Midsommar is deeply disturbing and horrific in many ways. I don’t know what writer/director Ari Aster has gone through in his life that gave him the ideas that he brings to life in his films, but I’m happy they exist. These movies are downright fascinating to watch, think about and try to grasp what is going on. In Midsommar especially, Aster has lots of compelling, deep, and meaningful things to say, way beyond the film’s rough exterior.
The first area where this film really excels is in building an atmosphere. From the very beginning, there is a constant uncertainty and dread. This comes first from the actual events that are happening onscreen. It opens with an earnestness that you can’t escape, and proceeds into a sort of pain that you wish you could. An affecting performance from Florence Pugh will make you want to walk out of the theater as she is giving it. But leaving would defeat the purpose of the movie.
One of the major ideas this film is trying to push is empathy. When going through trauma as humans, we need people to share our grief. Having people to empathize with us and to be willing to try to understand the hurt we are feeling is incredibly powerful and important. The film is making us do that with the character of Dani (Pugh). When we want to escape the pain she is feeling at the beginning, we shouldn’t. The movie says, “I’m going to take you on this ride. It’s going to hurt, but you’ll come out on the other side in a better place than you were before.”
The film also has interesting anthropological and ethical ideas to explore. This fully realized world and people group had me considering whether the acts of a pagan cult with violent tendencies could actually be acceptable in some cases. This is entirely intentional and well-done. If I hadn’t bought into this community, it wouldn’t have worked the way it does. The movie brings moral relativism to the forefront in a few different instances. If you let your thoughts go down those paths, you’ll end up in places you may not expect. And while a small cultic community in Sweden may not be a place you expect or want to be, the ideas it generates very well could be.
If it wasn’t for the atmospheric and eerie feel of this whole movie, none of this would land and we would end up with a film that is disturbing for the sake of being disturbing. But Aster blends slow and precise cinematography with subtle, yet effective visual effects, bright lighting, and a haunting score. He creates a wonderfully disturbing thought experiment that will have you thinking about life and the people around you in a way you never thought you could.