Like every other Black family I knew growing up, I was raised in a household that normalized living with a savagely tortured semi-naked white man. On the wall of the hallway leading from our living room to my bedroom hung an ornately-framed painting of Jesus Christ nailed to the cross. This meant that the first thing I saw each morning and the last thing I saw before bed was the gruesome spectacle of a bearded, emaciated man captured in the throes of unspeakable agony from having spikes driven through his hands and feet, and thorns crammed into his skull. This nightmare tableau was illuminated by a tubular electric light attached to a heavy, gilt-metal frame, and, as it was one of those lenticular, Vari-Vue™ prints much-coveted among the Catholic set at the time, when you stood in front of it and moved side to side, Jesus’ pleading, heavenward-cast eyes would close and open.
That the painting’s over-the-top kitschiness disturbed me more than the pious torture porn it depicted speaks to why, in later years, my Catholic status graduated to lapsed. I always had a problem with what I came to view as the religion's glorification of suffering and the preponderant role violence plays in children's spiritual instruction. The alignment of violence and morality makes it all too easy to convince people to accept, justify, and even legitimize all manner of cruelty, repression, and brutality. Provided there's the reassurance of said carnage being carried out in the name of a perceived sense of righteousness, a presumed moral authority, or unquestioning fealty to religious dogma.
In the minds and hearts of many, the humane assumption exists that spirituality and violence represent a paradox and that they are inherently and at once at odds with one another. In the alternatingly glorious/grotesque very grim fairy tale that is Midsommar, director Ari Aster posits the dualist theory that spirituality and violence are, in actuality--and as one finds in all aspects of nature--symbiotically linked. Intensely and inextricably joined...dark and light, despair and joy...the winter and summer of human experience.
Director Ari Aster hit a horror home run with his breakout film debut Hereditary (2018), a harrowing shocker about a dysfunctional family crumbling under the weight of grief, mental illness, and the insidious machinations of a demonic cult. By contrasting the chaotic dynamics of an unstable family with the regimentally orderly rituals of a Satanic sect, Hereditary drew discomfiting parallels to the intersections of religion/cult, devout/fanatic, and tradition /predeterminism.
With Midsommar, we see Aster continuing to explore the world of single-word titles, family dysfunction, cultism, mental illness, how we process grief, unhealthy relationships, and the shriek factor of head trauma. The focus of this, his unsettling and sure-footed sophomore effort, has four American grad students visiting a Swedish commune to witness a 9-day midsummer celebration. The plot places Midsommar as a contemporary blood-descendant of Robin Hardy’s 1973 folk-horror classic The Wicker Man. But where The Wicker Man contrasted Christian extremism with pagan zealotry, Midsommar sees Aster casting his twisted gaze on our culture of isolation and souls left untethered and adrift in the pursuit of individualism. Then, provocatively juxtaposing it with the spirituality-based interdependence of a Swedish pagan commune.
|Florence Pugh as Dani Ardor|
|Jack Reynor as Christian Hughes|
|Vilhelm Blomgren as Pelle|
|William Jackson Harper as Josh|
|Will Poulter as Mark|
Midsommar begins in winter. The heavy snowfall obscures the film's opening titles, forecasting the emotional cold front piercing the nearly four-year relationship of New York graduate students Dani Ardor (Florence Pugh) and Christian Hughes (Jack Reynor). Christian, an anthropology student with a sub-major in waffling and gaslighting, has been angling towards a breakup for a year but lingers out of fear of the alternative. Dani, an anxiety-prone psychology student who pops Ativan to cope with panic attacks and dysfunction-stress linked to her family in Minnesota, is an exposed nerve so steeped in denial about Christian’s emotional abuse she fails to notice half the content of their conversations consists of her apologizing.
Alas, at the precise moment when it's most evident that the dissolution of this relationship would be the healthiest outcome for all parties involved, a devastating tragedy sends Dani into an agonizing spiral of grief and despair. And in an instant, we realize the bonds of emotional neediness and the shackles of guilty resentment will be added to this already toxic union.
