Wow. Ok, this poor little blog has been neglected for some time. So, what could draw me back? Is it merely in the quest for something to do in the endless hours of prolonged lockdown or having something new and topical to say about the recent Coronavirus pandemic? No. I’m making a comeback and breathing some new life into this blog because I watched Midsommar last night and I need to talk through the weird choices in this weird movie that left me totally confused. So… let’s discuss.
I decided to watch Midsommar because I’m on a bit of a catch-up kick at the moment. I’ve typical avoided horror movies all of my life, letting the occasional few slip the net but mostly I steer myself away from them. I don’t really know why, perhaps because for me horror films seem very hit and miss and I hate the feeling of complete hopelessness some horror directors are determined to leave you with as the credits roll. But, I’ve been desperately trying to broaden my viewing habits lately so I’ve been watching a couple of the recent horror hits including It and A Quiet Place, both films I quite enjoyed. My only real issue with It was its runtime, it does feel like a movie that could be told in much less time which is also one of my key criticisms of Midsommar. Does this film need two and a half hours to tell this story? Several very slow scenes where you know exactly what’s about to happen anyway (example, the cliff scene) suggest no.
To kick this off let me just say I know Midsommar is a ‘companion’ film to Hereditary, which I haven’t seen. Maybe I would have got Midsommar a bit more if I had, I will get around to watching Hereditary at some point but probably not some time soon.
Now, just because I don’t love this movie doesn’t mean I hate it. I don’t. There’s plenty to like. A big aspect of the praise for this film comes from the acting and cinematography, both of which I totally agree are the film’s highlights. Florence Pugh is a star who’s only due to rise higher and higher and she proves it in this movie. There’s not a bad actor in the cast. They all carry off their parts (ambiguous as some of them are but I’ll get to that) really effectively and the relationships between the core group of characters really do carry through the drama and conflict through the first and second acts.
The cinematography and choice to have the film take place nearly exclusively in the daylight is also really creative. There’s no denying this film is a slow burn but turning the horrors we do see on screen away from the darkness we usually see in horror and making them clearly visible in the light of day is a bold move and one I really liked. The set of the commune is also beautiful and the nature imagery and special effects tied in with Dani’s development in a really interesting way.
However, for all these strengths, I also had some major issues with this film. Most of which are plot-based. I’ve already mentioned the run-time so we’ll start there – although this does mean we’re going to be starting with the end (though we’ll be getting there much quicker than the movie).
The Slow Burn with Little Pay-Off
One of the key issues I have with this film was the climax and ending. The character development throughout had felt like it was really building up to a powerful moment for Dani, especially since she had literally been granted power over others for the first time in the film by being declared The May Queen.
Now, to properly explore the core problem I have with the ending I have to talk about the scene I want to think about the least so bear (no pun intended) with me here. Both Dani and Christian, the two of the original gang left standing, take some hallucinogenic liquid towards the end of the film. We see elements of its effects on Dani with the CGI of nature around her but we don’t totally see how it affects Christian. His pupils become really diluted so we know it’s taken hold of him but we don’t know quite how much it’s affecting his inhibitions. This means that when he has sex with Maja in that deeply uncomfortable mating ritual scene we have no idea whether it was a conscious decision to cheat on Dani or not.
All the way through the film we know he and Dani have an unstable relationship so it’s not beyond the realms of reason to think maybe he does choose to have sex with Maja purely due to his frustration over his relationship with Dani or even to ‘acclimatise’ himself more with the culture for the sake of his thesis. If this is a choice he’s made then it takes his lack of care for Dani to a whole new low and does somewhat justify his end to the viewers. I’m obviously not saying cheaters should be paralysed and burnt to death but it gives a sense of closure in a revenge narrative. However, if the drugs they’ve taken have rendered their decision-making ability non-existent then this changes the whole ending, both for the fates of Christian and Dani.
If Christian never intended to cheat on Dani and only did so because he was high this makes the cult itself even creepier and more disturbing and makes his death at the end even crueler. However, it also doesn’t give him any autonomy in his ending which, sure, maybe that’s what Ari was going for but let’s remember Dani took the same drink so what does this mean for her?
Well, if she was high through the whole of the third act and beyond the point of rationalising her decisions based on everything that’s come before, this kind of suggests her making the choice to have Christian killed isn’t really her choice and therefore has nothing to do with her own character development. Considering there is so much set-up at the start of the movie over establishing her trauma, it would be really disappointing to assume that Christian and Dani had no control over the key choices they both made to bring the film to its ending. Unfortunately, we’re never really clearly led to either one conclusion, which brings me to my next point.
The Ambiguity Problem
There is definitely a case to be made for ambiguity in stories. Sometimes having aspects of a story left to your viewer’s imagination at the end can be really interesting but too much ambiguity and you just leave people confused. Here’s an example of a big overhanging question that Midsommar left me with at the end of the film:
Did the cult plan the whole thing?
There are quite a few plot points that suggest the cult wanted to make Dani one of them e.g. the way Pele treats her and his being so keen for her to come to the cult and feel ‘held’ and the fact that she even becomes the May Queen in the first place – she didn’t even know the dance they were all doing at the start so could the other girls have let her win?
Equally, there are also a few plot points that suggests it was all a fluke and the community only changed their mind about sacrificing Dani after she became the May Queen e.g. she wasn’t even supposed to come on the trip at first. Pele didn’t actually invite her, we don’t see him try to convince Christian to bring her at all and, Pele aside, none of the other people in the cult treat her any differently from the others before they kill them. There’s nothing to suggest she’s any kind of chosen one beyond winning a competition that she seemed really unlikely to win.
But, why does this matter? It certainly changes the whole plot’s axis depending on which side you sit on but honestly maybe I’m being too hard on the film for this one. It’s the swinging pendulum I can’t get on with. They either planned it all or not, why is there evidence suggesting both options?
The Blink and You Miss It Subplots
The foreshadowing in this film is, at times, really bizarre. There are some points of really clear foreshadowing which helps the plot move forward e.g. the tapesty depicting the love potion and the random bear in the cage. However, there are also some odd moments that don’t go anywhere. Take, for instance, Pele’s backstory.
The only thing we really know about Pele is that his parents ‘died in a fire’ which gives him the chance to empathise somewhat with Dani’s situation. The fire thing is obviously an element of foreshadowing for the ending but his parents couldn’t have died in the last sacrifice if that was 90 years ago, the figures just don’t add up. What was the point of this foreshadowing then? If it had nothing to do with the actual sacrificial burnings, why even suggest they died that way? There are other ways of giving Pele a connection to Dani other than confusing foreshadowing that doesn’t go anywhere.
I also want to quickly touch on the oracle a second because what was the point of that? It’s a plot point that feels like it’s building up to something but it doesn’t. The idea of having a religion and mythology that is constantly expanding is a really interesting concept but it’s just never actually tied back into the story. Even the book going missing seems like a pointless detail. Was that just supposed to make Dani and Christian not worry about the missing Josh and Mark because somehow that worked on them, which, you know, is weird in itself. It would have been great to get to know more about the actual religion and belief system that led them to these sacrifices every 90 years other than leaving it as ‘well, they’re Pagans so…’, as if your average Pagan on the street goes around with sacrificial knives in their back pocket and has their local cult’s one outside line on speed-dial. Give some more explanation, please.
I really didn’t mean for this to get so essay-length. Maybe Ari Aster and I have something in common when it comes to making things that are maybe too long for their own good. Ultimately, for me, this film had everything going for it except a working plot with a good pay-off, too much ambiguity and random details thrown in that didn’t matter.
…I kinda miss The Wicker Man (1973 obvs!)