Spoilers for Ari Aster’s newest film ahead
There is a palpable and primal terror in Midsommar, director Ari Aster’s second horror film after last year’s critically acclaimed Hereditary, and it isn’t what you think it is. It doesn’t come from the esoteric and culturally distinct commune that our unfortunate Americans find themselves a part of in Sweden. It doesn’t come from skinning fools or being burned alive (although there’s plenty of that to go around, don’t get me wrong). But it’s just as gripping and traumatic all the same.
The real terror at the heart of the film is being alone.
Everyone has dealt with loneliness in all its many forms. You might have moved out to a new place and found yourself surrounded by strange and unfamiliar people and places. You may have ended up in a situation where you have no one to rely on and everywhere you turn you’re met by hostility. You may even feel the kind of loneliness derived by a lack of a romantic partner, or the neglect of one instead. Regardless of what kind it is, it is a natural human feeling that we all must learn to overcome in our pursuit of happiness.
Unfortunately for Dani, she’s currently dealing with all three.
After the beginning of the film finds her parents and sister’s lives cut short in a tragic murder-suicide, Dani, played by an exceptional Florence Pugh, finds herself well and truly alone. Her boyfriend Christian “tries” his best to offer her aid and emotional support, but tries is really the operatic word here considering that he’s been gaslighting her from the jump and looking for any opportunity he can out of their relationship, aside from, y’know, just breaking up with her. Because of this, and because of his toxic inability to confront their faults head on, Christian ends up reluctantly bringing her along with his friends (Mark, Josh, and Pelle) on a summer trip to Sweden to meet Pelle’s commune and experience their Härgas festival.
From the very beginning of the trip, it’s evident that something is wrong. And no, I’m not talking about the way that everyone in the commune feels eerily in sync with each other, or even the massive caged bear that the natives seem to conveniently ignore (seriously, who’s poor dog is this?). I’m talking about the immediate hostility that Christian’s friends greet Dani with the entirety of the way to Sweden. Mark is very adamant about Christian breaking up with her for the sake of his sex life, Josh barely says two words to her the entire time she’s there, and it seems like only Pelle is really truly concerned for her wellbeing and wants her to enjoy herself on the trip. Despite being “invited” to come along in the loosest way possible, everyone involved has made it distinctly clear to Dani that she’s not welcome.
There’s a scene a little under halfway through the film in which our gang of plucky tourists first make it to Sweden, and they decide to take psychedelics their first day there. While wacky ‘shrooms hijinks ensue, Dani finds herself in the midst of a record-breaking bad trip because Mark conveniently decides to mention that the group is like a “family” to him. This, of course, sends Dani over the edge, because she’s not only just lost her real family but because the only other one that she can lean on is being as cold to her as humanly possible. She has no family, and she knows that no one currently around her is taking any steps to ensure that she is apart of theirs.
But that is a hard contrast to the commune, which represents Pelle’s ersatz family. From the moment they arrive, the community makes sure that every single one of them is as comfortable as they possibly can, and they really seem to be as loose as possible about what they can and can’t do while there (except for going in that delightfully Bohemian yellow tent curiously set up in the middle of the settlement). Everyone seems to enjoy the free-spirited locals and their strange but intriguing culture at first, and all of them take a distinct interest in Dani and her state of mind, especially Pelle, who even goes so far as to ask Dani whether or not she feels like her relationship is working. “Does he feel like home to you?”
Of course, anyone who has ever seen a single thing by Ari Aster knows that good things can never last, and of course it turns out that the commune is more akin to that other c-word that horror films love so much. Bodies start to drop, literally, as the group is brought to watch a ceremony in which two elders of the community hurl themselves off a high peak to their rather graphic deaths down below, in an apparent display of autonomy over their lives and inevitable deaths. As brutal and traumatizing as this is, Dani can’t take her eyes off of it. It’s enthralling, and to the other members of the commune, it’s beautiful.
More corpses start to pile, starting with two other tourists brought to the festival by Pelle’s brother, and then both Mark and Josh go missing, incidentally after both finding ways to piss on the traditions and culture of the Swedes. Then it’s down to both Christian and Dani, as it began, but we see them on complete opposite ends of the spectrum from where they started. Dani reluctantly agrees to what she thinks is the world’s most intense dance-off, only to win and discover that her prize is being corronated as May Queen, a prestiged honor of the locals. She’s draped in flowers and whisked away to be placed at the head of the table, where the commune waits patiently and intently for her every action. She’s now the center of attention.
Christian, meanwhile, is drugged, disoriented, and, in typical fashion, agrees to impregnate a young woman who’s been slipping him love potions and runes since he first arrived. Unfortunately for him, Dani accidentally witnesses the ritual, completely breaking her and pushing her over the edge into a complete mental breakdown. However, this time she’s not on her own. Surrounded by a company of other women, Dani’s breakdown is mimicked and echoed, first eerily, then almost comfortingly. She’s finally receiving the validation that she’s so desperately needed since the film’s opening.
After being used up and tossed out, Christian is knocked unconscious and paralyzed, where the final reveal is made disturbingly clear to both him and the audience. Härgas has been one massive ritualistic sacrifice, one which requires two elders, four outsiders, and two willing members of the commune. Now all that’s left is for the final piece of the ritual to be decided: the May Queen, Dani, must choose between a randomly selected member of the group, or…Christian. It’s a horrifying, yet inevitable decision, and one that the movie has spent its entire runtime justifying the case for. When Dani’s eyes glaze over, we already know what she’s decided.
It’s at this point where Christian is sewn up inside the skin of the bear from earlier (apparently animal cruelty is low on the totem pole here), placed inside the mysterious yellow tent (so it wasn’t an Air BnB?), and burned alive as the Swedes dance hysterically. Dani is, of course, distraught, but eventually her horror turns to a questionable sense of content. She’s finally at peace. True, she’s just burned the man who was supposed to be her partner, the one who was supposed to care for her and support her in her time of need. But the entire time, Aster has been showing us that this has never really been the case. Christian has never been “home” to her. He’s never been family. And the smile Dani gives the camera at the end lets us know what she’s just discovered.
She is home. She now has a family. One that will support her, treasure her, and welcome her in all the ways that everyone else in the world has not. For the first time since the start of the film, she’s no longer lonely.
And that’s a happy ending if I’ve ever seen one.