(Top) Christian consoles a traumatized Dani after the death of her entire family, his face betraying his feelings of entrapment. On the rare occasion when men in movies are shown bearing any of the emotional weight of a relationship, it tends to be depicted as a burden (1971’s Play Misty for Me [pictured] and Fatal Attraction -1981 come to mind). But male-gaze identification is subverted in Midsommar—as Dani’s anguish speaks more eloquently than Christian’s “good guy” sense of aggrieved obligation.
Six months later—winter to summer—finds Dani still traumatized and frozen in the process of her bereavement. Meanwhile, Christian, by way of a profoundly hurtful and pusillanimous move, is on course to forging a passive breakup by surreptitiously accepting an invitation from fellow anthropology student Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) to join friends Josh (William Jackson Harper) and Mark (Will Poulter) on a trip to Hårga, Sweden for study. When Dani accidentally discovers Christian’s plans, only codependency and utter isolation account for her accepting his brazenly reluctant, 11th-hour invitation to join them on their all-boys excursion. In an amusing touch that feels deliberate for a film in which the necessity of family is a major theme, scenes depicting the journey to Pelle’s “hometown” perfectly capture the traditional joyless torpor of "Are we there yet?" family vacations.
The arrival of the Americans to the hippie-like village of Hårga, a sunny paradise of smiling faces and flowers! flowers! everywhere, signals Midsommar’s entrance into The Wicker Man folk-horror territory. And if that sounds like a spoiler, it is. Midsommar’s horror doesn’t come from the shock of the unexpected (although there’s plenty of that to go around) so much as the dread of the foreordained and perhaps inevitable.
Since we know we’re watching a horror film, the depiction of Hårga as an idyllic, welcoming place of tranquility is discordantly unsettling from the get-go. A feeling compounded as details of the lives and traditions of the Hårgas come to light via elaborate ceremonial rituals that grow increasingly bizarre. Things initially perceived as benign—those wide-eyed smiles, the blissed-out solicitousness—take on a sinister air as the village’s overriding atmosphere of compliant conformity begins to feel less like being in the presence of worshippers of ancient pagan religion and more like being trapped in the clutches of a hyper-cheerful death-cult.
There’s a scene in Woody Allen's Hanna & Her Sisters where Max Von Sydow's character comments on having just seen a TV program about the Holocaust: "Intellectuals declaring their mystification over the systematic murder of millions. They can never answer the question 'How could it happen?' It's the wrong question. The question is, 'Why doesn't it happen more often?'"
In Midsommar, Aster uses nature’s inalterable earth schedule of changing seasons and the phase cycles of the sun to metaphorically comment on humanity’s own predetermined…even destructive…cycles. We accept that it is in our natures to seek connection, community, family, faith, and the shared expression of love and sorrow. But is it also an equal part of our human hard wiring to be desirous of and susceptible to codependence, collectivism, religious populism, and moralized violence? The blood-stained global record of history repeating would say yes.
|"You're out of the woods, you're out of the dark, you're out of the night. Step into the sun,|
step into the light." Midsommar's The Wizard of Oz moment.
Hereditary was my favorite film of 2018, so after seeing Midsommar’s poster (it seems like ever since Naomi Watts in tears served as poster art for 2007’s Funny Games, crying faces came to replace screaming faces on horror movie posters), I was uncommonly stoked for its June 24, 2019 release.
My reaction to seeing Midsommar for the first time was a kind of mental loss of equilibrium. So much of it played out like an extended anxiety dream I had to watch it twice just to appreciate how Aster built such a compellingly unique and disturbing film out of what is essentially a dramatization of a psychotic break (Ari Aster is the king of Nervous Breakdown Horror). The movie is so hallucinatory and weird that when my partner and I watched the 24-minutes-longer director's cut a year later (it was his first time, my fourth), he was certain the film would end (like The Wizard of Oz) with everything revealed to have been a dream.
