Midsommar: The Horrors of a Toxic Relationship

Christian attempts to comfort Dani during a panic attack.

In 2018, Ari Aster shocked audiences with his directorial début, Hereditary. Following Annie, the film is a moody horror film akin to Rosemary’s Baby and Don’t Look Now. While at times explicit and gory, the thematic focus of Hereditary deals with grief and toxic relationships within a deteriorating family through the framework of a cult conspiracy.

Likewise, Midsommar, Aster’s second film, explores an unraveling (and all-but-over) relationship between Dani Ardor and her boyfriend, Christian. The plot deals with grief through the framework of, well, a cult conspiracy.

To say Midsommar is the same as Hereditary is an oversimplication. Hereditary focuses on a deeply troubled and flawed woman who wants to make amends with her son and survive her grief. Aster clues us in—with a standard classroom scene where the characters discuss Greek tragedies—that, in the end, Annie and her remaining family will not heal from their wounds and will not learn from their mistakes.

While this may be fatalistic, the ultimate impression is that the narrative portrays the characters’ issues with the utmost peril and importance. Midsommar captures the dread and desperation of a broken relationship through folk horror, a meticulously crafted fairy tale.

The Beginning

At the start of the film, Dani receives a troubling message from her sister, Terri, which alludes to suicide. She calls Christian, panicked, and Christian attempts to reassure her nothing is wrong, that she should ignore her sister’s “attention seeking.” He and his friends are not empathetic to Dani’s worries.

It turns out Dani’s fears were justified, as her sister has killed herself and her parents by filling the house with carbon monoxide.

Christian, who has been urged by his friends to break up with Dani because of her using him as an emotional crutch, now feels compelled to stay with her, though he wants to get away. Reluctantly, he and his friends let Dani, still deeply grieving, come with them to Sweden for thesis research on the Hårga culture, of which one of Christian’s friends, Pelle, comes from.

When some of the friends disobey the Hårga’s rules or openly disrespect certain traditions, gruesome events occur as Dani feels like she belongs with the cult, though she is initially horrified and triggered by both the hallucinatory drugs and seeing the Hårga’s suicide ritual for elderly members.

Dani, Christian, and Symbolism

The runes in Midsommar capture different meanings in the film.

Dani and Christian are together out of obligation. They have been together for four years, so they might as well honor the commitment, even if they are miserable and resentful toward each other. Such a relationship, this together-but-not partnership prolonged beyond a healthy duration, is not uncommon.

Furthermore, the death of Dani’s family magnifies the conflict because, though Christian wants to end the relationship and grows distant to Dani’s efforts at closeness (despite a critique of her that she is sexually distant). Dani needs someone close to understand her, but Christian is unwilling (and perhaps, with his emotional immaturity, unable) to give that to her. This push and pull drives much of the film.

When looking at the dynamics between Dani and Christian, an intriguing aspect of the film is to look at the construction of their characters. Aster is deliberate in how he names characters and what they wear.

Dani’s name may simply be “Dani” or it may be the French feminized form of “Daniel.” It is worth noting almost all the non-Hårga characters, except Connie, have Biblical names, which further cements them as outsiders in the culture they visit. Some of them, like Josh, regard the culture with a clinical anthropological perspective, while others do not regard the culture with much of anything at all.

When it comes to a Christian perspective, while Aster himself is non-religious, both Hereditary and Midsommar work within the framework of Christian literary conceptions of pagan cults where the people within, despite their outwardly friendly demeanor, are sinister and violent. Where he makes the Hårga more complex is in their capacity to be a safe haven for a traumatized young woman, though just how safe will be analyzed.

Meanwhile, Christian’s name is . . . well, when one is named Christian and in a film with a pagan cult . . . Dani is essentially stuck between the “Christian” world and the Hårga, in which she must make a choice to where she gives her devotion. Christian is not a good partner. He is cowardly and sees Dani’s trauma as a burden; he steals his friend’s thesis after only caring about the Hårga culture for a few days. Meanwhile, the Hårga, especially Pelle, are considerate and giving, leading Dani deeper into their culture.

Going back to Dani, “Daniel(le)” means “God is my judge.” 1 In the Bible, Daniel is a man tossed into the lions’ den who emerges victorious, saved by an angel and restored to glory after his accusers are slain. Dani indeed finds herself surrounded by danger and emerges victorious after a man who has wronged her is sacrifices, though the similarities are complicated.

The identities of Dani’s “lions” are unclear. The Hårga may fit as the lions or enemies for a Christian parable, but they never pose a danger to Dani and in fact are poised as her saviors, her angels, who take her away from her crumbling old life. Christian and his friends, most of them unsympathetic or indifferent toward Dani’s plight, fit the role better, her ascent in the Hårga culture therefore being parallel yet reversed from Daniel’s divine assistance.

