So, I figure the first part of this review didn’t really do justice to MIDSOMMAR. I watched it while I was doing laundry (and if dirty laundry isn’t a metaphor for this film, I don’t know what is) and wasn’t thinking about it too deeply. But now that I’ve thought about it, I actually have to hand it to them: it’s a film that is full of meaning. Whether that meaning is worth anything or not is up to you, but it’s quite obviously there.
So, Dani, our film’s protagonist, is in a bad place. Her parents and sister have all committed suicide, leaving her as the only member of the family to survive. It’s never quite clear whether Mom and Dad were partakers in the suicide or whether suicidal little sis just decided to take them along.
Dani has a boyfriend, whose name is Christian. Yes, that’s important. He’s about to dump her when the suicide hits, and now he can’t. Christian is about to leave on a trip to Sweden with his buds Mark and Josh to visit their friend Pelle’s home. Christian decides that, in fact, he’s going to bring Dani with them, which doesn’t exactly thrill his friends as they find Dani clingy and annoying. Because she is clingy and annoying.
Upon arriving at Pelle’s village, it becomes quickly apparent that we have arrived in Scandinavian Deliverance land, where dwell Pelle’s people, the Hargans. There are two more outsiders, a couple named Simon and Connie. These folks are all about the old gods, and we all know what the old gods were like: they enjoyed sacrifice. Indeed, it doesn’t take long for the newcomers to start disappearing.
Now, over at ScreenRant, you can find an article explaining what happens to the characters in terms of the “sins” they commit during the film: they want to leave, and they defile something, etc. However, I believe this interpretation is completely off base. Midsommar is, from the outset, a pagan sermon about the virtues of the old gods, and the corruption of Christianity.
The first indication we have that all is not well in Hargaland is when two of the community’s elders commit suicide by jumping off a cliff and dashing themselves to death on rocks. Just to drive it home (sorry), the man doesn’t quite die, and he is “assisted” to his doom by means of a large mallet. The outsiders are horrified, but are asked to understand that this is only the Hargans’ way of seeking balance with the natural world and embracing death in its proper role. Josh, Mark and Christian murmur weak protests. Dani is horrified, but Christian is too weak and spineless to stand up for anything or really comfort her.
The true zealots here are the aptly-named Simon and Connie, who have had enough and make plans to leave. Simon (Peter) was always the fiercest of Jesus’ followers, and Connie is, well, constant, not to be shaken from her conviction that what the Hargans are doing is simply wrong. They are “taken to the train station”
Meanwhile, trouble is erupting among the former friends. Pelle is clearly cozying up to Dani and pointing out Christian’s shortcomings. Josh is completely indifferent to any moral failings on the part of the Hargans and is only interested in getting as much material for his anthro thesis out of it as he can. Meanwhile, Christian and Mark play the ugly-American oafs, with Mark as an incel who is clearly desperate to get laid, and careless enough to piss on a sacred tree, while Christian alternately shrugs off Dani’s pain, flirts with Pelle’s sister who is casting love spells at him, and then tries to horn in on Josh’s thesis topic by insisting on doing his anthro thesis on the village as well.
I think the names here remain key to understanding the roles of the major players. First, we have Josh. He’s fascinated intellectually, but morally repelled by this practice of paganism and wants access to their scriptures, eventually violating their proscription on photographing it. Joshua is also the English version of Jesus’ Hebrew name, Y’shua. Josh represents the Judaeo-Christian morality that wrote down the laws of God, stealing the pagans’ mysticism and then condemning the pagans. He is the most dangerous of the anti-pagans, and must be killed.
Then we have Mark, named for the writer of the first gospel. He has no real interest in anything except sex, drugs and food. He’s a tool, nothing more, and has no idea what he’s stumbled into. Only a fool would rely on anything he said. The gospel is therefore discredited.