The difference between the theatrical and director’s cuts lie chiefly in the latter’s ability to expand on a few themes (the cult viewed through the prism of white supremacy and Anglo-European nativism, for example) and provide broader context and insight into the unhealthy dynamics of Dani and Christian’s relationship.
|Swedish actor Bjorn Andresen as Dan, a man at the end of his Harga life cycle in Midsommar. At age 15, Andresen portrayed Tadzio, the symbol of youth in Luchino Visconti's Death in Venice (1971). |
I loved every minute of Midsommar. So grateful that once again Aster was expanding the concept of what "horror" films can be and impressed by how...no matter how far out the film went...the psychological drama remained the most dynamic and moving element.
WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
Loaded with challenging themes and disturbing images, there’s so much to unpack in Midsommar. It's hard to even nail it down to a single genre, much less walk away with a singular sense of what it’s all about. Like Jordan Peele’s US (2019), Midsommar is a puzzle of a film that, by staunchly refusing to explain itself, courts ambiguity and invites multiple interpretations. As one of the film’s creators remarked in an interview, what one comes away with after seeing Midsommar has a great deal to do with what one came to it with.
The thing that grounds all these scenarios and makes them work, no matter how high-flown or fantastic, is the emotional truth & depth of the character of Dani. As written, and especially as portrayed by the remarkable Florence Pugh, Dani’s recognizable humanity tethers Midsommar’s nightmare landscape to an authentic, shared emotional reality that anchors the film to the real world.
|Another cryptic entry: In a drugged haze after being crowned May Queen, Dani hallucinates seeing her dead family at the festivities. The loving look from her father contrasts dramatically with the harsh stares of her sister and mother. |
THE STUFF OF DREAMS
Memories of my Catholic upbringing kicked in big-time watching Midsommar, specifically concerning the role sadistic violence and death play in Hårga tradition. Like the grisly Christian artwork that greeted me each morning as a child, the walls throughout the Hårga village are covered with violent biblical/religious imagery. In the film, every ritual human sacrifice and blood offering to the gods share one thing in common: cruelty seems to be the point. That none of those sacrificed are dispatched mercifully or in even remotely humane ways (indeed, some methods appear to be needlessly sadistic) reminded me of when, as a youngster, I was told that stories in the Bible were so violent and full of death and suffering because they wanted to convey God's wrath and power. A sort of "Scared Straight" method of discouraging sin.
Midsommar proposes something similar in suggesting that the violence embraced in the Hårga rituals is a form of acknowledging nature's power and ultimate dominance. Fine, but then the human element enters into it. When we learn that resentment is a motive behind Ingemar's sacrifice selection, the point is reinforced that people have always twisted and perverted spirituality and religion to fit their own needs, justify their prejudices, and morally rationalize their innate brutality.
|It's so nice to be insane. No one asks you to explain.|
The above line is a lyric from the 1975 Helen Reddy song "Angie Baby" and clues you into my particular take on Midsommar's famously ambiguous final image. I take the position that mental illness has always been a struggle with Dani (when Pelle asks her if she’s studying psychiatry--Dani: “Psychology. That’s how you know I'm nuts.” Pelle: “Yeah. Also, that funny look in your eye”). Given Dani's family history (her sister's bipolarism), the emotional toll of her family's death (Dani's anguish is laceratingly deep), and what she 'settles for' in her relationship with the emotionally unavailable Christian, all indicate that she is in no mental condition to process the horrors visited upon her psyche at the commune. Something in her would have to give in order to make sense of all gory the madness.
It's my opinion that Dani has most definitely lost her mind at the end (a descriptive passage from the screenplay reads --"She has surrendered to a joy known only by the insane" ). Still, it appears her break from reality brings her a freedom and sense of peace heretofore elusive in her life. It also places her among and on even footing with the demented Hårga death cultists with whom she has finally found love, community, family, and acceptance.
It’s a monstrously sad/happy ending quite fitting with Midsommar's perversely optimistic view of fatalism. I don't see how any sane person could keep their sanity long in Hårga (and it's unlikely they would ever have allowed her to leave and possibly tell others about this place of ritual murder), so, in its way, the ending is also quite merciful to Dani, a character I came to like and care a great deal about over the course of the film. I agree with those who have called the ending horrible and beautiful.
