The 2019 hit Midsommar, coming from the A24 studio, whose works I trust we are all somewhat familiar with, talks about a young American couple who journey to a strange Swedish village along with some friends. The Swedish Hårga, though welcoming to their visitors, soon begin to petrify the Americans with their unorthodox every-96-years-summer traditions. To make this really short, nine sacrifices are required and the American visitors made up part of the offerings. What might shock you the most if you haven’t watched this film before (spoiler alert), is that the lead female eventually selects her own boyfriend to be the final, ninth sacrifice. How the hell can a getaway to this bright and colourful Swedish village cause a girl to throw her boyfriend under the bus like that?
Dani, the protagonist of this film, is on the brink of (probably already has) losing her shit when we are first introduced to her. Amazingly portrayed by Florence Pugh, the character struggles to accept the death of her family at the hands of her dysfunctional sister. Ouch.
Her boyfriend, Christian, played by the undeniably pretty Jack Reynor, is a downright douchey boyfriend, and that’s easy even for me to say. He’s almost oblivious of Dani at times, literally forgets her birthday, and is unable to break up with Dani for whatever good reason he can conjure up, even though he clearly has no interest in her. I guess he still has some humanity left in him for not breaking up with her right after the homicide of her family. Instead, he invites Dani along on this bro-out with his buddies to Hårga, in the name of anthropology of course. Okay I have to butt in here, but technically, Dani invites herself to this, so… The background of Dani’s character is extremely importantly to (sort of) understanding her actions in Hårga, especially that very radiant smile at the end, but we’ll get to that later.
I’m not going to start off by talking about Ari Aster’s previous work, Hereditary. Personally, I’m not one to judge new films based on the director, but after paying more attention to the film for the second and third time, I’ve come to realize that Aster is one bat-shit dark maniac. Maniacal in the way that he is capable of turning seemingly innocent stuff such as a festival, into one of twisted unpleasantness. And we as the audience, we are addicted to it. I will try to reach my own verdict after reviewing the good and the accused bad of the film.
The Hårga, are by no stretch of the imagination, what I consider to be normal, but hey, they’re fake right? Upon arrival to the village, the American visitors find the non-stop daylight and preaching of community to be almost idyllic. As an outsider watching the film, even though I thought that their dancing and singing was weird, I still appreciated the goal these Hårga were trying to achieve. Community and warmth, that’s all. The serenity is disturbed and things quickly escalate southwards, when the cult-esque Hårga start depicting less understandable intentions. I’ll summarize in point form. As a reference, the number of ?’s equates to how weird each was.
- two old people jump off a cliff??
- cray-cray red head Maja puts a pube in Christian’s pie???
- people going missing/killed?
To fill the nine sacrifices requirement, two elderly jumped off a cliff to set the ball rolling. Simon and Connie, the English couple, were the next ones to die/be sacrificed. The anthropology students Josh and Mark, with their idiotic tomfooleries, nailed down the fifth and sixth positions. Ingemar and Ulf, Hårga natives, volunteer to be part of the nine. Which leaves room for one last person, Christian. Again, you’re stuck there wondering, why Christian? To come to that conclusion, the relationship between Dani and Christian requires an even deeper investigation.
The story of Dani progresses and evolves during her induction into the Hårga community. Despite her nasty beginning in the film, Dani’s life is different now. I would go further to say that it ameliorates. That lonely and isolating start is replaced by community and comfort, after she decides to immerse herself amongst the Hårga. In these inbred, freaky Swedes, Dani finds a family with whom she is able to share and feel a part of, something that she clearly has not been feeling back home with anyone, not just Christian. In their strange and dramatic way, the Hårga shows us that they are one collective whole. I’ll point form this out again.
- old people jumping = pain for Hårga
- Christian ❤️ that red head Maja = pleasure shared by women in the room
- Dani’s pain caused by Christian’s adultery = pain for Hårga women
- house burning sacrifice = pain for Hårga
Again, after you can probably remember vividly the flailing and wailing by the Hårga seeing their counterparts endure different forms of sensations. Everything is shared, literally. Joy, anguish, physical pain. Whether or not they can truly experience it, I don’t know. Yet all this for an affection-deprived Dani, is very eye-opening. It’s even alluring.
A scene in the film that I feel is very overlooked, is when Pelle comforts Dani during her meltdown. Sure, we can joke about how he’s trying to be a home-wrecker but let’s get two things straight. First, that home was wrecked before Dani and Christian got on that plane to Sweden. Second, as an alternative, we can look at this act as further proof of how caring and compassionate the Hårga are. In this department, Christian really pales in comparison, which kind of makes him a bad boyfriend. (But we knew that already)
a real family, which everyone deserves.