“Ardor,” Dani’s last name, means passion or “an often restless or transitory warmth of feeling.” 2 It also means “fire,” which, given the ending, is significant as the relationship between Dani and Christian reaches an ultimate cathartic ardor in the final scene. One can argue the death of the relationship was the only way Dani’s inner fire could flourish.

Dani feels strongly, mostly in a negative sense. Grief and helplessness torment her. Before her sister kills herself and their parents, Dani takes Ativan, a medication for anxiety. After the death of her entire family, she only has Christian as comfort, which is poor consolation as he plans to leave for Sweden and grows angry and defensive when she tells him she wished he told her.

Her main conflict deals with ardor in both senses: She must decide between passion (love she clings to) and fire (burning her past, which has caused her trauma). When Christian dies, the failing relationship dies too, which may be seen as freeing.

She has to choose whether to give keep futilely trying to give life to a dying relationship or to give life to herself, without Christian. Dani’s predicament and turmoil is encapsulated well when Ryan Bradford, on the heels of the Netflix show The Haunting of Hill House and Hereditary, spoke of trauma in his article “Terrifying Family Trauma Is the New Thing in Horror” 3:

Perhaps what we’re witnessing in horror right now is not a commentary on a single anxiety, but a culmination of all the anxieties that exist in culture—the shit that’s built up, affecting generation after generation, especially women . . . who’ve internalized the brunt of trauma for so long and are only now able to channel it. The rage that stems from internalizing trauma (while coddling men).

Bradford also criticizes the end of The Haunting of Hill House for insinuating that, by facing the ghosts, grief, trauma, and mental illness are suddenly healed in the end. The way Midsommar displays and complicated a “happy ending” will be discussed soon.

Despite wanting his presence, Dani continuously tries to appease Christian and not be the “needy” or “clingy” girlfriend. When he forgets her birthday, she blames herself and doesn’t want to bother him. It is as if she puts the failed relationship on her own back until the end. While struggling with anxiety and a stressful family situation before the murder-suicide, she is called the needy, emotional, sexless girlfriend. Meanwhile, she actively worries over bothering him shortly before her sister takes her and their parents’ lives.

Also, when it comes to symbols, the rune on the characters’ wardrobes also hint at the relationship’s fate. No longer in her “normal” clothes she had on for most of the trip, the runes on Dani’s dress deal with going on a journey (the “R” or Raido) and an awakening (the sideways hourglass, or Dagaz, foreshadowing her changing lens of the world and rebirth). Meanwhile, Christian’s up-arrow symbolizes self-sacrifice. While Christian is indeed sacrificed, he is not at all self-sacrificing, more concerned with his own comfort and satisfaction than reciprocating Dani’s feelings and showing empathy.

Worth noting is the above picture with blood rubbed on the stone with runic symbols. The two symbols covered in blood, the “R” and the up-arrow, represent Dani and Christian, particularly the ruination of their relationship. Dani’s rebirth and freedom must be born from blood-letting and destruction, and from destruction, creation, a cycle as the Hårga speak of. 4

Let’s Talk About that Ending

Dani smiles as her boyfriend burns alive.

“I think this might be a happy ending,” author Michael Koresky says to Ari Aster in a video. 5 A long pause ensues.

Midsommar complicates the idea of either a downer ending or a cathartic one. Upon a first watch, it may be nice to see Dani prevail and the man who hurt her killed, but Aster problematizes this conclusion. Some have found the ending liberating. It is not surprising, especially for those who have endured abusive relationships, that this may be so. Upon seeing Dani finally happy, the author of this article may have even made a ten-second review of the film consisting only of an image of Lucille Bluth saying, “Good for her.”

Essentially, though, the cult gaslights and manipulates Dani into murdering her boyfriend and all ties to her old life, thus making her dependent on the cult as her new family. She and Christian are drugged, their judgments impaired. Dani is in a vulnerable position. Where else can she go? What else can she do?

Dani has been isolated and desperate to the point of smiling as her boyfriend burns alive in a fire as he wears a disemboweled bear. Not to presume, but this is a unique position. One must wonder how much being the May Queen is truly Dani’s decision while she’s vulnerable and given hallucinatory drugs that affect her already tenuous psyche.

An important aspect of the climax entails Christian’s infidelity. Christian is drugged and confused when he has sex with Maja, a young woman who has been attempting to seduce him throughout the movie. One being drugged precludes informed consent. Therefore, the consensual aspect of the sex is, if one is generous, cast into doubt. Saying the ordeal is rape is not out-of-bounds. No matter how terrible he is to Dani, Christian does not deserve rape. No one does.

