If you saw Ari Aster’s cinematic offering, Hereditary, you won’t be too surprised to hear that Midsommar is just as much of a dark twisted trip – in this case quite literally in places.
The 140-minute film follows Dani and Christian (Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor), a couple who, despite their dysfunctional relationship, head off to Sweden with a group of friends to experience the Midsommar festival not long after Dani experiences a horrific family tragedy.
Midsommar starts with Dani struggling to get hold of her sister after she sends her an ominous email. It transpires that her sister has killed herself and their parents. Struggling to cope Dani leans even more on her boyfriend, Christian, who was considering breaking up with her. Luckily for Christian, he and his friends have the chance to visit Sweden with Pelle, a Swedish guy who smiles way too much to not be suspicious. Dani sort of invites herself along and that’s where the fun really starts. While Aster says he wants the film to be “confusing” most of it is pretty easy to follow from here until we hit the final act and then things descend into the familiar weirdness that Hereditary fans will remember well. For Aster the film also held a personal importance as he was going through a breakup himself.
So what did it all mean? Here’s a quick recap and that Midsommar ending explained.
Dani’s family and her grief
The easiest way to unpick Midsommar is to see it as a series of parts, the first is basically anything that happens before the title card. We’re shown a series of still scenery shots, snowy landscapes in an unknown location. Then we move into Dani’s trauma. Her family’s death throws her into a tailspin of grief and confusion. Your next section is the two weeks before the group head to Sweden.
From the moment the group walk through the wooden sunburst arch into Harga village you’ve stepped into the otherworldly realm along with the characters.
The way we see Dani express her grief gradually changes in the lead up to the end shot. At the start Dani tries to hide her emotions, she cries in bathrooms, behind toilet doors on the flight to Sweden, then again another toilet in Harga – actually she’s pretty obsessed by toilets thinking about it. When her emotions overwhelm her she runs off, for example, when she takes the mushrooms in the field and later when they see the older man and woman plunge to their deaths.
Later, when they’re all sat at the table reeling from seeing the gory death, Dani stands out. While everything around them is ordered, peaceful and beautiful, Josh is angry at Christian for stealing his thesis idea and Mark is troubled by the Harga man glaring at him for peeing on their ancestral tree. To be fair I’d be pretty annoyed at that too.
Dani is starting to become aware that she only ever makes excuses for Christian; he forgot her birthday, dismisses her reactions and feelings and ignores her. In comparison, Pelle, who is low key obsessed with her, remembers her birthday and tries to share his own backstory (can we also acknowledge how he says his parents died in a fire…most likely at the end of their cycle, perhaps involving jumping off a cliff). Pelle’s comforting words soon shift to him asking her the big questions – mainly asking on whether Christian feels like “home” to her – which leaves Dani shaken up.
The next time we see them at the table Dani tells them that Simon left Connie behind. She bitterly says she believes Christian would do the same thing to her. It’s the very definition of an awkward moment. Christian asks what she means, but doesn’t really address her point. Instead, he eats a pubic hair filled pie and drinks from a drink that is a shade or two darker or is that pinker? then everyone else’s. If you remember the tapestry we panned across when the group first arrived at the village you’ll start to realise that this it was foreshadowing all the events that we now see playing out.
What are all the ceremonies?
Before we jump ahead to the whodunnit act, where we try and figure out what happened to Connie and Simon, it’s worth taking a look at the weird ceremonies.
Apart from a lot of chanting, heavy breathing and dancing, the Harga have set ceremonies that are observed across the nine-day festival. The main one involves two elders being taken to a clifftop after a hearty meal, reading some runes, having their hands slit and spreading blood on a rune marked slab of stone, then throwing themselves off the cliff to a gruesome death. Sounds like a party, right? The woman dies on impact, but the man breaks his leg leaving the Harga to bludgeon him to death with a large mallet one by one. Think bloody whack-a-mole. Commune elder Siv tells the group that this is part of a long-standing tradition and the old people saw it as a “joy” and went willingly.