It is. Just like Midsommar.
|Here's something to chew on: Midsommar ends on something like the 4th or 5th day of a 9-day midsummer festival! What the hell could they have lined up next on the schedule?|
Copyright © Ken Anderson 2009 - 2020
I was hoping you'd get to this after your earlier review of Hereditary. I first watched Midsommar a year ago and wrote my initial thoughts on a film score message board. (Thus the emphasis on the music):ReplyDelete
"I can guess for some people that the deliberate Lynchian pace, the "do-I-laugh-at-this-or-do-I-feel-weirded-out-or-do-I-feel-both-at-once" mating ritual scene, some of the strange hallucinatory effects, etc. will decidedly not be their cup of (psychedelic) tea, but I dug it.
The score album is only 40 minutes long, so I'm eager to find out how much is Krlic's music. The entire score is fantastic; I particularly like the trio of woodwinds that greet the guests when they arrive at the village and, toward the end, the haunting music used for the placement in the temple of...well, if you've seen the movie you know what I mean. In his review, Jonathan Broxton suggests those who like Jonny Greenwood's film scores will like this one. Count me in."
And to a fellow member who called Midsommar one of the "worst of 2019," comparing it negatively to The Wicker Man:
"I liked it not as a genre horror film or a Wicker Man variant, but as a psychological study of a relationship and for its compelling use of both the physical landscape and musical soundscape."
A truly effective disturbing film, as is Hereditary. I still need to see the three hour director's cut. Florence Pugh made quite a splash in the last couple of years with this, Fighting With My Family, and Little Women. May she continue on strongly. And it was odd to come across Bjorn Andresen in this - he always seemed frozen in time as the boy from Death in Venice
Love your observations on MIDSOMMER!
From its pacing, to its themes, to its discomfiting violence, the movie isn’t trying to win anyone over, so I understand why people don’t like it. But to dismiss it via a comparison to The Wicker Man is to look at a daisy and say it’s a knock-off of a sunflower; they share superficial similarities, that’s it.
The musical score to MIDSOMMAR is so good it deserves a blog post of its own. The music throughout is used to great effect, but nowhere so much as during the final scene. It’s so heart-wrenchingly beautiful and disturbing.
I’m with you in finding the “horror film” descriptive insufficient when talking about what MIDSOMMAR. It’s a horrific film, to be sure, but I see it more along the emotional/psychological lines you described.
Also, I feel the same in finding scenes composed in ways that don’t signal to you how you’re supposed to feel about them. I think this is one of the film’s greatest strengths—its unwillingness to tell you whether you should find scenes darkly funny, disturbing, or just creepy. This is especially hard for people who want a movie to provide emotional guideposts when confronted with imagery and ideas they don’t immediately recognize from genre tropes.
Because I never like to know much beforehand about a film I am interested in seeing, I avoided all advance promotional stuff about MIDSOMMAR. It was only when researching this...over a year after its release...that I learned Florence Pugh was English!!
What a remarkable American accent she has in this!! MIDSOMMAR was my introduction to her, but I've since seen LITTLE WOMEN. I look forward to seeing some of her other work because she does a tremendous job here.
Thank you for reading this post and sharing your thoughts on this ceaselessly fascinating movie!
I heard her on NPR discussing Lady Macbeth, which I believe was her fist role, so I knew she was English and had to see that movie, highly recommended! She was convinced that she would never have another role as great as that one (little did she know). I'm amazed that the old man was the beautiful youth in Death in Venice, great sleuthing. All the best, loulou.Delete
Florence Pugh is so hypnotically good in this. Now I'm going to have to watch this again just to listen to her flawless American accent!
I will take you up on your recommendation of LADY MACBETH. I'd forgotten that title, but way back when I first saw MIDSOMMAR and talk about it with people, that is the film I was most consistently told I should check out.
A certain level of my unfamiliarity with a lot of contemporary actors proves to be a dividend with a movie like MIDSOMMAR. For me it was a a cast of unknowns, and that led to a certain easy immersion in the story.