From Dani’s perspective, her boyfriend has willingly cheated on her, and therefore he deserves to die, but Christian, despite all his flaws, was coerced into the sex act. He is not an outwardly despicable man who means harm to Dani, which makes his past behavior insidious; toxic partners are not always as obvious in their problematic behavior and often compel their partners to stay because they have good moments, too.

However, since Christian was raped, him being burned alive for infidelity is an extremely dark turn that sours any satisfaction from a comeuppance. He is not a good person or a great person, sure. He is immature and selfish, but this does not condone rape and death. For more on the dynamic of grotesque retribution, Aster speaks about how Midsommar pays tribute to fairy tales.

Romance and Fairy Tales

Hårga women cry with Dani once she discovers Christian’s infidelity.

Aster admits he wrote Midsommar during a bad breakup of a longterm relationship, so he meant for the film to feel as “cataclysmic” as a committed partnership falling apart. He also mentions a love for melodrama. In this film, a relationship drama is magnified to almost mythic proportions when it concerns the ethereal yet grim reality of the cult juxtaposed with Dani’s grounded trauma.

In the aforementioned video interview, Aster says Midsommar is a “contribution to the folklore subgenre” and “was meant to be a fairy tale” but realistic enough for the audience to connect.

Fairy tales are often gruesome, though not always. Fairy tales and folktales are diverse and differ by culture and messages. Not all fairytales by the Brothers Grimm are violent; while some have similar themes, these stories were compiled through linguistic work which involved speaking to many people.

That being said, fairy tales can be dark, such as the Italian story “Sun, Moon, and Talia,” the original version of “Sleeping Beauty,” which involves rape, forced pregnancy, attempted cannibalism, and attempted immolation. The main character, Talia, marries the king who raped and impregnated her while she was unconscious. They live happily ever after, after the queen who attempted to kill her and her babies is slain.

Though the queen’s comeuppance is not outlandish, given that she attempted to kill Talia and have her children cooked into pies, in many fairy tales, the consequences largely outweigh the crimes. Cinderella’s sisters are mean to her, so birds pluck out their eyes. Fairy tales are said to have happy endings, but these endings are often esoteric; happiness for one character comes with misery, torment or brutal death for others.

In the context of the tale, the sisters being harmed is meant to be cathartic because of their past petty behavior, but do they deserve such a disproportionate punishment? The same goes for Christian. The dismissive way he treats Dani and others (and life in general, often a passive observer) is infuriating, and infidelity is a terrible and harsh blow, but he was a victim in the latter scenario, which does garner sympathy.

Even if he wasn’t nonconsenting in the fertility ritual, the elaborate and gruesome way he dies far outweighs his mistakes. It is definite and unforgiving, as dramatic as Cinderella’s sister having part of her foot cut off or a curious wife being threatened with death and chastised by the narrator for opening the door where her husband keeps his former wives’ bodies.

Dani doesn’t thrive once she gets her prince; she seemingly thrives once she lets him go, as if Little Red Riding Hood would persevere if the wolf eats the lumberjack. The ending mirrors Robert Eggers’s The VVitch, where a female character, oppressed by the circumstances around her, finds release with subversive and violent forces that orchestrated the tumult.

In both Hereditary and Midsommar, a sense of helplessness permeates the characters. They are helpless in the midst of turmoil, no matter how they try to cope. Emotions are heightened often in violent or painful ways. At the core of it, Dani wants closeness she cannot get from Christian no matter how much she tries. She wants a family. Pelle says to Dani, speaking about what happened after he lost his parents:

Because I had a family—here—where everyone embraced me and swept me up and I was raised by a community that doesn’t distinguish between what is theirs and what is not theirs. That’s what you were sacrificed to. But I—have always felt . . . held. By a family. A real family. Which everyone deserves. And you deserve.

Within the cult, Dani finds compassion and empathy. When some is in pain or even experiencing pleasure, cult members tend to mimic the person experiencing the sensation. When the Ättestupa ritual occurs, where two elderly people kill themselves by falling from a long height because they have reached the peak age of seventy-two, the Hårga moan in pain when an elderly man does not succeed in killing himself but is instead terribly injured.

Most noticeably is when Dani finds Christian and Maja being intimate, and she vomits, distraught. Surrounded by the Hårga women, Dani weeps, gasps, and moans, and the women all cry with her, so she finally has others channeling how she feels and validating it through them feeling what she feels. After feeling unseen and uncared for, she and the women are united in pain and catharsis.

They are, as Aster puts it, “mirroring each other,” which may be construed as “sweet,” though insidiously, “idea of the individual is extinguished there.”