Pelle explained earlier on that the commune sees life in four acts; the childhood years, then 18 to 36, then 36 to 54, then 54 to 74. When Dani asks him what happens after that he gestured by cutting across his throat – it’s now clear what he meant. Siv says that all life works as a cycle, that their time had come and they simply chose to offer up their lives rather than grow old. She adds that there is a pregnant woman whose baby will now take the dead woman’s name tying together the cycle. The link to Dani’s own family trauma is obvious. Her sister took her own life, and those of her parents – she chose to do so – and we start to see why Pelle was glad Dani came on the trip.
What happens to Dani’s friends and how do they die?
Once we enter into the final part of the film the friends are bumped off one by one. Simon and Connie, the English couple, are the first to go missing when they attempt to leave. Not long after that Josh and Mark go missing too after they both disrespect the Harga traditions; Josh snuck off to the Oracle’s House and took photos of the book of runes, while Mark peed on the ancestor’s tree and pursued a girl he wasn’t approved to mate with. The result of both of them breaking the rules is Josh getting smacked across the head by the Oracle who wears (what looks like) Mark’s face as a mask. Only Dani and Christian remain.
Dani gets roped into dancing in the Maypole and enters the running to become May Queen, but as she is sent off to get ready Christian is sent to see Siv. We soon learn that the Commune leader has decided that he can mate with Maja, the red-head who kept making eyes at him. Christian shows his first unease at the way things are going, but his confusion isn’t enough to stop him telling her no outright. At this point we’re all thinking the same thing – we wouldn’t be too sad if the Harga went for this chump next.
Mating ritual – are the Harga incestuous?
The whole mating ritual is very intense and very strange. The Harga mate with outsiders as incest is still taboo within the commune, though they can be paired with cousins. We also learn that inbreeding is done deliberately to create the Oracle. It’s all a nice nod back to the start when, as they drive to the commune, Mark keeps commenting on the Swedish women’s beauty. Josh says their good looks probably come from the Vikings who dragged the best women from the lands they plundered back home.
The Fertility Rituals
The ending is nigh. The actual events leading up to the ending are fairly straightforward, but there’s no denying it all gets a bit crazy. As Dani dances with the girls in the Maypole dance it becomes clear she’s going to be the last one standing and therefore be crowned May Queen, but what that job entails isn’t immediately obvious. A feast follows her victory where she raises her glass to toast everyone, but she doesn’t wait for Christian to sit down showing how much she’s changed. She sits down before he gets to the table – and even attempts to eat the live fish they offer as “good luck”.
While Dani is led away to get on with blessing the crops, Christian is led away following a trail of flower petals – sort of a horror version of the yellow brick road.
Christian is dressed in a robe and given more drugs – the Harga love their drugs – and is taken to mate with Maja. The doors to the barn open to reveal Maja completely naked surrounded by a dozen women singing and chanting, all naked. Things get very, very weird as their noises match Maja as she and Christian get it on.
When Dani returns and hears the noises the Haja don’t really try that hard to stop her seeing what’s going on. She peers through the keyhole only to see Christian having sex with Maja and reacts, understandably, as if it’s the worst thing she could have seen (that’s discounting the whole dead people).
Dani’s grief finally comes to a head and she breaks down, screaming on the floor, as the woman all match her cries. Christian finishes up with Maja and runs out, naked still, but makes his way to the chicken coop where he finds a body strung up.
The nine human sacrifices
Now the fertility rituals have been completed the Harga announce that the 90-year-old event has come to its culmination, but nine people have to die.
Four of their own will be sacrificed alongside four outsiders – Mark, Simon, Connie and Josh – and one selected by the May Queen, Dani. The twist is Dani has to choose between a randomly selected Harga (they use a rune style bingo machine) or Christian. Aster cuts to an elder showing the young boys have to take the intestines out of a bear before they put Christian inside it – Dani chose him. The nine human sacrifices are all put in the yellow building that Pelle told them to stay away from at the start and it’s all set on fire as the Harga scream and flail their limbs. The last shot focuses on Dani’s face, at first confused, then she beams, her smile growing wider.
