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It takes a commune: The horror of healing in ‘Midsommar’

Midsommar provides catharsis for deep depression.

It’s no secret that Ari Aster’s Midsommar was influenced by Robin Hardy’s 1973 classic The Wicker Man. Set in a remote location full of greenery and tradition, both movies call on pagan mythologies and human sacrifice. Some of the rites of the Midsommar festival are used to amp up the horror aspect of the film. However, it is the community spirit of the practitioners that ultimately saves Dani from her grief. 

***Warning! Spoilers below for Midsommar***

The film begins with Dani agonizing over her romantic relationship while simultaneously worrying about her family. Dani cannot balance her emotions and despite her friend’s reassurances via telephone, Dani feels guilty for unloading her problems on her boyfriend. This sequence culminates in Dani’s feelings being completely founded. She was not needlessly worrying about anything. Her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) is planning on leaving her because he feels she is too much drama. And most tragically, it is revealed that her sister has killed herself, taking their parents with her. 

The use of lighting and sound is exceptionally interesting during this revelation. Christian holds Dani in her dark apartment as she shakes violently with the turmoil of her feelings. The score intermingles with Dani’s screams of anguish and snow falls from the night sky highlighting the pervasive gloom. 

Even though Christian feels obligated to stay with Dani, she can feel his distance. She fears driving him away so she allows him to gaslight her. She agrees he told her about Sweden, even though he probably didn’t. Her grief frequently rises and she hides herself in bathrooms to stifle her cries. Dani finds herself constantly suppressing her feelings.

Dani is the clear outsider of the group. Christian, Mark, and Josh are all men and disinterested in Dani’s feelings. In one scene, she joins Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) on the couch and Josh very quietly walks away while Christian and Mark have secluded themselves in another room. This is a poignant scene that shows how a near stranger is more concerned with Dani’s feelings than Christian. 

After arriving at the festival in Hälsingland, the group of travellers separate to focus on their own goals. Mark wants to look for women and Josh and Christian vie for research information for their impending dissertations. It is Pelle and the other members of the commune who are interested in Dani. The violent and fatal rituals of Midsommar could have pushed Dani to the edge, but she hangs on. 

Pelle, the only one of her friends who remembered it was her birthday, reaches out to her. He asks her if she “feels held” by Christian. This scene can be looked at as one of a man trying to seduce a vulnerable woman, but it’s more. It’s almost a speech about conversion. Pelle explains he has felt held by the commune. 

Christian religions are monotheistic and there is no alternative to god. However, polytheistic religions offer more than one option. Christian, her boyfriend is the one man she seeks out, but she cannot rely on him. Slowly, Dani allows herself to “be held” by the commune. She cooks with them and takes part in the May Queen dance. 

After Christian has let her down for the last time, Dani allows the women of the commune to take her away. Surrounded by the women, Dani no longer runs to the shelter of the restroom to allow herself a quick sob. The women empower her to cry until she fights for breath. Here, the women hold her, so to speak. They let themselves feel her pain, she is no longer isolated, and she gives her grief a release. 

The horror aspect of the film adds tension and suspense. Ultimately, it’s the power of Dani’s grief and loneliness that is truly the most terrifying aspect of Midsommar. It’s the surrender to the pagan cult protects her and sets her free.

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