The cult is more functional than Dani’s main (and only) relationship, but she “goes from one co-dependent relationship to another.” Again, this mirrors The VVitch, where the idea of newfound freedom and exultation is pitted against a situation where the main character has been navigated into this position by the forces she now enthusiastically joins.

Unfortunately, an abuse or toxic relationship survivor going from one co-dependent relationship to another, as Aster frames the ending, is not unusual. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline 6, a victim will try to leave a bad relationship seven times before succeeding. Sometimes, when they leave, it is hard to know how to have a healthy relationship while still contending with unresolved trauma and loneliness.

The idea of perpetually being in relationships that are possibly unhealthy and not knowing whether someone can be trusted to not manipulate an individual is a very real anxiety in both platonic and romantic partnerships. Someone might find themselves perpetually dependent on others, which is its own horror once agency is removed.

When questioning the extent of Dani’s liberation, the ending in the screenplay reveals many of the tensions between catharsis and co-dependency:

A SMILE breaks onto Dani’s face. She has surrendered to a joy known only by the insane. She has lost herself completely, and she is finally free. It is horrible and it is beautiful.


An interesting aspect entrenched in the language here pertains to the idea of loss and joy being connected. To be happy, to no longer have to apologize and show regret and doubt, Dani must lose who she has been, an unraveling.

Unlike the ending of other films that deal with trauma, Dani’s happiness does not preclude a continued sense of loss or give the audience full catharsis and comfort in her state at the end. The audience simply does not know what Dani’s state of mind will be after she finishes smiling and the ashes smolder. Her momentary contentment could be, like the ardor of youth, transitory.

Recovery and moving on from trauma, grief, and toxic relationships are not linear processes. Healing comes with difficulties. These troubles can compound and make the road to normalcy long and arduous as the world feels distorted and surreal. Dani has entered a different world with an uncertain conclusion. Survival is bloody.

On a broader level, if one takes an authorial lens, Aster took his own trauma and made art. He took a destructive event and made it creative, building from the ruins. Midsommar, in the tradition of many lurid fairy tales, exposes these raw emotions, this rollercoaster of horror and freedom, dread and relief—horrible and beautiful.

Works Cited

  1. “Daniel.” Behind the Name. https://www.behindthename.com/name/daniel
  2. “Ardor.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ardor
  3. Bradford, Ryan. “Terrifying Family Trauma Is the New Thing in Horror.” VICE. November 1, 2018. https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/kzj4v3/terrifying-family-trauma-is-the-new-thing-in-horror
  4. Snyder, Chris and Geaghan-Breiner, Meredith. “All the hidden meanings you may have missed in the ‘Midsommar’ ending.” Business Insider. Jul 8, 2019. https://www.businessinsider.com/midsommar-ending-explained-hidden-meanings-symbols-clues-2019-7
  5. “Ari Aster on Midsommar, Cathartic Endings, the Director’s Cut, and His Favorite Films.” Youtube. July 12, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPGaPTdno10
  6. “50 Obstacles to Leaving: 1-10.” National Domestic Violence Hotline. June 10, 2013. https://www.thehotline.org/2013/06/10/50-obstacles-to-leaving-1-10/.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Received a B.A. in English in 2017. Author of Dove Keeper, Birds in a Cage, and Rabbit Heart. Huge witchy nerd. Horror film lover. I really like bats.

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  1. I absolutely loved it. I think Hereditary was definitely creepier in some ways, but I think this is less about jump scares. It’s more of a slow burn.

  2. Did anyone notice that Dani’s blanket had the same pattern, but different colour scheme, as the carpet in The Shining?

    • Emily Deibler

      I did not! But it just goes to show you how many great details there are in the film.

    • I truly enjoyed it! The way it built upon those themes of loss and trauma in the narrative kept me engaged all the way through. I actually felt for her character’s plight and hoped the ending might offer some kind of justified conclusion. I was not disappointed.

  3. That'sMe

    Plenty of scope for personal interpretation which shows the depth of the world Ari Aster has created. For me it was a mirror on society with its absurdities and horrors which are excused when all are complicit.

    • Emily Deibler

      For sure! A lot of the horror in Midsommar is essentially explained away by tradition, and everyone just sort of goes along with it until it’s too late.

  4. Revenge is the theme of Midsommar. Connie and Simon, the London couple, disappear because Connie dumped Ingemar and took up with Simon. Mark gets killed because he disrespected the sacred burial grounds by peeing on them. Josh is bludgeoned because he photographed the holy book after being told it would not be allowed. (When Dani asks what will happen at Attestupa, Pelle just says, “it’s complicated”. Josh, the Northern European folklore specialist, already knows, but he doesn’t tell her. What was up with that, Josh?) Christian had to die because he couldn’t or wouldn’t ease Dani’s limitless neediness.

