Philosophy, Film, Politics, Etc.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Reflections on Midsommar

My thoughts on Midsommar haven't evolved much since I saw it the other day, but they won't go away, either. I've enjoyed having ideas and images from the movie float around in my mind, but I don't think I'll be satisfied until I share my thoughts on them. So, if you don't want any spoilers, don't read on.
Director Ari Aster has said he was trying to make "a big operatic break-up movie." Midsommar is certainly that. Sentencing your boyfriend to death is perhaps the most operatic break-up imaginable. What makes the movie work so well, for me, is how deeply we are drawn into Dani's plight. It's not that she simply needs to get rid of her manipulative, toxic boyfriend. No, she needs to understand what he has been doing to her. She needs to grow to the point where she is emotionally capable of breaking up with him. That's why Florence Pugh's performance is so central to the success of the film. She brings us up from the depths of emotional trauma, through maddening mazes of gaslighting and anxiety, to dance, play, communal catharsis, and ultimately, joy.
What makes the movie so thought-provoking, for me, is not simply that Dani's triumph comes by joining a murderous cult. It's that we are allowed to understand why joining the cult, and sentencing Christian to death, makes sense for her. Partly, it's because she is at her most vulnerable. Yes, she lost her parents and sister; but more importantly, she blames herself. She blames herself for everything. She blames herself for not handling her sister better. She even blames herself for relying too much on her boyfriend to support her when she is trying to support her sister. She carries the world on her shoulders, and it falls so heartbreakingly.
Dani cries out multiple times in the movie, but two scenes stand out. The first is at the beginning, when she is crushed and curled up, wailing on her boyfriend's lap--her silent boyfriend, who cannot give her the emotional support she needs, and who makes her feel bad for wanting him to try. The second scene is the opposite. It occurs toward the end of the film, after she's witnessed the same boyfriend cheat on her. Now her wailing is shared. She is surrounded by young women who mirror her every cry and moan, refusing to let her suffer alone.
If the film is making a statement, I believe it is this: contemporary society has made it too difficult for people to be emotionally present and supportive. We experience the stark contrast between nature and technology as the film opens. The very first image we see is a peaceful and pristine forest. We hear a folk chant that feels very old and connected to the earth. After a moment, the ringing of a telephone jolts us into the suburbs. Yet, technology fails. Nobody answers the phone. Her sister never receives her text messages. It appears that the main connection Dani has with her parents and sister is indirect and unnatural, mediated through the telephone and Internet. We can blame some of Dani's problems on her toxic relationship, but the film is making a much deeper point. Perhaps we suffer such toxicity because we are used to emotional disconnection. We crave something like the family that Dani ultimately finds.
As a final comment, I think it's also very interesting what Aster chose to show and not show. The movie is gruesomely violent, but only when showing the ritualistic suicides. Aster does not  fetishize murder, nor does he make death look insignificant. That's what horror movies too often do, but this is not a typical horror movie. And yet, it is horrifying. We want Dani to triumph, but we cannot be comfortable with how it happens. This is the tragedy: That our world is so devoid of emotional connection that a person might only find strength and comfort in the most horrifying of places.