Since I've come to find so many cast have done a lot of excellent work.
And I found out about the Death in Venice youth from British press write up of the film I read after my 1st viewing.
Good to hear from you, loulou! Thanks!
I wonder why so many people panned MIDSOMMAR. This was fascinating from start to finish. I didn't know it was the same writer/director as HEREDITARY until after it was all over and I watched the extras on the DVD and did some imdb.com reading. I don't pay too much attention to the names of young directors or writers these days. I'd seen that crazy movie and loved it mostly for Toni Collette, the weird insight into the world of building miniatures, and the marvelous performance from Ann Dowd. But I hated its out of place ludicrous ending. It just erased everything I just seen and made me think it was trying to rip off ROSEMARY'S BABY.ReplyDelete
On the other hand, I found MIDSOMMAR utterly engrossing and hypnotic and multi-layered. Sure there are THE WICKER MAN analogies to be drawn, but it's so much more than any of those Mother Earth/Seasonal Ritual cult horror movies. Frankly, I think it has more in common with HARVEST HOME, thematically speaking, than THE WICKER MAN. (Sort of the reversal of HARVEST HOME actually, a decidedly nasty movie with more than a tinge of misogyny, or rather fear of women, rather than outright hatred.) When I watched the DVD extras on MIDSOMMAR with the director explaining the movie's origins and learned the movie was all meant to be a break-up purge movie I was astonished at the way it was all revealed in an entirely new light.
Despite the intricate world Aster creates in this Swedish communal subculture, I keep coming back to the eerie flashback of Dani's discovery of her dead parents. So many questions left unanswered about that scene, I think, and new ones arose for me once the movie ended. That's worth an essay in itself.
With so many movies-by-market-research out there, with so many social-media fanboys/girls exerting their crowd-pleaser influence on how films are made, I was thrilled that MIDSOMMAR drew such strong hate it/love it reactions. It comes across as such a personal vision, it feels perfect that not everyone likes it.
And in addition to having a refreshingly "unique" world view, the director seems to have an equally unique gift when it comes to casting and performances.
I like your referencing HARVEST HOME, a book I remember being one of those I couldn't put down. It's nice to hear that you liked MIDSOMMAR and found much to think and wonder about, even with all that's out there related to the making of the movie and the director's intentions and inspirations.
Reading your comments reinforce what I feel about it as well, that it's a movie that your mind is drawn to revisit and rethink. How many films can we say that about?
Thank you for reading this and commenting. Nice to see you again, JF!
loulou again. Vulture did a story about the intense sunshine of the movie and how they were able to achieved it without washing the movie out. They were interviewing the director, it required some fancy foot work/camera work I guess. It really did define the film IMO, sunglasses please.ReplyDelete
Thanks for passing on the info about the article. As you say, the bright, almost glaring look of the film is such a defining attribute of the film, to read about the whys and how is intriguing. By the way, I don't know if you're a fan of Aster's work, but if you haven't checked out his short films: "The Strange Thing About The Johnsons" and "Munchausen"...I recommend. (There are others, but these two are my favorites).Delete
Hi Ken! Greetings from Barcelona (Spain). I hope you and your loved ones are doing well. I read with enthusiasm and passion your detailed essay on 'Midsommar'. Did you really experience seeing it "a kind of mental loss of equilibrium"? Wow! I need to see this movie now!ReplyDelete
Hello, Juan! Thanks for inquiring, and indeed, my family and I are all doing well. I hope the same is true for you as well.Delete
And yes, this film kind of did a number on me. It's quite unusual how rooted it is in a very relatable motional and psychological reality. Yet so much of its visual impact is dreamlike (or nightmarish). Add the effecting use of sound and its gorgeous/eerie musical score, and I was caught a bit off-guard.
It wasn't anything like I assumed it would be. Even after seeing HEREDITARY!
It's an interesting film. Should you check it out sometime, I would love to hear your thoughts, even if they are negative. Good to hear from you and thank you very much for reading this. Cheers, Juan!