    Very clever of Ari Aster to make the black guy the expert on the uncivilized white folks. The know-it-all white researcher explaining the ways of “savage” indigenous black and brown tribes in the jungle is such a cliché in the movies, it even got sent up in a Progressive Insurance commercial. Before Midsommar and Hereditary, Aster was already infamous for his short thesis film Strange Thing About the Johnsons, about wild goings on in an elite black household. Now that’s a horror film!

    • Emily Deibler

      Interesting point about the inversion of racial politics in this film. You’re right, the dynamic of the know-it-all white researcher imposing themselves on indigenous people of color is a very tired trope.

  5. Thanks for the in-depth analysis.

    Enjoyed this film but didn’t think it was as good as Hereditary. I thought Hereditary was great as a study of family grief and the mental breakdown of mother and son.

    As a similar study on family-related grief I thought Midsommar relied a little too much on creating atmosphere (which was well done) and not quite enough on developing the characters, who on the whole seemed remarkably sanguine when their companions started disappearing, Connie aside.

    Florence Pugh was great. Having heard Will Poulter’s interview on Kermode & Mayo I was very surprised at how little he had to do in the film.

  6. M. L. Flood

    This is very well-written. Your thoughts on the symbolism in Midsommar and Hereditary are inspired. Thank you for sharing this with us!

  7. I’ll never look at Swedish women the same again.

  8. I’ve come to the conclusion that what was portrayed was essentially just a cult. Things appear calm and beautiful on the surface but eventually the illusion vanish and reality barges in. Like any cult they must replenish their numbers and we are shown how that is accomplished. But jealousy rears it’s ugly head and the offerings go up in flames.

  9. Mathias

    There is no story line, it’s like a documentary on a homicidal pagan cult, not a film.

    • Well it speaks volumes to how diverse and expansive the horror genre is right now. I thought this was great, and hope that films like this continue to be made.

    • “like a documentary on a homicidal pagan cult” sounds like an excellent horror movie to me . . .

  10. I didn’t find the film scary at all (foreboding and creepy) but I really enjoyed myself watching it, which I know is an odd thing to say as normally not being scary is why I don’t like a horror film (and a big part of why I disliked the grating “Hereditary”). And I know this isn’t necessarily the desired reaction from a horror film, but I’m now obsessed with the beautiful dresses and hair-styles. The May Queen dance seemed fun too (…not anything that came after, obviously).

    • Emily Deibler

      I definitely preferred this over Hereditary, though I did enjoy that one. The aesthetic you mention was also an allure for me, since the costume design was very well done, and I’m a sucker for weird flower cults.

      • I don’t think it was trying to be scary as such, it seemed to me that Aster was interested in drawing out entirely different emotions from scenes that would otherwise be standard folk horror tropes. Which is why the messed up x scene was hilarious rather than just creepy and uncomfortable, and why the final sacrifice has a joyous feeling despite being horrific. I’d be hard pressed to call it a horror film, because despite clearly having the content of one the primary emotions it seeks to evoke are not of that nature. It is a hard film to pin down.

        • Emily Deibler

          Interesting points. I think the fear in Midsommar has a lot to do with grief and isolation, but horror is often a tough genre to pin down because fear is so individualistic.

  11. Florencio

    I liked the crying scene – often in films about cults, it’s not made very clear what finally convinces the new convert. Dani just wanted someone to accept her pain and share it.

  12. I’m not sure whether I enjoyed this film or not.

    It’s simultaneously funny, boring, serious, tame, gory, predictable and shocking.

    It felt like not much actually happened, which is sort of strange considering the final scene is zombified man being burnt to death while stitched inside a bear corpse at the behest of his girlfriend. There was very little tension.

  13. Obdulia

    I enjoyed Hereditary quite a lot, it kept the tension going throughout.

    Midsommar just never really landed though. I found myself getting less invested, less interested and less tense as the movie went on. It was like horror done in reverse. You knew immediately that the villagers would do them harm, before they even jumped on the plane…. at least Hereditary kept you in suspense as to who the actual antagonist(s) was or what their actual motive was.

    Did not help that loads of stuff appeared to happen randomly and off-screen. Like, the couple from London just disappearing – it doesn’t really work because it’s so easy to connect the dots that you know immediately they’ve been offed, but they’re characters are so underdeveloped it’s hard to give a shit. Similarly when Mark went off with that girl, it’s like “oh, I guess he’s dead too now” – then you never see him again and it’s really hard to care, he’s been a randy turd from the start.

