“As Hårga takes, so Hårga also gives” – Midsommar (2019)
One night in early October of 2019, I saw Midsommar (2019) was available to rent and purchase online. I started to select the option to rent, but I hesitated. After seeing the aesthetic of the film and getting a sense of the story from the previews and content I had viewed over several months, I knew I would want to rewatch it multiple times. Being the economical entertainment consumer I try to be, I decided to purchase it instead. I was correct in my analysis of that situation; I have watched Midsommar time and time again. It has become one of my favorite films of all time.
The story begins with the protagonist, Dani (Florence Pugh) making an anxious phone call to her family’s home after receiving a concerning message from her younger sister. When seeking comfort from her boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor), it becomes clear in their strained conversation that their relationship is pretty rocky. Dani receives a call from an unknown number while venting to a friend and checking on her sister. This phone call sets the foundation for the rest of the film as something unthinkably tragic is reported to Dani: her sister has committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning from two running cars, and she has purposely killed their parents the same way in the process. In the agony of Dani’s grief, Christian puts the instability of their relationship aside and stays with her.
The film jumps forward a few months. Dani and Christian are still together, and Dani learns at a party that Christian is going to Sweden with his friends from graduate school for an anthropology trip. This becomes another source of tension between Dani and Christian, mostly because he had kept it secret from her. Led by their mutual friend, Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), who was raised in the commune they are visiting, Dani accompanies the group to Sweden. They meet other visitors from outside the commune and Pelle’s friends who invited them. They settle into their temporary home and learn about Hårga (the commune) and their Midsummer festival. This year is particularly special to Hårga’s belief system and harvest, and the outsiders soon learn what that entails.
After witnessing some upsetting rituals and traditions performed by the Hårga, Dani and the other visitors become less and less comfortable continuing their stay. To make matters worse, the visitors are disappearing one by one without a trace. Meanwhile, Dani becomes more and more immersed into the Hårga and their family-like dynamic. When participating in a traditional dance with other young women around the ceremonial maypole, Dani remains the last one standing, making her that year’s May Queen. Dani accepts the praise and love that comes with her role as May Queen, feeling real connection for the first time since her family tragedy. By the end of the film, she finds there is more to her role than simply being a part of the pageantry.
Something I noticed right away in Dani’s character was her experience with mental illness. We see Dani taking an as-needed anxiety prescription early in the movie while talking on the phone with a friend about her relationship worries on top of the issues with her sister. Christian tells his friends shortly after that she has a therapist. These details may not seem remarkable, but the normalization of medication and therapy for mental health care is not something showcased very often in media. Unfortunately, particularly in horror films, these normal parts of life are construed as being negative or to create a character meant to be feared. That is why this normalization is important, especially for a film within the horror genre.
I do not know about Florence Pugh’s own experiences with anxiety, but she nailed every single second of Dani’s condition on screen. As someone who has lived with an anxiety disorder her entire life, I recognized right away the physical symptoms, avoidance, and other secondary effects of anxiety Dani exhibits. Ari Aster’s filming techniques make these scenes even more effective with symmetry in the frames and extended capture of Dani’s panic attacks. This is the first film where I thought anxiety and its effects on every aspect of daily life were presented in an authentic and respectful manner. By following Midsommar‘s example, films that aim to represent people who live with mental illness could improve, leading to better representation for people who are often shown in dismissive or even dangerous ways.
In addition to the relatable horror within the story, the visual components of this film are iconic. The film has already earned accolades for its costume and production design, which will undoubtedly be recognized by movie fans for years to come. The now-famous May Queen gown and other pieces from the film have already raised money through charity auctions (check out the story here). One of my favorite aspects of the film is the soft color palette; the continued use of the same colors into the intense scenes creates a vibe that I love to see in “daylight” horror films. Also, the abundance of flowers and other plants in the costumes, sets, and imagery associated with the film is just delicious.
This gorgeous and unique horror film handles issues of mental illness, interpersonal conflict, and insecurity in addition to all its horror elements to create a real and unforgettable horror experience. Anyone who knows me in person knows my style is dark and flowery. Naturally, when I saw the trailer for Midsommar, I knew I needed it in my life. It possesses so many elements that represent what I love from horror stories, and I am so grateful for its existence. There is so much to discuss within this movie, so I will most likely have more I want to discuss on this blog in the future.
Until next time,