Movie Review: “Midsommar”

Warning for spoilers!

   What does it take to maintain paradise? More accurately, what does it take to maintain the idea of paradise? Can the image of a so-called paradise, as we have conjured it up in our minds over and over again, be the cover for the most horrific things? Why can’t we let things go when they are not ideal anymore? Is it because the memory of the ideal is enough? These are all questions that the film Midsommar prompted me to ask myself. This masterpiece of a mix between folk horror and romantic drama, with some brilliant The Wicker Man vibes, was Ari Aster’s next hit following another horror chef-d’oeuvre, Hereditary. Dani, the film’s female lead, experiences a profound family tragedy, but finds little emotional support from her distant boyfriend, Christian. He and a group of other graduate students of Anthropology decide, after the invitation of their friend Pelle, to visit the latter’s isolated Swedish commune, the Hårga, and attend their traditional midsummer festival that only occurs once every 90 years. It almost never gets dark there. Everything happens under the sun, no matter what it is.

   Christian begrudgingly invites Dani, after she finds out he hid the imminent trip from her. He does not want her to go and she does not want her to go. But she ends up going anyway. Because continuing down the same wrong path seems easier than abruptly changing course, just like what is happening with their crumbling relationship.

   After their arrival in Sweden, everything has this distinct but still ambiguous feeling of obscurity. It never gets dark. Day is day and night is day. They get high, Dani hallucinates, storms off, and falls asleep. When they find her it’s the next day, but only because someone says so. It never went dark and the sun never rose. The ever-present psychedelic lenses through which everything is seen makes this feeling of approaching dread even worse. One cannot face horrors without a clear head. Otherwise…

   The commune people are all welcoming and friendly, maybe overly so. The midsummer rituals start mildly and peacefully, all adhering to the notions the American visitors/tourists/researchers were bound to imagine about an isolated flower-child commune of Swedes in the picturesque countryside. But this narrative is dropped as quickly as it was picked up. Their rituals are not meant for the tourists. They really are not. In the midst of all this, Dani struggles with her relationship with Christian, as she can feel it slipping away from her grasp. His own persona is a mixture of egoism, avoidance, and lame non-apologies, but he lacks the courage to actually say what he keeps implying with his aloof attitude: it’s over. As the film goes on, Dani seems to feel more and more attached to and accepted within the cult (let’s face it, that is what it is), while for all the other foreigners it is the exact opposite. After she comes out triumphant in a dance ritual, as the last woman standing, she is declared May Queen. And the Queen holds powers of life and death over her subjects, powers that she can exercise to set herself free and to sacrifice the remnants of her hurtful past. The film’s profoundly unsettling atmosphere is non-stop. Aster, as the puppet-master behind the scenes, does not relinquish control of the minds of the characters (or the audience, for that matter) for one second, but rather sets them up for their doom early on, while making us wonder: in what hellish way will they get there?

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