This ranks right up there with your best essays.
This film, love it or hate it, deserves a certain amount of respect for being open to multiple interpretations like a true work of art can be. A discussion I had with a boss at work about it being about getting over a break-up made it that much more interesting...and I could definitely see it being about that. But I like that you've presented other options to ponder.
Like Hereditary, I enjoyed and admired Midsommar, and while I'm intrigued to rewatch both there's definitely a bit of hesitation considering how psychologically horrific the events and graphic occurrences are in both films. Talk about a sort of beautiful trauma!
I've been curious about the extended director's cut ever since I heard about it....Did you like is much as the theatrical one? Do you feel the additional footage added much to your experiences with the film?
(Also, glad to hear all is well with you and your family. Stay safe!)
Thank you very much! I am so pleased you enjoyed this piece. And I'm glad to hear you found this film an interesting one to discuss and mull over.
I'm with you in appreciating films that aren't always across-the-board crowd-pleasers. If the last few years have taught us anything, its that no two people perceives anything in exactly the same way. I don't think it's necessary for people to agree on what MIDSOMMAR is about, so much as enjoy (or despise) their own personal response to it. I admire that it doesn't really try to be for everyone. So refreshing sometimes to catch movies that don't come across as though they were conceived with a particular market in mind.
As per the rewatching thing, I have certain films I enjoy a great, but still have to be in a particular frame of mind to see again. Only a handful I've found so psychologically difficult that I've felt once is enough (William Wyler's THE COLLECTOR is one of them).
I think you're fine with not seeing the director's cut of MIDSOMMAR, as it doesn't alter the story in any way. And while I would say the extra footage added to the film itself (it mostly underscored things) I wouldn't say it added much to my experience of the film (i.e., I didn't love the film more or have a stronger response...the new stuff felt satisfying, not revelatory).
Appreciate you kind words and contribution here, and I hope you and your loved ones are also doing well and weathering all that 2020 seems determined to hurl at us. Cheers, Pete!
All is fine on this end, thanks Ken. We're certainly not out of the woods yet, even with a vaccine happening much sooner than expected. 2021 just has to be better by comparison, right? *knock on every wood surface*Delete
"I admire that it doesn't really try to be for everyone. So refreshing sometimes to catch movies that don't come across as though they were conceived with a particular market in mind." THIS. Why is this so sadly rare in this day and age? Considering how many cable channels there are out there catering to every little niche interest, it shouldn't be so difficult to make and/or find a film that's not in the PG-13 superhero 'sweet spot', or just a watered down retread of something already done.
I do believe I'll give both Hereditary and Midsommar another viewing. The admiration for their artful creation overrules the horrific psychological aspects. But I understand completely about your hesitation with The Collector, which I saw for the first time this past year. Top of my 'one and done' list is easily Lars Von Trier's Dancer In The Dark. As much as I would like to see Bjork's fearless portrayal again, the ending of that film devastated me in a way that I can never fully shake...definitely similar to Wyler's film.
Thanks for your insight as to the director's cut. It's exactly what I suspected about it...and I will probably seek that version out when I do finally rewatch the film, granted it's more widely accessible.
Glad to hear you're doing fine. I have a good feeling about 2021, even if it's only a firm belief that it's not possible for things to get any worse than 2020!Delete
Regarding the new technology of film distribution...what with cable, streaming, etc., I too feel that, expense aside, today presents a perfect atmosphere for adventurous filmmaking. And to some degree that has happened on the cable circuit. There have been increasingly interesting and personal films being made. I don't know how COVID will effect Hollywood and its blockbuster addiction, but the worst films produced seem to be born of Hollywood's need for every film to rake in mega millions globally.
I hope the new forms of film distribution will lead to a more democratic exposure to artists' work. I am getting so tired of the industry's devotion to remake, reboot, or franchise.
I've never seen Dancing in the Dark. I've heard the film is wonderful, but Lars Von Triers is a director my Spidey-senses have led me to avoid. The relationship between a filmmaker and audience can be delicate...I always have to think "Do I want those images in my head"? If I don't really trust the humanity of the director, I steer clear.
