Midsommar — One Year Later

“Is it scary?”

Not a phone in sight, just people living in the moment

In 2015, I was 17 going on 18, I was an emotional and mental mess. I was going in and out of suicidal thoughts. I never knew when the day would come where I would finally do it. I hated myself. The worst part of it all, I was in a toxic relationships. I was perplexed by this girl’s beauty. The way she went about life was intoxicating and I fell hard for her. I gave everything I had and believed in the relationship. I wasn’t receiving the type of love I felt like I deserved back from her. Lurking in every corner of my mind were thoughts of “why is she…” and “does she really…” and so on and so on. There are two sides of every coin and I’ve been on both. I distinctly remember the day I received the text “We need to talk when I get off work”. I was all alone in my room, consumed by darkness. I had no way of dealing with my anxiety at the time. I was alone in the dark and nothing felt real. I turned on the lights, and everything felt too real. I was paralyzed.

That night we broke up. I was dragged through the mud for almost 3 months. That may seem short, but it was stuck with me far longer than I had hoped. I never fully shook that feeling of not feeling loved. It messed with my deteriorating mental health more than I could imagine. For the next 4 years I have been in and out of therapy, almost institutionalized and heavily medicated. I haven’t gone a day without any type of medication in almost 2 years. For every pill I took and every therapy session I balled my eyes out in, I could never pinpoint the exact reason why I was still suffering. I combed through my life and attempted to find a reason but nothing stuck. Different coping methods followed; both positive and negative for my health. It wasn’t until I saw Midsommar where I finally came to terms with my issues and found the root to my problems.

Midsommar is extraordinarily gruesome. At one point, we get a scene where one of the 4 tourists is shown to be brutally butchered alive. Full segments of their body missing as they lay suspended from hooks, lungs exposed, still inflating and deflating. The haunting imagery coincides with the trauma that our protagonist, Dani, faces. Director Ari Aster and his cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski aren’t overly concerned with those moments. They linger on the small joys of its rural Scandinavian setting: the shimmer of the grass in the beginning hours of the morning, the technicolor pockets of the wildflowers on rolling hills, the stillness of the countryside as the film’s central characters lay on their backs during a mushroom trip, gazing up at the sky and out at the nature around them. Most of the film takes place in daylight, a fact to which the camera seems especially attuned. In horror, the freaks and scares lurk in the darkness. A character walks down a dark hallway as the audience waits in anticipation for something to go bump in the night. There is nothing waiting in the darkness. The horrors are out for all to see, surrounded by natural beauty — which is precisely what makes the film so unsettling, the unique horror movie that reminds viewers that violence is always there, in plain sight, or even with those closest to you.

The movie begins with a double murder-suicide. Dani’s sister sends exhaust fumes throughout their house, killing their parents and her sister. Juxtaposed with this scene, Dani’s boyfriend, Christian, is having a dinner date with his bros. While there, they discuss ways in which Christian is unhappy with how clingy Dani is, and how he might be falling out of love with her. Very soon, Christian’s receives a distressing phone call from a hystarical Dani. His efforts to calm her prove to be futile. It’s a tone-setting event for a film that meditates on the place that violence and grief occupy in daily life. That it happens without warning at the film’s onset seems to say that death is random, that evil can come from anywhere, that pain and grief are inescapable. Being alive is not all sunshine and daisies.

Christian was on the verge of breaking up with Dani. Due to severe consequences, he is obligated to keep their bind together and invite her to a summer retreat in Sweden. The setting is idyllic and sweet, but something is not right. Dani and her friends slowly realize that they’ve been invited to the village to participate in a variety of festivities, which they end up doing with a mixture of trepidation, ethnological curiosity, and perverse enjoyment. Different events occur: two elders toss themselves from a giant cliff to their death while one of them gets their face beat in by a giant mallet. The various leaders in the village reassure the newcomers that this is just how things are done around here, that they believe in the idea that nature is a cycle. There are few limits to the hedonism, save one. One villager, explaining how reproduction works in a such a cloistered community, remarks, “We respect the taboo of incest.”

