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This review has two parts: the first part is a spoiler-free summary and review. A clearly marked asterisk row is followed by an analysis with spoilers.
Although Ari Aster's film Midsommar has received tons of buzz and hype as the must-see horror film of Summer 2019, what audiences may not realize is that underneath all the disturbing imagery and creepy vibes, this film has true things to say about grief, loss and the importance of community in healing after trauma.
Dani (Florence Pugh, Lady MacBeth) is the lone survivor of her nuclear family. She carries her tenable grief like a constant companion. Oh sure, she tries to be chipper and "cool" around her boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor, Glassland), and his friends, Mark, Josh, and Pelle. But she craves support and understanding. She mourns alone. No one really seems to understand what she is going through.
Perhaps a trip out of town will be just the thing, so she accepts the half-hearted invitation to accompany Christian and his friend on a trip to Sweden to visit the village where Pelle grew up in time for the midsummer festivities. Although everything seems idyllic upon arrival, with lots of flowers, smiles, hugs, and starched white culturally appropriate outfits, the group of outsiders slowly learns what the villagers truly want and why they were chosen to attend.
Although the film clocks in at 2 hours and 27 minutes, it didn't feel long to me. With a leisurely pace, quirky Swedish characters, wisecracks from Mark (Will Poulter), and enchanting images, there was plenty of story to keep me occupied. The experience was like being under a spell or hypnosis. Although there were a few searing images, for the most part, violence happens off-screen.
Although there were times I felt anxious and on-edge, the main feeling Midsommar inspired in me was sadness. Sadness for Dani and her terrible loss, for her crappy boyfriend, and for her loneliness. Ironically, as the world of her companions turns nightmarish, Dani's visit to Halsingland brings healing, hope, and a feeling of home, at last. Read on for my take, with spoilers!
*** SPOILERS ***
Anyone who has experience trauma or loss of a family member will be able to relate to Dani. The only difference is that she lost everyone at once -- mother, father, and sister. Even before all of this death happened, it's clear that she had issues of abandonment. She needs reassurance from Christian that he cares, although he appears almost catatonic at times, incapable of empathy of any amount. He is clearly a taker. I have been Dani before, trapped in a toxic relationship, insides screaming that you should leave, but scared to leave and feel even more alone. You tell yourself that maybe you are too needy and just need to be "cool." You won't find anyone else better, etc.
As Dani enters into the Swedish village, she is taken aback by many of the strange sights. When she witnesses the ritual of voluntary death of the elderly, she is horrified, but in her mind, she is thinking about her own parents, who died at an elderly age but not by choice. She begins to bond with Pelle, who confesses he, too, was orphaned at a young age. Pelle shares that he is proud of his community, because they supported him. He wants to know if she feels supported by Christian. We know she doesn't. I was touched by his speech.
Later on, Dani sees her boyfriend having ritual sex with a circle of women watching. Dani finally breaks open and cries, screams, and wails. Her grief is palpable, and all of clothed maidens she was dancing with wail with her. As I watched this scene, I thought of how, throughout the movie, the villagers process emotions as one. When the old man and woman jump, and the old man's death isn't immediate, he cries out in pain. All of the villagers cry out with him. No one has to feel difficult emotions alone. They are there for each other. And it's true, doesn't it feel really good to cry. But so many people try to hold emotions in. It feels like it might hurt less to suck it up and move on. But Dani is able to release her grief with the help of these Scandinavian women.
I won't go over the ending in detail. It has to be watched to understand all the nuances, but I will say that, for the villagers, Christian is punished the worst. He is drugged into paralysis. He can't speak, move, or scream. Out of all the individuals who are burned in the temple, he is the only live person who can't express himself. When the others burn, they scream, and all of the villagers scream with them. Christian is the only one who can't express himself. He is burning alone -- his own personal hell.
I really enjoyed Midsommar and a story, it was quite an experience, but however entertaining it might be, I left the theater, remembering much more the truths it uncovered that mirror my own experiences.