The Lore of MIDSOMMAR
An essay exploring the storytelling treasures of the arthouse horror film by Ari Aster
Fans of Ari Aster will be familiar with his divisive and provocative work as a filmmaker. He dives deep into cultural taboos in his short films Munchausen and The Strange Thing About the Johnsons. It should not shock anyone who has seen this work that his feature length films would embody his unique style of storytelling into immersive, expansive stories. The cultish depths of Aster’s film Midsommar (2019) let the filmmaker explore societal anxieties surrounding death and grief in compelling and disturbing clarity. One of the more impressive qualities Aster delivers in this summer horror film is the sheer quantity of rich details which empower eagle-eyed audience members to fill in the gaps. Here is a filmmaker who wants the audience to ask questions.
The story opens with an introduction to Dani Ardor (Florence Pugh) on the worst winter night of her life: her bipolar sister Teri commits murder-suicide by running garden hoses to pump car exhaust into their parents’ room while they peacefully drift into final sleep. The grisly scene shifts to Dani’s apartment where her evidently-distant boyfriend Christian Hughes (Jack Reynor) helplessly tries to comfort the aggrieved woman who is now orphaned in the world. Pugh’s performance in these beginning scenes offers a bang of grief, showing that Aster for the second time in as many films has cast a strong female lead with a wide-ranging array of emotional capabilities. Because this is the opening act, the effect on the viewer is quite chilling. This is not a film that will avoid looking at death and its consequences on Dani’s life.
About six months after her family’s death, Dani joins Christian on a trip to Sweden with his fellow anthropology graduate students Josh and Pelle along with Mark, the film’s comic relief. The group is set to visit Pelle’s village home, Hårga, set in the Swedish countryside of Hälsingland. The pretext for this special trip is for Josh and Christian to observe European midsummer traditions, something the Hårgans celebrate. Although Pelle says this particular festival happens only once every 90 years, it seems impossible to definitively determine which parts of the ceremonies are actually this rare. Regardless, careful observers…