There's something very humane in Ari Aster's work, so i trust where he takes me.
But isn't it interesting when you come across a film and the experience is satisfyingly powerful, yet you are in no hurry to repeat it? It doesn't happen often, but when it does, people who know me are surprised if it's not a gross-out, hyper violent film, but rather an older film like THE COLLECTOR. But you seem to understand...it's not the images...it's the emotion.
I hope when/if you check out HEREDITARY or MIDSOMMAR again, the experience offers new insights. Take care, Pete!
Sorry to be late to the party, but thank you for the insightful essay on one of may favorite, and certainly most discussed films from 2019. A friend and I went to a matinee attended by a small, disparate group. After the movie, as we all trudged down one of those interminable cineplex hallways to the exit, we felt compelled to discuss the film we'd just witnessed. It had been a long time since I had that experience, a group of total strangers talking, albeit on a superficial level, about what we had just shared. As nothing as yet had time to sink in, the convo was mostly along the lines of "Boy, was that some fucked-up shit?", followed by laughter. Turned out, most of us were there via Hereditary. I feel that the use of pop songs for the credits (The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore) is offered by the director as a sort of palate cleanser. Also, Minnie Riperton's Les Fleurs at the end of another film you mentioned, Us. It's a nice way to ease you back to reality.ReplyDelete
Why, thank you!Delete
Both for your kind compliment and for so beautifully describing that rare experience of a bunch of strangers discussing that now-unique shared experience of watching a movie together. It's very nice, isn't it? Especially for a film as densely layered as MIDSOMMAR.
As you say, things haven't yet sunk in, but there's a nice cathartic release to everybody expressing to each other "That was some fucked-up shit, wasn't it?"...it sounds like a superficial exchange, but in your commenting on the use of end credits music in both this and "US"...that sort of "release" is an important element if a movie has really engaged you. An insightful take I'm glad you shared with us here.
Thank you for reading this blog and taking the time to comment!
Everything you say is true. The themes are very interesting, the photography is unique and stylish. The image is esentially telling the story.ReplyDelete
However I am not sure about the story itself. I cannot say that it really made sense to me. The motives and logic of the characters is unclear, although their feelings are not.
I enjoyed the film, but it I recieved it more as a study or an experiment, rather than a complete work. Something seems to be missing.
Very late responding to this, Stanley...Delete
Thank you for reading this post and sharing your opinions on where you felt the film was perhaps lacking.
It sounds as though you felt the fllm was stronger as an example of visual storytelling than developing and/or fleshing out the characters and their motivations?
That would certainly contribute to your not feeling particularly engaged in the narrative.
Maybe some other readers visiting felt the same and might elaborate in future comments. I hope so. Cheers!
Thank you for writing this endlessly re-readable essay: just when I think everything has been uncovered about this film, you still manage to find more (the ‘stunt’ casting of past icons and the disapproving glances of the deceased family were especially eye-opening).ReplyDelete
My comment may be way past expiration date but I was terrified of revisiting this movie (congrats by the way on rewatching it so many times after previously stating you hadn’t ‘enjoyed’ it as much as Hereditary). After having yet another nightmare about it, I buckled up and watched the longer cut. It’s finally reached a place where it’s less traumatic.
I remember sitting in a daze in the theater during the end credits, so much so that another movie-goer on their way out, whom I’d never met, asked me if I was alright... My face must have been quite something back then, lol.
Midsommar is the rare movie where, during the screening, I was pondering why the reviews I had read beforehand were all saying this was a positive breakup from a toxic relationship for Dani, when it was obvious she had been a sacrificial lamb all along. I remember wondering over and over during the film if the Hårgas were in fact an agent of good in Dani’s life or just monsters, constantly flip flopping on the issue. A rare experience in the movies these days.
