A couple travel to Sweden to visit their friend’s rural hometown for its fabled midsummer festival, but what begins as an idyllic retreat quickly devolves into an increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult.
I’m sure I am not the only one left heavily confused after watching this film. I am a huge fan of Ari Aster and his work, and I knew going into this film it would most likely be full of deep and dark symbolism and disturbing ideas. After watching this film, it left me confused and in deep thought about what I had just watched. For some people, this is a reason they dislike the film. However, I think there is a lot of strength in a film that resonates with you hours after watching it. This film made me think and reflect on the movie even days after watching it.
The film focuses around Dani and begins with her tragic life. Her sister has committed suicide while also killing Dani’s parents. The audience then meets Dani’s boyfriend Christian, whom we discover has been looking for an excuse to break up with her for almost a year. From the beginning, I disliked Christian and felt bad for Dani, which I think the director was hoping for. Dani then tags along with Christian and his friends to visit his friends hometown in Sweden for the Midsummer ritual.
Ari Aster said he wanted to create a film about a breakup. While Dani and Christian’s relationship was a central part of the plot, I felt that the movie mainly focused on family and the need to feel wanted. From the moment Dani gets the call about the deaths in her family, Dani calls Christian and leans on him more than ever. She becomes severely dependent on Christian, even to where he can’t even get away from her and go to Sweden alone with his friends. Most of the movie I saw Dani as weak and dependent on others for emotional and physical support.
Once in Sweden things get weird, the characters all experiment with drugs and it seems their hallucinations mix in with the reality of the cult-like society to where the audience doesn’t know what’s real and not real. Towards the beginning of the movie Dani and Christians bear witness to a ritual of the cult in which the older members of the society throw themselves off a cliff to recycle their life before old age sets in. Of all the guests visiting the society, Dani seems disturbed yet intrigued by the ritual. Through a Point of View shot, we see Dani make eye contact with one of the cult leaders and there seems to be some level of connection between the two. One by One Christian’s friends get killed off by the cult members. However, the audience sees Dani become more and more intrigued by the society and everything it represents.
If you notice later in the film, Dani sees the society in the way she did while on drugs without depending on drugs. In comparison, Christian still only sees the society as Dani does while on hallucinogens, which he’s even reluctant to take toward the end of the film. This just goes to show the contrast between the two characters and the separation between the two on their own personal journeys. Dani depends less on Christian and more on the society. During the May Queen ritual is when the audience sees the real change within Dani.
Throughout the film, flowers seem to represent the family unit. There are flowers in the room shown with Dani’s dead parents lying in their bed, and they cover the room in which the visitors stay with paintings. The members of the cult also wear flower headpieces throughout much of the film the clothes they wear even have flowers embroidered on them. However, the audience does not see Dani wear flowers until the May Queen ritual in which she wears a flower crown. It is here when Dani makes a real internal change.
Throughout the ritual process, the audience also sees Dani smiling the most genuine smile she has made in the entire film. Before that she was depressed and often anxious, never smiling for longer than a few forced seconds. This represents just how much she’s feeling the emotional support and sense of community she has been looking for throughout the entire film.
Things take a real turn once they have declared Dani the May Queen. The audience now sees her covered in a whole robe of flowers, further showcasing her conversion into the strange society. The breaking point for her occurs when she sees Christian having sex with a cult member in a strange ceremonial procreation ritual. Dani begins crying and screaming, visually upset and the cult members surrounding her scream and cry as well. Taking on a load of her emotional burden. It is here that Dani furthers her conversion and begins emotionally depending on the society even more.
The film ends with Dani deciding to send Christian to burn alive in the last ritual of the Midsummer festival. As she watched the temple with Christian inside she at first seems sad and begins crying, and again the society shares in her burden and begins crying and screaming. After a few moments of this the camera then shows a closeup of Dani and she lets out a sickly and disturbing smile. Her smile brings the film full circle and symbolizes her complete conversion into the Swedish cult. She has finally found what she has been looking for the entire movie and has completely given herself fully to the people and society around her. She has found a new family and one that allows her to depend on them more than Christian ever did.
3.5 out of 5
Overall, I enjoyed watching this film. I liked that it required me to analyze it for its deeper meaning, and I appreciate the uniqueness of this film. However, for me seeing this film once is enough and I don’t see myself urging to watch it soon.