Dani’s life climaxes when she wins the Maypole dance, a sort of dance competition that decides the May Queen. It is probably the first time in the film, that we see Dani smile this genuinely. She’s happy. Truly happy. Her life has just gone from dark and gloomy to all sunshine and colourful, as I recall myself smiling because her life is becoming better and better the first time I watched the film. It is testament to why the Hårga treasure their traditions in spite of what people think and however they oppose of it. It. Works.
Unlike Dani, the bros and Christian studied the Hårga from an anthropological perspective, judging and reviewing them, seeing them as some sort of test subject. It’s understandable as well, since I can guarantee that I wouldn’t like living with the Hårga either. Dani’s integration into the Hårga is complete, paired by the fact that she finds some semblance of a family.
The last act in the film was Dani’s first decree as the May Queen, effectively sentencing Christian to death. Why? First and foremost, to say that she chooses Christian on the basis that he does not love her anymore is unfair. His adulterous affair with Maja however, is a reason valid enough for Dani. I mentioned earlier that Maja places a pube in Christian’s pie as a “love spell” to make him reciprocate her feelings towards him. Basically, he cheats on his girlfriend with some redhead named Maja.
All of that sums up to Dani’s smile at the end of the film. She finally escapes the grasp of a toxic relationship, and found what she has been craving for throughout the film: a family. Personally, I thought it was an empowering moment for the protagonist, and it showed the change in her. Hence, the smile.
Symbolism & Details
If there’s one thing which the film excels at, it is the implementation of details and foreshadowing for the various events to come. I trust that we as the audience, without doing much interpretation, can realize that the wall carvings and paintings meant more than just decoration. They gave cues to what would happen, accurately describing some of the most memorable scenes in the film.
Something very noticeable as well is the change in scenery between Dani’s American home and Hårga land. It is a stark contrast of dark and bright, manifesting Dani’s view of the two distinct places. Her home, was equivalent to a place so sad, depressing and isolating. Hårga was vibrant and felt like a paradise, which paralleled to how Dani felt, at ease and part of a greater collective, unostracized and accepted.
The runic alphabets seen on the character costumes actually gave further indication to the characters’ paths. Dani’s runes meant “journey” and “new beginning”. We all know by now just what a revealation her “journey” in Hårga, was. For more information about these runes, check out this link!
There is so much detail to this film and the sheer amount of symbolisms are not accurately described in this article. If you have the time, do watch the film again. Pull out a pencil and some paper, and write down every minor detail!
Of course, Ari Aster’s film took its inspiration from various Swedish sources. The folklore and Norse mythology were building stones to the cult whilst alcohol is consumed, not psychedelic drugs during the real festival (Yes, Midsummer is a real thing!) Ari Aster followed a good amount of Swedish traditions, but added his own gritty plot and twist to it, making Midsommar and its thematic sense of family arguably one of the best films of 2019.
Although praises were (rightfully, in my opinion) heaped onto this film. There were some critics of this film that did not share my belief, and that’s the beauty of film critiquing. Not everyone sees everything the same way.
Midsommar is, indubitably, an Aster film, an A24 film. Cinematography and technicality paired each other well and don’t get me started on the colour palette. A picture is worth a thousand words, and with the colours and details in each scene, I don’t doubt that one bit. Thanks to this myriad of colours, you get lost into Midsommar, but perhaps this colour scheme is meant to make up for its lack of interest.
The film began exceptionally well. A good background introduces us to Dani’s character. In Hårga, the genre of the film felt like the reverse of thriller to just-trying-to-disturb-you-for-the-sake-of-it. It is immediately evident that the visitors (with exception of Dani and Christian) are nothing but sacrificial lambs. The Hårga could easily have chosen the nine sacrifices from their own kind without claiming the lives of the Americans and Brits. Even when the visitors realize that this is not a place they want to stay in, there is not a shred of fight-or-flight reflex in these guys. Rational thought was absent when they obediently consumed whatever they were given without stopping to wonder, “Could this somehow harm me?”, especially after the two elderly had weirdly committed suicide. Sometimes, it felt predictable, and I am not referring to the symbolism and foretelling crap from earlier. The film unravels into chaos with unnecessary disturbing material that is done for the sake of being disturbing. This is where the film being pitched as a horror piece does not work. It makes the viewer uncomfortable, but in the awkward and embarrassing way. In the words of some people, the film was “mundane”, and quite fathomably so.
Lastly, the most annoying aspect of the film was the unnecessary fillers which had no purpose in plot development. Shave that off, and you would not have such a long film. Like some people mentioned, the film was “slow”.
I gathered many opinions regarding Midsommar in preparation of this article. Most had good things to say about it, whereas some had negative reviews. For me, after watching the movie three times, the effort put in the film by the whole cast is irrefutable. I think going down the road, you can expect any film by our dear Ari Aster to be elaborate. As a whole, taking into consideration the plot’s slight truancy, and my own personal adoration for cult movies, Midsommar makes my list for top five films of 2019.
But seriously, rewatch Midsommar if you can!