    It reminded me of a slasher film where a bunch of arsehole teenagers get offed one by one, the problem is that 1) slasher films aren’t actually scary and 2) even when they are you actually need to see the murder take place (or at least get a jump-scare)

    • Emily Deibler

      Interesting perspective, because I think it was reversed for me. Midsommar really struck me in the right way, whereas I liked Hereditary, but it didn’t wow me like I thought it would besides Collette, as usual, killing it.

  14. Runtime: 147 minutes! That does it. I’m not seeing this thing. Last night I watched an opera that ran that long. It was enriching and edifying, and filled with excellent performances and incredible stagecraft. I’m not following that with cruelty, gore, and the very worst of humanity. For that, I read the news.

    • Counter argument: the film was great. My audience seemed to enjoy it as much as I did. It’s a beautifully shot, atmospheric film that is occasionally quite funny, occasionally hard to watch, but absolutely never boring across all 147 minutes. Humanity doesn’t come off great, no. But when was the last time you watched something that didn’t rely at least a little bit on the flaws of humankind?

      • Emily Deibler

        Though I respect viewers who don’t like watching long movies because I struggle to keep my attention on longer films, a lot of truly splendid movies are that length and longer. Most Korean films run over two hours–I Saw the Devil, The Wailing . . . The Handmaiden is close to three hours, and it’s one of my favorite movies! I think the trouble comes when the movie feels overly inflated, and for me, Midsommar never felt like that.

        However, I respect that you don’t want to watch something with an abundance of violence. I don’t believe films that show cruelty and gore are solely made of that, and Midsommar has these aspects with a purpose in mind, but everyone is different in terms of what they want to see.

    • Hui Hiatt

      Thanks for letting us know. For what it’s worth I have no intention of sitting through a 147 minute opera.

    • Doesn’t a lot of opera show a lot of cruelty and the worst of humanity?

  15. Reardon

    Midsommar for me was imaginative, visually rich, it had an excellent soundtrack and genuinely engaging on many fronts.

  16. Fairley

    I thought it was about male rape. The lead male character gets drugged and raped by a group of women and then his girlfriend blames him and burns him alive. In doing so she skips over the consenting older and less attractive man to kill he comatose and unconsenting boyfriend

    • Emily Deibler

      I think you’re onto something there. Christian’s rape complicates the idea of catharsis and him getting his comeuppance for his past behavior because what he is ultimately killed for isn’t his fault. I actually like this as a development because it’d be very simple to make him reprehensible and do something where the audience doesn’t feel as uneasy about his death, but the sheer brutality combined with the coercion and manipulation (of him and Dani, respectively) makes the ending all the more dark and nuanced. I like that I don’t just feel 100% triumph or despair.

    • Winfred

      He didn’t get “raped”. No one threatened him with consequences if he said no, and he certainly wasn’t at gunpoint when he did what he did.

      • Emily Deibler

        He was drugged and manipulated into the situation. That’s rape. And after we saw what happened to anyone who displeased the Hårga for whatever reason, I highly doubt things would’ve gone well if he tried to walk away.

  17. Strangely enough, this movie seems to have a lot in common with The Wicker Man (the 1970’s version, NOT the one with Nicholas Cage).

  18. Amyus

    Not my kind of film, I prefer something with more depth and character development, but you did a good job with your article all the same. I’d recommend taking a look at The Critical Drinker’s review on YouTube. Spot on in my opinion.

  19. There’s nothing fascinating, engaging or dramatic in Midsommar. For a movie that is supposed to be frightening and clearly ‘academic’, what you’re left with is the emperors new clothes. Of course some people proclaim it to be incredible, but they’re the ones who are wiser because they get it. See? What they do actually get is a film that runs 30 minutes too long, lacks any drama and holds no thrills whatsoever.

    • Some people find fear and unease where you don’t. Some are happy to spend two and a bit hours watching a film reveal itself, and some would rather it get to the ruddy point. On any given day, I might be either.

  20. This along with Hereditary seals Ari Aster’s position not just as a great horror director, but as a truly talented filmmaker, he obviously knows his onions

    • Emily Deibler

      I agree, Myrtis! It was enlightening to hear him speak in the videos I watched. I’m interested to see what Aster does next.

  21. After watching I wracked my brain trying to think which film it most reminded me of and on the drive home it came to me, “2001 Maniacs.”

  22. What I would like to know is what would have happened if Dani decided to choose the other dude. Was there a contingency plan in place? After all, if Christian was allowed to leave, he would call the cops. Would they force the dancing May Queen to resign, or would they demand a second referendum?

    • Emily Deibler

      That’s an interesting question! I think that really shows just how manipulative the Hårga were; they manufactured a situation where Dani would be strongly compelled to choose to kill Christian instead of the other man, and I believe she was still drugged at that point, too.

