Editor’s note: as this is an analysis of the film Midsommar, there be spoilers ahead.
Midsommar is Ari Aster’s latest horror offering following 2018’s Hereditary, and sees a group of friends who travel to Sweden for a festival that only occurs every 90 years, only to find themselves amongst a pagan cult.
The film centres around a group of four friends: Christian (Jack Reynor), Josh (Jackson Harper), Pelle (Vilhem Blomgren) and Mark (Will Poulter), as well as Christian’s girlfriend Dani (Florence Pugh). The film begins with Dani and Christian’s relationship on the verge of falling apart; after a family tragedy keeps them together, a reluctant Christian invites Dani to join him and his friends on a trip to a remote Swedish village for a midsummer festival that only takes place once every 90 years. The festival begins as a carefree vacation but slowly takes a sinister turn as the guests partake in the festivities.
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The themes of Midsommar are similar to that of Aster’s previous film Hereditary, in that both films focus on family and how one deals when presented with great tragedy and grief. However, the main themes that stood out to me in Midsommar were that of rebirth and isolation.
Dani’s initial isolation comes right at the beginning of the film when her family dies. She’s left as an orphan, with the only other people in her life, Christian and his friends, seemingly viewing her as an annoyance. She has no one she can emotionally relate to and no way of letting out her feelings. In her nightmare during the festival, she exhales a black cloud of exhaust; a physical manifestation of her grief and depression. It represents and parallels the method of death for her sister and her parents, the inhalation of toxicity. It could also represent Dani’s inability to exhale emotionally.
Dani’s breathing can also be seen in other parts of the film; when Dani blows out the candles of her birthday cake, it is eerily similar to the weird exhaling method of the members of the community their visiting. In other scenes throughout the film, when she is upset or has a panic attack, she holds her breath, almost refusing to breathe. It’s as if she doesn’t want to remind herself of what it was that killed her family; the inhalation of toxicity.
She also isolates herself every time she gets upset or has a panic attack. She runs away from the friend group as she doesn’t feel she can be supported by them. This is contrasted heavily at the end of the film where Dani wails on the ground as a group of girls from the community wail with her, sharing her grief and putting it on themselves to show Dani that she does not suffer alone in the community.
Over the course of the film, Dani is the only one of the American friend group who becomes less isolated as the film goes on, whereas the rest of the friends, who were close together at the beginning, become more and more isolated throughout. Their isolation leads to their deaths: Mark gets distracted by and wanders off with a woman at the festival; Josh wanders off searching for more knowledge and information for his thesis; and Christian isolates himself from Dani and wanders into the lure of another woman.
Dani is willing to accept the community; she helps to cook with them, and she even takes part in their dance competition and becomes their May Queen. She is asked to bless their crops and is celebrated by the community. And when she is hurt, the women of the group hurt with her, they cry and scream with her so that her pain can be spread and shared, taking the full weight off of Dani’s shoulders. In the end, she is the only one of the visiting party who survives and she even gets to choose, and the end, if Christian survives or not. His sacrifice is a visual representation of the purging of one’s grief and pain from your life.
This is where the theme of rebirth comes in; at the beginning of the film, Dani’s family is taken away from her and she is alone. By the end of the film, she has gained a whole new family in the community and she has countless people who support her. She has been reborn as the May Queen. She has been accepted, loved, celebrated, wanted, chosen. It’s implied within the film that Pelle wanted Dani to come so that she could be his potential mate within the community as they seek to increase their numbers. He gives her gifts throughout the film and even remembers her birthday which is something Christian failed to do. When Dani is crowned as May Queen, he kisses Dani and celebrates with her. She was chosen by him and made her feel seen, which is something Christian constantly fails at throughout the film. Whether or not Pelle’s methods are toxic remains to be seen.
The way the women in the community pick flowers by walking backwards seems to represent the reversal of death; when we are born, we move forwards until we die. However, the women move backwards and the flowers are reborn from plants in the ground to gorgeous celebratory items, symbolising royalty. The dancers in the community seem to move in a way that mimics a seed transforming into a plant; they start off as one person, eventually growing and growing into something big, beautiful and colourful. The rebirth of a seed into a flower. The rebirth of an isolated person into a community. The rebirth of Dani.
By the end of Midsommar, Dani throws away her dark clothes for bright whites and colourful flowers. She throws away her technology for the stories of the community. She throws away the friend group that she was never truly a part of for the welcoming arms of the community. She throws away her old life for the life of a May Queen.
Ari Aster’s Midsommar is nothing short of an exceptional horror fairytale that shows us the dangers of isolation and the importance of finding your place in the world, finding those that will accept you and make you feel seen. It shows us how we can be reborn as something far greater than we ever thought we could be. It tells us to cut the toxic people from our lives and to find the people who can make us feel like us again. The cult in Midsommar succeeded in making me think they were the good guys.