The agony of loss is impossible to communicate to those that have not suffered through it. Funerals are a trauma unto themselves with friends, family, and strangers grasping your hands, consuming your line of sight, and offering heartfelt condolences. You hear, “I’m sorry” a lot. The words hold very little meaning after a while. During these dark depths of emotion, it’s crucial that you have someone who will hold you while you wail. Lacking that embrace is another hell. Discovering that embrace to be a fallacy sends shivers of rage through an already harrowed heart.
We’ve deemed Midsommar, the latest punishingly passionate horror film from Ari Aster, the quintessential relationship revenge film with our own Matthew Monagle going as far as labeling it possibly “the most unhealthy breakup film of all time.” As is well-established in the trailer, Dani (Florence Pugh) is desperate for human connectivity after enduring personal tragedy, and she’s looking to her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) for comfort. He’s already on the brink of severing ties, but his toxic cowardice damns them to atrophy. They both escape to Sweden where their mutual friend Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) promises vacation from their worries. Plus or minus a death cult, their romance is damned before stepping on their plane. The trick is how one of them finally finds a home away from home.
↓Spoilers for Midsommar↓
Dani is a wound of a human being. The murder/suicide of her sister and parents has left her utterly alone in the universe. She can barely hold her being together and is teetering on the verge of a mental breakdown. Christian is fulfilling his role as he sees it, dispensing hugs, nods, and terse smiles, but every gesture twitches with microaggression. He’s watching the clock, waiting for his time at her side to end.
Walking into an Ari Aster film, we already know that Pelle’s invitation to partake in his hometown’s midsommar festival is fraught with danger. We definitely know that ceremonies that climax with elders flinging themselves from clifftops are a sure sign of danger ahead. However, Dani, Christian, and their friends do not want to be those ugly Americans. They’re anthropology students; they understand cultural disparity. They’re here to observe, take note, and b.s. their way through the dreaded college thesis.
The Hargas community has tied themselves to the seasons. Childhood represents spring, summer their transition into adulthood, fall their elder years of wisdom, and winter their death. Life is a well-traveled cycle that they accept and actively participate within. Winter is not a season to be feared but seized. On their 72nd birthday, they meet their family to say goodbye and happily take the plunge so their spirit can be adopted into the new life on the way.
During their nine-day celebration of life’s never-ending transition, the Hargas champion nature’s hermaphroditism. The men adorn dresses to accept and accentuate their feminity. The community is a tight one that sends their young adults out into the world to collect new blood for their shallow gene pool. Christian is targeted by Maja (Isabelle Grill) who is just entering womanhood. Willfully ignoring the menstrual blood in his drink and the pubic hairs in his meat pies, Christian succumbs to her love potion forever splintering his relationship with Dani.
As their group of interlopers begins to disappear into the dark corners of the Hargas community, Dani is selected to participate in the Maypole dance that resolves the festival. She is crowned May Queen as the last woman standing. Placed at the head of the dinner table, a salted herring is jammed down her gullet, but her tongue rejects it. Pickled herring is a traditional treat of Midsommar activities, and her inability to consume the fish signifies a dark omen for the community’s future. The groundhog has seen its shadow.
While Christian watched Dani dance the Maypole, he blindly accepted another mysterious elixir from his hosts. Drugged to his gills, he is steered to a barn where he’s to make love to Maja. Submitting to his new station as seed bearer, Christian does his duty while a circle of naked women watches and chants the act into being. One woman sits behind Christian and places her hands upon his buttocks so that he can not remove himself from fatherhood. Complete, Maja rolls on her back and feels the life growing inside her.
Outisde, Dani witnesses the act through the barndoor keyhole. She recoils backward, vomits upon the ground, and screams. This is the final pain. Dani will have no more of it. Her fellow Maypole dancers gather around her and mimic the mixture of agony and rage boiling inside. Your pain is our pain. Your hate is our hate. Their acceptance is a greater gift than anything Christian has ever proposed.
Christian awakens immobile. He’s slumped in a wheelchair and cannot move. He looks up at a stage and sees Dani adorned in flowers. An elder explains that their nine-day ceremony requires nine sacrifices. Four given freely by the community; four taken from the outsiders they’ve lured into the town. The final one must be chosen by the May Queen. She can select Christian, or she can select a Hargas conscripted by a lottery. The whole film births her answer, and it is as satisfying as it is obvious. Extremely.
Christian is taken and placed inside the skin of a bear. Propped at the center of the yellow barn the Americans were warned against entering earlier in the film. The other sacrifices are stationed around him, and three hooded men place flame to straw. As fire touches their body screams erupt from their lungs and the runic symbols of resurrection melt upon the walls.
Dani is home. The Hargas deliver for her what no friend or family member could back in America. Their rituals are not violent or cruel. They are an extension of the seasons. They are life itself. They are love. Dani gave into them and was rewarded the happiness of human connection. We could all be so lucky.