Midsommar (dir. Ari Aster, 2019) – A visit to Swedish village’s midsummer festival gradually devolves into a series of chilling rituals.
Dani (Florence Pugh) is in a bad place. She has just lost her whole family to a horrific murder-suicide, and the only loved one she has left is her estranged boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor). She holds fast to the tenuous connection for fear of being alone, joining him and his friends on their midsummer vacation in Sweden.
There, Christian’s friends make clear their disdain for her presence, adding to Dani’s grief. Her anxiety heightens as she tries to hide it. But her emotional dependence on an unappreciative partner leaves her visibly vulnerable, as though without him, she may fall.
In the dysfunctional couple, Midsommar explores the complex dynamics of broken relationships. It is clear that Christian hangs onto the loveless relationship out of obligation, and that Dani senses his resentment. Still, she finds solace in his impassive support, desperately clinging into what she had already lost, even if it meant giving more than she will ever receive.
Her desperate need for control had likely come from a place of fear. She has had little control over her own life, where she struggled to cope with the troubles of her mentally afflicted sister. She became dependent on the love that she found and her family never could give. Before long, all she had left was a toxic relationship that she had no choice, but to hold onto.
It is no wonder that she finds herself drawn to the symbiotic family at the centre of the midsummer festival. These are the people who take full control of their own lives, including their deaths. They embrace all as one, and bond in mass hysteria. In the bizarre rituals of the pagan cult, she finds the sense of belonging that she never truly had.
The perpetual daylight and verdant greens seem apt for her coming-of-age, if not for the deathly festivities in the midsummer festival of Ari Aster’s creation. Sudden brutality accompanies the rewritten traditions, seeing to it that Dani may be the only one on an upward trajectory, empowered in a twisted way.
Most meet their dire fates, some more deserving than others. Visceral violence comes in sudden bursts, leaving dropped jaws in unexpected moments. One cannot help but feel just a tiny bit of concern for Ari Aster, between this and Hereditary, not forgetting his short films. Thankfully, his inspiration seems to come mostly from reel life (we hope).
Much of the imagery brings to mind Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain and his montage of otherworldly fantasies. The surreal atmosphere reinforces the isolation of the remote village, mirroring Dani’s own. In a place where she finally belongs, she finds a family who truly accepted her and above all, the courage to live out her dream of being free.
But it is just that, a momentary and deadly dream. She breaks out of the prison of her own making, only to slip back into another. In her one-way journey and that of the ones she travelled with, Midsommar proves both cathartic and terrifying. As with Hereditary, Ari Aster has left us with deep thoughts into the torments of his characters, and thereby high hopes for his next bold venture.
Skål to Ari Aster for letting his dark imagination loose in Midsommar, making sumptuous fodder for thoughtful introspection and haunting nightmares.