Published on July 11th, 2019 | by Noah Dimitrie0
So you just saw Aster’s Midsommar and you want someone to explain it to you? Yeah, join the club. Instead, Noah talks about his feelings.
I think Midsommar is the toughest film I’ve ever had to review. I just spent a few minutes just staring at a blank page, brainstorming how to fill it with a coherent analysis of such a strange and unconventional movie. It felt paradoxically daunting and exhilarating. The closest I can come up with to a definitive evaluation of Ari Aster’s enigmatic follow-up to his breakout horror flick Hereditary is as follows: the movie, while obtuse, confusing, metaphorical, frustrating, and possibly even dull in patches, is like nothing I have ever seen before. And that energy—let’s call it “The Energy of Originality”—sweeps the movie into a multitude of directions like a stiff breeze. One has to enter the film with such an open mind that the very genre within which it is marketed has to be taken with a massive grain of salt. It is scary, but it is not a horror film in the conventional understanding of the viscera that goes into those kinds of films.
What I can offer is my interpretation, which in and of itself feels futile when thinking back on the film. Aster’s direction is focused with such precision on avoiding any cliché sensationalism around the Midsommar festival’s curious rituals and practices that it, by proxy, makes the viewer an attendee. That ushers the film into a disorienting, slightly banal experience, especially for the first half of the film’s two and a half hour runtime. Aster just rides the interpersonal tension he sets up through this increasingly weird and exhausting journey. There are only a handful of really gory or abjectly horrific moments; most of the film is a slow assimilation into a state of being that conflicts heavily with the main characters’ very Western and very modern thoughts and feelings. In this sense, the movie becomes both a weird-cult thriller, a social satire, a break-up drama, and a powerful allegory, all wrapped into one bad trip. The overall experience is stressful and ominous enough to be scary, while the actual plot is more evocative in a philosophical and often tongue-in-cheek way.
It sets up its main conflict efficiently within the first twenty minutes; Dani (Florence Pugh) suffers a tragedy that leaves her without her parents or sister and her boyfriend, Christian, who was previously planning on dumping her, now has become an emotional crutch. The result is an awkward tension and an overcompensating quasi-concern for her well-being due to the obligation to be a “nice guy.” His friends just seem interested in doing drugs, hooking up with Swedish hippies and getting some inspiration for their theses (they’re almost all grad students). When she helplessly tags along to the festivities, the dynamic of the whole groups shifts into a melodramatic tension. That tension starts out as innocuous and relatable but is increasingly extracted by those pesky Swedes until it is revealed to be so ugly and unnatural. The Americans find it to be a cruel and foul state of affairs, but the film does a bang-up job of immersing us in this world that we not only understand this cult’s sense of unity and purity, but we start to kind of envy it.
This flick is a thousand times more obtuse than Hereditary, which feels like well-crafted pot-boiler compared to Midsommar, an experiential marathon, a nightmare of epic proportions. It plays so coy with its meaning, what symbolizes what, etc., that one is forced to ruminate on how they felt while watching, instead of simply what they thought, how they tracked the narrative. I think that’s what Aster wanted more than anything: not so much to leave it open to interpretation, but to make you question whether there is any interpretation to be had. The exhaustive attention to detail and immersion is what is meant to stick in one’s head more than anything. In most films that wouldn’t be enough, but here it is so substantial, so fulfilling that its metaphors remain intact as metaphors, instead of being picked apart to the point of being obvious. It’s such a fascinating and curious film for doing that; like I said, I don’t think I’ve seen anything even remotely like it—a horror film that is scary just for living in it.
I would argue that while there clearly is a philosophy and a satire to it, it doesn’t exactly matter what specifically is being philosophized or satirized upon. It’s just a masterful experience in which we feel, deep down in the pits of our stomachs, that something is very wrong and nothing is what it seems.