very muted colour palette. There's some super creative shots and transitions here, Christian being framed in the mirror as Dani is standing across from him, showing the distance between them and from there the scene shifts so that Dani is now sitting in the same spot Christian was, almost like he started out the scene defending his decisions, but by the end Dani has shifted that defence to herself and she becomes the one in the wrong from her perspective.
Also the use of sudden match cuts and abrupt cuts is used to perfection by Aster to create unease. It wasn't done as perfectly as in Hereditary, but nonetheless, that stuffs still rad.
The VFX are so good. It's so subtle yet so eerie all the same. It barely even calls attention to itself, it's blink and you'll miss it type effects, but when you pick up on it, it's wild. It'll just be a slight wobble to some trees, a few flowers that appear to be breathing, little distortions to people's faces, it's minor, but man does it hit. It also serves as a way to tell if the characters are currently under the influence of drugs, which comes into play when Dani sees Christian getting it on, the distortion stops, she's fully aware of what's going on at that point. Same with Christian when he’s done the deed and runs away (might I add, with dick on full display) it's a visual way to let us know when they're under the suggestable control of the drugs, or when they're actively making their own choices.
The gore too is also… fucked. Like the cliff scene is the first time it moves into full gore but god damn, it’s intense and graphic and vile and I love it. The way Josh gets BONKED on the head with the hammer and he lays on the floor, twitching and giving these horrific moans of pain before he's suddenly dragged off screen with a trail of blood. That shit fucked me up! As well as all of the grotesque disfigured victims burnt in the fire.
I think this movie is pretty wild. It's very different from Hereditary which is why I think I initially wasn't as hyped about it as Hereditary. Going into it expecting the same thing as Hereditary is the wrong way to view it, but now having had a better idea of what Aster was going for, as well as having more time to think about the themes and ideas, I can safely say this is now a 10/10 mastapeece.