It’s time to let go of this endless sommar afternoon
In which I let “Midsommar” break me like a Lorde album.
|Louis Peitzman||Jul 2, 2019|| 6|
A lot of really terrible shit happens in Midsommar: has writer-director Ari Aster ever seen a head he didn’t want to smash like a watermelon? But no matter how unsettling and gory the film gets, the moment that made me audibly wince happened early in the movie — and feel free to stop reading if you want to go in totally blind. Dani (Florence Pugh) finds out that her boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor), is planning a month-long trip to Sweden that he neglected to tell her about. She’s recovering from serious trauma, but he’s been checked-out of the relationship for a long time. And when she delicately suggests he should have let her know he was about to leave the country for a huge chunk of the summer, he gets defensive. Suddenly she’s apologizing for making things weird and desperately asking him to sit down and talk to her, even though she’s completely in the right. That is horror, and it’s also uncomfortably relatable.
From the twisted mind that brought you Hereditary, Midsommar is a harrowing look at clinging to a relationship that is long past its expiration date, and I haven’t felt so exposed since Lorde released “Hard Feelings/Loveless.” Dani knows from the beginning that Christian doesn’t want to be with her — she’s a liability. But she’s also someone dealing with tremendous loss who doesn’t seem to have many coping mechanisms beyond popping the occasional Ativan, and she’s not ready to accept that her life might actually be better without this dick making the bare minimum effort to be there for her. His friends treat her like an outrageous burden, because she’s anxious and emotional, but she’s anxious and emotional in large part because she’s the only person seeing things clearly. Christian, meanwhile, is a thoroughly unlikable manchild. It’s not clear what about him appeals to Dani, but then, when you’ve outgrown a lover, the whole world knows but you.
Christian is not a monster. He’s not evil — he’s just the fucking worst. It’s a mundane sort of badness, which you can contrast with the more high-stakes carnage going on elsewhere in Midsommar. The film follows Dani as she tags along with Christian and his friends — Josh (William Jackson Harper), Mark (Will Poulter), and Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) — to Hårga, the rural Swedish village Pelle hails from. They’re there to observe a festival that only happens once every 90 years, and yes, because this is an Ari Aster movie and because you’ve seen The Wicker Man before, you know it’s not all flower-picking and folk dancing. There is blood and sex and a whole mess of hallucinogens (all of the things we’re taking ‘cause we are young and we’re ashamed), under the bright sun of Sweden’s near-constant daylight. And while Dani struggles to get Christian to realize that something is very wrong in Hårga, he repeatedly shrugs off her concerns.
In all of the interviews he’s given about Midsommar, Aster has talked about how the film was inspired by a bad break-up, but even that might underplay how significant the dissolution of Dani and Christian’s relationship is to the movie as a whole. Hereditary had plenty of spooky mythology (hail Paimon!) lurking beneath the surface, just as Midsommar uncovers Hårga’s twisted traditions. But the reason Aster’s films get under your skin is the way he grounds them in painful human emotion, rendered with a rawness that is rare in any genre. Florence Pugh’s guttural sobbing recalls Toni Collette’s in Hereditary — and it’s as uncomfortable and upsetting now as it was then. Aster is far from the first filmmaker to make horror in which the heightened elements reflect a truth about humanity: that’s kind of the foundation of the genre. He’s just really, really good at it. Midsommar, like Hereditary, is about loss. Here, however, it’s the loss of a relationship — an unbearably drawn-out process that’s as awkward to witness as it is to endure.
There will definitely be horror fans let down by Midsommar, just as there were horror fans let down by Hereditary. That’s certainly not Aster’s concern: he mostly seems like he could care less about the genre, which I’ll let slide as long as he keeps making movies that fuck me up so efficiently. At nearly two-and-a-half hours, it’s certainly an experience, and not a particularly fast-paced one. I was never bored, but I had to let myself sink in. And it’s all worth it for the trippy conclusion, which gave me more catharsis than I have ever been able to achieve in any of my real-life romantic relationships. With the character of Dani — who is vulnerable, needy, and plagued by insecurity — Aster may have created my new favorite Final Girl, or at least the Final Girl I’m most able to project my shit onto, which was kind of Carol Clover’s whole point. And yes, he has also ruined whatever fantasy I had about idyllic villages in Sweden, but what the fuck are perfect places, anyway?