Updated: Sep 5, 2019
There's more? There's actually more?
Yes, I did watch all 2.5 hours of Midsommar in theaters. Did I enjoy it? That's another question.
Here is the thing: it is aesthetically excellent, full of gorgeous shots, creative visual effects, and an unforgettable performance from Florence Pugh. That being said, Midsommar was missing something fundamental. A driving force, a puzzle to solve, character development to track. Character motivations were difficult to discern, cult rituals existed but felt devoid of significance or symbolism. Florence Pugh’s Dani, while stunningly portrayed, wasn’t given any satisfying development, as her arc went from “traumatized” to “traumatized, and also low-key an accessory to murder.”
There's a lot to think about in the wider context of horror, too: the use of the Final Girl trope, for instance, or the relationship between race and the themes of genetic purity. But director Ari Aster's failure to acknowledge or address these themes in his own movie makes for a film that isn't subversive so much as... weird. Midsommar felt more like a gore fetish Pinterest board than a compelling story.
The release of the director's cut inspired me to revisit Ari Aster's floral horror, which I saw in theaters shortly after its release. Boy, do I have questions.
Big-time spoilers ahead.
1. Pelle and Ingemar are clearly committed to the Harga’s culture and rituals, but also are shown to understand how certain rituals might look to outsiders. It’s implied that they are selectively withholding information from their friends to keep them in Sweden. But why? Because they believe in the Hargan way of life, and want the best for their friends? Because they need a certain number of sacrifices, and they never cared for their friends at all? Where is their motivation?
2. Josh knew what an Attestupa ritual was - so why wouldn’t he warn his friends what they were about to see?
3. Mark could have peed literally anywhere in that open field. This is not a question, I’m just saying.
4. In what universe is Josh, a black person, going to watch the only two other people of color in a remote commune mysteriously vanish, and THEN proceed to photograph texts he has been explicitly forbidden from photographing by a clan of shady white people? Why’d they make Josh such a dick? How could you do William Jackson Harper dirty like that?
5. And was it a conscious choice to cast a black man as an anthropologist studying a remote people, with little regard for cultural sensitivity towards their traditions? A subversion of traditional racial stereotypes? Or just a casting choice with no follow-through?
6. What about the themes of genetic purity and eugenics? Was it a deliberate choice to kill off the people of color in favor for the continuation of a “pure,” all-white bloodline? Or just an opportunity for further exploration of a complex theme with no follow-through?
7. Are we not going to talk about the bizarre and problematic implications of using a disabled child of incest as a shock-value set piece?
8. How dare they set up such a tight, perfect cannibalism subplot, and then throw it away in favor of pube magic?? Like, some kind of cannibalism ritual would fit in perfectly with the Hargan belief that life is cyclical, and add an extra dimension of horror; I guess Ari Aster was less into the scares in this movie and more into slow-burning extreme discomfort, but still!
9. Like I get that the way Simon’s body was presented was a reference to the “blood eagle” ritual which may or may not have actually existed - but why?
10. Is this, perhaps, the least erotic scene in all of film?
11. If Dani hadn’t chosen Christian as the final sacrifice… what happens then? He’s left in the hands of the Hargan people, paralyzed and missing from his home?
12. Why didn’t any of the characters… drive away?
And a final GIF that really sums up my feelings about Midsommar:
Edit: a previous version of this article referred to the scene referenced in #10 as a "sex scene." The article has been edited to reflect the fact that Christian was drugged and thus could not consent; this interaction would be better labelled as sexual assault.