    • TOLD000

      Traditionally, the cult controls the local police. An investigation would magically find nothing and it would be prominently mentioned that both outsiders were on hallucinogenic drugs most of their visit.

      • It depends on which traditional folk horror movie you are talking about. Both Wicker Man movies featured cops as sacrifices.

        Ride With the Devil is an example of what you mean.

        The issue isn’t about what can be proven, but suspicion. Dani may well deny Christian’s claims, but they would still have to account for the four other missing people.

        That said, we know what happens to cops who unwisely go looking for missing people in pagan communities. Also, they could lie low for another 90 years, although the fact that no lives past 72 (no death certs) might be another clue.

        I believe elders everywhere should think things through before leading everyone on a merry death dance round a May Pole.

    • Logic isn’t often a strong point in horror films. You have to suspend your disbelief as character motivations/actions are usually odd. So none of those things bother me. I’m trying to remember whether there was never a working mobile network – I know Josh kept trying to Google things – it would make sense if it was somehow off-grid.

  23. This film is about breaking out of the loneliness, selfishness and mental harm of individualised living in order to find peace in a community – something greater than yourself and your own ego (and all the afflictions related to it).

  24. Hereditary was one of the most hysterical and awful films I have seen. Many in the cinema had difficulty suppressing their laughter, several walked out before it ended. This latest offering, Midsommar, seems equally over the top.

  25. Great read. TBH I’d rather watch this than trash like Annabelle or the usual poltergeist/evil spirit garbage we get nowadays, but it wasn’t very satisfying.

  26. This was one of my favorite, classifiable “horror” films that came out so far this year. I am such a huge fan. I have been looking for an article that analyzes the relationship dynamic between all this young adults within the film and I definitely appreciate your perspective on this.

  27. This was one of my favorite, classifiable “horror” films that came out so far this year. I am such a huge fan. I have been looking for an article that analyzes the relationship dynamic between all these young adults within the film and I definitely appreciate your perspective on this.

  28. Thank you for this great article, Emily. There were so many unusual things that struck me about this film: it’s utter beauty, the unsettling use of perpetual daylight as a horror device, Aster’s use of sound (perhaps the most wild and jarring since Polanski’s ‘Repulsion.’)

    But what kept me thinking about this film and what kept me thinking about ‘Hereditary’ was Aster’s unusual narratives. Is ‘Hereditary’ a supernatural thriller, a family drama? Is ‘Midsommar a relationship movie, a horror film, a psychedelic trip. The stories are winding, multi-thematic, and strange. At first blush, this bothered me. But, Aster is such a sure-footed filmmaker that I am now convinced that these narrative decisions are deliberate.

    Ari Aster’s stories defy our conventions and he may prove to be a filmmaker as wild and maverick as David Lynch.

    • Emily Deibler

      Hi proflong, thank you for your detailed response! I agree that I love that most of the horror occurs in the day, and that, plus the beautiful costumes, is actually more offputting than darkness because the beauty and serenity are shot the same as the violence.

      I also enjoy how Aster’s horror films are intense character studies and family dramas. I’d say they’re both–though horror often gets a bad rap, films in this genre have often been metaphorical and complex, such as The Exorcist showing a young woman being possessed after her parents divorce; the physical ailments and behavioral changes mirror how one might feel during an extreme emotional low or struggles with one’s mental health during a big change. Her mother feels frustrated and utterly helpless when she watches her daughter undergoing tests. This struggle with change and transformation also comes at a time when the main priest character has lost his mother and feels extreme guilt because his religious profession meant his mother died in poor conditions rather than a better but costlier facility.

      Admittedly, I struggled with Hereditary because, at the end of the day, I had similar feelings as I did when seeing The Killing of a Sacred Deer. They’re very similar movies with their Greek myth references and the idea that a fatal flaw and ability to overcome dooms the characters to a terrible fate. While I respect these narrative choices, the fatalist and hopeless ending just isn’t really something I enjoy. I don’t need a purely happy ending, but I don’t like something that’s bleak at the finish, though arguably it could be seen as a ballsy move. I like dark, but I prefer stories that have some hope, no matter how scant. It’s not a flaw with the movies, just a personal preference.

      But what I like about Midsommar is how complicated the ending is. It could be seen as an esoteric happy ending, but the fact Dani has essentially been manipulated into her situation, and so was Christian, darkens the idea that she has finally found a new family of people who care for her. What will what she’s been through and what she’s seen affect her going forward? Can she truly be happy? Christian wasn’t a good person, but his punishment was devastatingly severe, especially when his infidelity–what he’s killed for–was coerced. It’s these layers that really make me appreciate the story and the film as a whole.