And finally, we have Christian, named for the entire religion. He is completely and utterly unlikable, having no virtues that can stand up to the smallest vices, but always wanting to appear virtuous, no matter what the cost. He doesn’t want to look heartless so he stays with Dani. And yet he always puts himself first, never giving her any real time or energy. It’s made clear he’s at fault in this (despite the fact that Dani is obviously extremely needy and not really ready to be in a relationship at all). At the Hargan village, Christian can neither condemn the Hargans with the fierceness of Simon and Connie, nor question them with the intelligence of Josh, nor stand up for them in the face of Dani’s disapproval. When Maja, Pelle’s sister, casts a love spell on him and he finds out, he is faithless, unable to even say that such a thing is inappropriate. He is quick to steal Josh’s thesis idea when it looks easy, (imperializing over both a black man’s idea and a native culture simultaneously!) and when Josh disappears (supposedly with the Hargans’ scripture) he is just as quick to repudiate Josh and deny that they have ever been friends. Finally, he is completely willing to go to Maja’s bed and be unfaithful to Dani. In short, the “Christian” is in reality exactly what pagans imagine him to be: a weak-willed sheep, led about by his lusts, but without the courage and fortitude that would make fulfilling them admirable. As such, he is their sacrificial animal, to be used, condemned, and well-rid of.
But what of Dani? Well, she becomes the May Queen, elevated there by that most pagan of forces, fate. She was fated to be invited to the Hargans’ village, and fated to become the May Queen. As such, she is the one who ultimately chooses whether Christian or a member from the Hargans will be chosen. Screen Rant’s “explanation” of “why she kills Christian” is almost comical in its overexplanation:
“The answer to that is complex, but a good place to start is the fact that Dani isn’t exactly in her right mind at the end of the movie.
She wasn’t exactly in her right mind at the start of the movie. At best she’s traumatized. At worst, she’s codependent.
She’s been given drugged tea that’s causing her to have strange visions, danced to the point of exhaustion, and experienced the emotional trauma of seeing Christian have sex with another woman,
Her boyfriend cheated on her in public. That isn’t “complex;” that’s one of the oldest explanations for murder we’ve got.
followed by a release of emotion with her newfound sisters. By the time she’s on stage in her enormous flowery gown, Dani looks pretty out of it, but the one thing she does seem to be aware of is that Christian has hurt her.
Yes. Christian has “hurt her.” That really seems to be the sum total of Dani’s awareness, and the idea that Dani’s pain is Christian’s fault is the one thing that is hammered home time and again in this film. He didn’t kill her sister, or her parents, and he tried to include her when she needed to be included. Being drugged and exhausted is an excuse for her behavior, seemingly, but not for Christian’s. Funny how that works out.
Moreover, she also seems to recognize that Christian is the best choice for the sacrifice that represents the exorcism of evil from the community, because he – not the Hårgans – is the source of her pain.
Yes, and it’s also not the Hargans’ fault that they seduced a guy who was in a relationship, apparently. They are innocent, while Christian is guilty.
In the pagan world (note the small p, I am referring to classic pagans, not any followers of modern Wiccanism or related faiths, here) holiness is more positional than consequential. It derives more from what people are than what they do. Dani is good and Christian is bad because Dani is a woman in pain. Therefore, she must be in the right. To say otherwise would be to blame her on some level for her pain. We endure endless sobs throughout this film, most of them from Dani. And while it is true that Christian’s choices are mostly selfish, so are everyone else’s, including Dani’s. No one ever seems to think that Dani should do anything for him, but it is made very clear that Christian must stay with Dani, be there for Dani, adjust his life for Dani, invite Dani along with him, remember Dani’s birthday. He is responsible for her pain, but she is never responsible for his. He doesn’t even (conveniently) have real pain in his life, just selfish ambitions.
Dani kills Christian for the simplest of all reasons: she is angry at him and wants revenge. And her killing of him is held up as right. She is the May Queen, a holy figure. It is right that she kills him because she has decreed it to be right. It is right because it represents the triumph of the strong pagan goddess reclaiming her true superiority over the false, weak, Christian god who lied and failed to fulfill her.
Of course, what’s truly astonishing is exactly how successfully this message overrides the demonstrable horror that this pagan community has achieved: a monocultural, racist theocracy which by its own admission deliberately practices incest in order to induce mental disabilities, enforces the euthanasia of the elderly, and lures outsiders in to be sacrificed along with their own people annually. But what are such little defects compared to freeing our minds from the evils of Christian hypocrisy?
It’s a breathtakingly simple message. Who is listening?