Watch this on an empty stomach like I did

Ari Aster’s previous venture, Hereditary was, a by the books horror porn of creaks and cracks and jumpscares. But there’s none of horror’s cheap tricks here — no real jump scares, no pornographic gore. The film is straightforward and forthright about what horrors the village holds, telegraphing it in pictograms painted in the cabin that all of the young people sleep in. It tells you, this is what violence is going to happen, and then it does.

At the end, we are left with a paralyzed Christian, stuffed in the carcass of a bear and Dani, the May Queen of the Midsommar Festival. The leaders attempt to elicit a response from Dani: who will be the last one we sacrifice in our fire temple? With tears in her eyes, she stares deep into Christian. She trembles with the May Queen dress on her, the pedals from the flowers shaking uncontrollably. Then, the final scene occurs.

The brilliance of the tonal whiplash extends to the score, composed by the British producer Bobby Krlic, who’s best known for making creeping, bass-heavy drones. Here, Krlic employs the human voice and traditional Nordic instruments to craft slow-moving pieces that dive between lilting melody and atonal mayhem. The final score starts with the sort of ascendant strings that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Sigur Ros record, only to abut in a screeching freefall as absolute pandemonium unfolds on screen. The beauty and the chaos are intertwined. One can always give way into the other at any moment. As the village people lay all sacrifices into the fire temple and light it a blaze, Christian is seen helpless. The terror and unsatisfactory he led Dani on is all coming back to him. Christian exploits Dani’s fear of abandonment by being distant from her, when he is almost always on her side. During the trip, Dani has been slowly becoming aware that she’s trying too hard to make excuses for Christian, who seems disconnected from her, forgetting her birthday and generally being inattentive to her emotional state. As Dani watches Christian burn alive, she tears and sob, then the facade slowly fades. A devilish smile is draw upon Dani’s face. A euphoric moment for her, as she watches Christian endure the pain he has caused her for many months. The closure she didn’t know she definitely needed.

All hail the May Queen

I never got the closure I needed with that 2nd relationship. It came and went, like a fleeting shadow. Our lives went on without knowing what truly went wrong. I would pour my heart out to her, and she remained emotionally unavailable. All I had left were things to ponder, whispers I had heard from her friends and mine alike. For 4 years I struggled with the self standard image of myself. I walked around with insecurities abound. Due to never knowing the “why”, I destroyed myself day after day. I let the fear consume me; I never truly realized though that all of my struggles were somewhat related to that moment. I distinctly remember tears flowing down my face watching Dani view Christian’s demise. Once the credits rolled, I sat there, for an uncomfortable amount of time. Months came and went, and the movie never left my membrane. I started piecing the puzzle together, juxtaposing my actions in Christian’s shoes and Dani’s. At times, I have been a Christian, but it never affected me the way in which Dani’s perspective did. Watching her get HER closure made me feel something. I harkened back to that relationship and how ever since I saw that movie, it has cease to affect me. The control it had on me had left the building.

On a personal level, this film bothered me in ways I didn’t expect. It poked and prodded me and forced me to look at myself like no other film has before. I’ve been more than open with my mental struggles, and seeing the parallels between Dani and I was eye opening. The articulation Aster uses to showcase the mental hurdles Dani used mirrored mine. Dani and Christian’s relationship was raw, like mine. I had to genuinely step back and believe in “moving on”. To this day, I never tried reaching out to this girl for one last “hey I’m sorry” or “can we talk real quick?”. I was petrified to do so. Watching Dani get closure, gave me closure. Part of me wanted the worse for my ex lover. I wished nothing but dred and awfulness for the rest of her life. The other part of me wanted to see her succeed and become everything she hoped to be. I fought with those ideals and wondered which was the true me, and what my real feelings were for her. After Midsommar, it’s safe to say I know which one I’m forever satisfied with.

Striving to be great