  29. Thanks for the great reply. Excellent example of The Exorcist as a thoughtful, philosophical horror film.

    Yah, is it just me or did Christian really get a raw deal?! Please don’t get me wrong: he’s deeply flawed and it was a bad relationship that needed to end but the ‘toxicity’ was more a product of negligence, apathy, and laziness on his part, right? I can relate to his predicament. He wants to end it. He knows that it should end, but how can he end it right now after her family tragedy? Maybe an ambivalent, half-hearted romantic commitment is a kind of abuse. I’ll have to think about it.

    Unrelated: has anyone seen the 2003 film, Midsommer in which a guy named Christian and his girlfriend (whose sister has just committed suicide) and two other friends go to a midsummer festival in Sweden and weird things start to happen? https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0339385/

    I have not. But very interested to investigate the connection if any.

    Cheers again on a great essay!

  30. Emily Deibler

    Good point! Midsommar does tap into that film plot subgenre of people going to a location unfamiliar to them and being threatened. This appears in a variety of ways in horror movies.

  31. I like the complexity Aster created in the movie by not just giving us the perfect ending but keeping the story grounded in reality. Dani is still stuck in the same darkness she once tried to leave. I think it’s beautiful. The article is very well written too!

    • Also I loved how everything was foreshadowed in the murals and art shown in the movie, that just shows the attention to detail

  32. hilalbahcetepe

    I loved this movie so much, it was so much more cerebral than Hereditary yet that’s exactly what made it so horrific. (Spoilers) Dani losing her whole family and only having her shitty boyfriend, Christian, left in the world really unraveled how the entire experience they were about to have was a catalyst for her family’s death and soon-to-be ex-boyfriend. Dani formed a new family with the Harga, and by choice decided to sacrifice and burn the last person she considered family (Christian) after realizing that he never considered her family or treated her like a person of respect, to begin with..

  33. Midsommar may be my favorite horror movie (aside from hush and mother) and I loved your explication of the movie’s storyline. Codependency is a side effect of fear and in this case Christian was under pressure to be Dani’s main support system, which he resented. His complacency is what ultimately leads to his death. Had he been honest with Dani would it be different? Who’s to say? I’d also like to comment on the black characters being killed first, partially out of racism (Harga are all white) and jealousy on the part of the man who brought them there who had sought her as a mate, which I think meant he wanted her as may queen and brought them there for revenge. Notice that only two women were brought to the compound, Josh was NOT used as new blood, and Mark’s sheer idiocy allowed him to be killed and used as a disguise to kill Josh. It’s sad because I’m a way the harga are the only ones to care for Dani in anyway now, though she’s clearly lost her mind. This gruesome take on fairy tales de dysnified shows the dark majesty and history of both religion and folk tales, all while exploring the toxicity of codependency.

  34. In the span of two films, Ari Aster’s become one of my favourite modern writer-directors. There’s something oddly relatable about his approach, especially if you watch his pre-feature shorts; they’re hilariously dark.

    Christian was more comedic in this film than evil, I found. At least on first viewing. The director’s cut has some added scenes that really expand on his selfishness and ignorance, but he’s still just clueless to the point of it being funny.

    It was Dani’s character (and Florence Pugh’s performance) that grounded the film for me. You can see her suppress crazy raw emotion from beginning to fiery end, and that’s what I love about Aster. There’s so much under the surface, and you did a good job of highlighting some of those features; he’s really quite a unique filmmaker.

  35. I enjoyed Midsommar but did not think about it at any great length. I am glad to have read this. Knowing deeply about the intentions behind the film and its influences has definitely made me appreciate it more. Thank you for articulating this so well.

  36. Joseph Cernik

    That this movie “was meant to be a fairy tale” is interesting. I saw this movie and you just get a feeling that it will not end well. The scene where people jump to their deaths and have their heads smashed stood out. A good essay that at looked at the movie deeper than how I saw it.

  37. Eye rolls

    Typical. While the relationship is toxic and the boyfriend is a jerk, the film (especially the ending) is about toxic women and the double standard of toxic feminism. He didn’t hurt her, she emotionally manipulated him and then participated in killing him for not putting up with her exhausting emotional dumping and using him as an emotional crutch. The guy is at his wits end trying to be a good boyfriend to a girl who can’t manage her own emotional baggage and what’s he get for putting up with her crap for all that time? Burned alive by the person he was helping.

    The boyfriend is drugged and raped and his girlfriend has him killed out of spite. He forgot her birthday, so he gets burned to death?

    If any of this would have been done to the girlfriend, everyone would be focused on the atrocious things that happened. It happened to a man instead, so everyone ignores it and once again women who watch this movie hail the woman a victim and what she did as just, despite her awful selfish and criminal behavior.

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