Much was made of the extravagant violence in such a art-house film during its release but the death that made me audibly gasp at the time was Josh’s foot sticking out of the garden: that to me was true horror. I thought it was just because it echoed the Tarot card of the hanged man which has always been a powerful imagery but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
It’s only with video essays pointing out the racism of the death cult that I came to grips with it: the casual dismissal of the black character’s humanity as he was being reduced to plant fertiliser just gets to me. Aster was being really clever in his hiding/highlighting of the movie’s true subject (to me anyway): the camera doing a sudden reversal on itself when passing the hanging banner during the drive to the village was really arresting and I couldn’t explain such a directorial flourish on first viewing.
It was later explained that it was a ‘popular’ right-wing slogan...
Thanks again for saying such intelligent things on a masterpiece.
And Pugh rules forever.
I never saw MIDSOMMAR in a theater, but the vivid description of your viewing experience coincides with what I imagined it would be. It reads very much like my experience of seeing LOOKING FOR MR GOODBAR.
While I’m sorry you had nightmares, I applaud your being able to let a movie get under your skin enough to have such a strong emotional response to it. I’ve always thought of films as being too precious to be time-killers or mindless distractions; I live for when a movie can provide me with an experience, and MIDSOMMAR definitely fills the bill. You’re right it wasn’t as powerful an experience for me as HEREDITARY, I clock that mostly to my having more to relate to (dysfunctional family dynamics)
While I can easily see why critics ran with the director’s early comments that MIDSOMMAR was in part inspired by a painful breakup in his life, but like you, I was also puzzled that so many reviews began and stopped with that one reading of all that goes on in the film. And all the online comments expressing such joy about the finale as a kind of triumph for Dani.
I’m not saying that take isn’t valid and true if that’s the takeaway, but it was just very different from what the film was for me.
It's nice to have a film that invites so much discussion and analysis. Grateful ultimately that it resists being “solved” so much as experienced and personally interpreted.
It was your Twitter-expressed fondness for this film that really inspired my writing about it, as I saw your comments not long after seeing the director’s cut. I’m glad you screwed up your courage to face the extended version. I can’t imagine what it was like revisiting a film that affected you so strongly. I’m glad you didn’t feel the extended footage didn’t ruin anything for you.
I made a point of not reading or looking at any of the post-release articles and videos exploring the various themes unearthed in the film. I’ve since looked at them and I’m pleased that the larger implications of racism, white supremacy death cults, and all their allusions to the global political climate (but especially what has been going on in America since the KKK and Nazism found a new brand in MAGA).
Indeed, Ari Aster was very clever in having such themes (ones the moviegoing public is often loathe to confront) the very center of his narrative, yet fairly hidden.
And I didn’t know that about the Harga banner! As you say, just when you think you have discovered all there was to know about this movie, new things emerge! Brilliant!
So pleased you read and enjoyed this essay. I’m sure you’ve read more than your share, so ’'m glad you fit this one in.
I too think MIDSOMMAR is a masterpiece. Perhaps one day the Motion Picture Academy can overcome its abject fear of horror movies and recognize that (at least in the instances of HEREDITARY, US, and MIDSOMMAR) some incredible performances and remarkable filmmaking are going unappreciated. Except among us fans.
Pardon my chiming in once again, but I wanted to suggest the new HBO International documentary, PRAY, OBEY, KILL, as a complement to MIDSOMMAR. Maybe the 2004 case was one of Aster's inspirations for his film and why he chose Sweden as the setting. I remember reading an online remark from a Swede who took great umbrage at MIDSOMMAR being set there. He was sure no such thing could possibly take place in Sweden. Well, he must be apoplectic at the airing of this documentary about a "Bride of Christ" cult whose leaders manipulate a disaffected young woman to eliminate people inconvenient to them. The sunny, fresh-faced cultists being interrogated by the police is chilling.ReplyDelete
I wasn't at all aware of the HBO documentary, so I thank you for recommending it to fans of MIDSOMMAR as a kind of real-life, thematic supplement to the film. And set in Sweden, yet!Delete
The topic sounds chilling and intriguing for many, so I'm sure you've provided a service, here. And please, feel free to chime in any time...film enthusiasm is always welcome!