Midsommar ★★★★½

“Does he feel like home to you?..” 

At this point I’m convinced Ari Aster makes all his actresses who audition scream-cry all their lines. If they’re convincing, they’re hired.

Ari Aster understands the horror of grief. His previous film, Hereditary, examined the grieving process of a family that has lost a member and illustrated how that tremendous tension can tear families apart. Midsommar flips the paradigm, focusing on someone who has lost their family and is left completely alone. Dani, our main character (brilliantly played by Florence Pugh), is forced to shoulder her crushing grief all by herself. She is left without a support system. Her boyfriend, Christian (more on him later) offers nothing in the way of emotional support. He prefers the company of his friends, who disapprove of Dani and mostly tolerate her presence, save for Pelle. 

Dani then soldiers on, proceeding as normal until the grief overcomes her. Her grief manifests physically, making her double over in pain, stealing her breath, forcing pained cries and wails to emanate from her until she is exhausted. In these moments she is crushingly alone: in a bathroom or in a secluded spot in the woods, she is forced to bear its entire weight until it passes. It is when her grief is finally shared, when mutual support is offered, that Dani is finally saved. 

Aster understands the value and necessity of support systems, and how the absence of one can allow grief to settle in and fester, to never be remedied. Dani has no support system before she arrives in Sweden. Her boyfriend wants out of the relationship even before her family dies. He gaslights her, acts as if her need for emotional support is a burden. He attempts to ditch her for Sweden in the immediate aftermath of her family’s death. What Dani finds in Sweden, at this festival, is equal parts alluring and shocking. The people there are weird, and have radically different views than she does. They appear insular and aloof, yet seemingly offer unconditional love and support to each other without question. Dani finally finds support in the unlikeliest of places. Sure, these folks sacrifice outsiders and some of their own to appease a harvest god. They might commit a little incest to birth a deformed Oracle-child.  But they also earnestly love, respect, and support one another, which is of course appealing to someone in an alienated position like Dani.

I’m struck by the scene where Dani discovers Christian in the mating ritual, which causes her to again break down with grief. But instead of being alone, Dani is surrounded by the girls from the village. This time, Dani isn’t left to suffer in her grief alone, her pain is shared. The girls match the cadence of her cries, spreading her anguish to the entire group. Her pain is segmented, made bearable. This is the catalyst for Dani. These people understand her pain, they accept it, and they earnestly want to relieve her of it. Christian and his friends never understood her pain, nor how to remedy it. In fact her pain to them was just a big bummer, something that harshed their mellow. They saw her pain as something that needed to go away, to be hidden. Acknowledging it was uncomfortable and hard to deal with, so it was best for it to lurk under the surface, to suffocate Dani and maker her suffer in silence. These folks don’t want Dani to be silent, though. They want her to scream, to howl her grief aloud so they can shoulder it. How can she give that up, how can she go back to her old life, now that she has this new family? 

Aster captures the dynamics of a dead relationship so well. It is clear from the jump that Dani and Christian should have broken up ages ago, and are now going through the motions, offering each other nothing. Christian selfishly admits that he keeps Dani on because he is afraid he would lose her forever if they break up, meaning he couldn’t get her back if he ever wanted her in the future. It is fitting then that Dani’s final act, which cements her place in the community, is to send Christian to his death. It’s not the most original conclusion, but it makes sense in this context. Christian’s death is ceremonial in multiple ways: it is a sacrifice for the community, but also a sacrifice for Dani. Christian’s death wipes Dani’s slate clean, it frees her from any semblance of her past life. There is certainly evidence to suggest that the community engineered this conclusion, subtly manipulating Dani so that she arrived at the decision she did. But ultimately, Dani enters the community as a willing participant, as someone who values the love and support they offer more than their penchant for murder. Christian never murdered anyone, sure, but he sure as hell never made Dani’s life any easier. 

By the amount of text written here, it’s no secret that this movie had an emotional effect on me. I do have my gripes with it: it’s laboriously paced in places, it’s fairly derivative of other similar films, and I defintiely wanted to see more blood than we got. But frankly, I can forgive a movie for being long, for taking its time- even if it’s a wee bit plotting. I can also forgive a movie for not being the most original, cause really, what the fuck is even originality anymore? I look to movies cause a stir in me, to make me think, to give me something to talk about and internalize. I also look for movies to be unabashedly batshit, which Aster loves to embrace. His films are undoubtedly his vision, for better or for worse. I say, gimme more. I’m a hog for this shit.

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