Ok what on earth did that mean?
Midsommar ending explained
If you look back at the first act, you’ll see Aster dropped us a few clues. In Dani’s apartment there are two paintings by her couch; one of the moons, showing the passage of time, the second, a woman running across dead bodies. Dani also has several plants in contrast to the rain and snow outside. When Dani heads to be later on we spot the painting above her of ‘Stackars lilla Basse!’ which means Poor Little Bear!, an illustration by a Swedish painter John Bauer (d1918). Baure illustrated fairytales, but the relevant one here is ‘Oskuldens Vandring’ aka The Walk of Innocence. The tale talks about an innocent girl who walks through a forest, meets a bear, kisses his nose and calls him a poor little bear. While that’s not quite what happens in Midsommar, the bear foreshadows Christian’s end.
If we look at everything in her apartment in the same way, it appears that Dani was always meant to end up May Queen. We see plants growing in her hands and feet when she’s on a trip in Sweden, the moon comes up when the Harga speak about the life cycle and Dani’s grief-stricken howling is seen again at the end as the Harga let it all out. The tapestry we see after Simon points out the bear in the cage foreshadows the fertility ritual and the paintings in the barn they all sleep in foreshadow how they all meet their end.
Is Midsommar real?
The actual cult in the film isn’t real, but it does take inspiration from several that Aster researched.
“It’s a stew,” Aster said, during a talk after a screening of the film at the Brooklyn Alamo Drafthouse. “We’re drawing from actual Swedish traditions, we’re drawing from Swedish folklore, we’re drawing from Norse mythology.”
Midsommar as a fairytale
Aster has talked about how Midsommar can be seen as a fairytale, he also calls it a folk horror film. The plot is simple, outsiders visit a new place and via pagan rituals are killed off. If we look at the ending as a fairytale perhaps we get an answer as to why Dani is smiling. Having lost her whole family she’s been orphaned. Any fairytale begins with the protagonist missing at least one parent – from Cinderella to Snow White, Little Mermaid to Beauty and the Beast . Dani also ascends to become a Queen, which while it usually is a princess, still fits the fairytale bill.
Purging Ritual – why the nine have to burn
The Harga talk about getting rid of the worst “affekts”, which, in the subtitles, isn’t translated because it means quite literally affections and emotions. By burning the group, Christian especially, Dani sheds her emotions and finally faces her grief that she had been repressing to please her boyfriend with her.
The burning of the Harga building is the last ritual and represents purging. As they all clutch themselves, pulling at their faces and bodies, as if wrenching something from within, they are all cleansing themselves. For Dani, we see this before our eyes. Now free of the burdens she’s struggled with, she realises she’s free, and that’s why she smiles.
The film looks at the contrast between the modern world and the pagan. We could look at the modern world as heralded in by Christianity. The shift marks a move from the commune – community – to the self, and redemption of our own souls. Christian is selfish, only looking at himself and his own needs, he forgets Dani and takes Josh’s thesis idea. While he isn’t directly representative of Christianity, he does represent the self, putting our own happiness over others.
Why was Christian put in the bear?
There’s no clear reason, but perhaps it’s referencing the Norse myth where warriors called Berserkers would fight in a trance. In some versions of the myth, they transformed into a bear. The dead Berserkers were sometimes put in bearskins before their funeral rites.
What do the runes mean?
The runes seen throughout the movie are all based on real runes and appear to act as metaphors and foreshadow what’s to come.
Why didn’t they just leave?
The big question in any horror movie is why don’t they just run away or leave. In this case, it appears that they played into the trope of the ‘dumb American’, but perhaps it goes beyond that. Dani has a journey to go on, Christian and Josh want to write their thesis and Mark doesn’t seem too bothered with all the drama, at least until he dies. Connie and Simon do actually try and leave making it even more apparent that the group of friends that stay all have a weird link to the Harga and reason to stick it out. …and there’s the fact there’s no movie if they all head home.
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