Florence Pugh in Midsommar: Trading One Cage For Another

I’d be the perfect horror film character.

I would totally go and write in a desolate hotel for the winter. If I lived in 1630 New England, there’s no doubt my parents would accuse me of witchcraft, due to my hippie-dippie tendencies. And hell yeah, I would venture to a remote part of Sweden to visit a mysterious Scandinavian cult…. err, I mean community.

I could write an entire post about the fantastically scary aspects of Midsommar, but to me, it’s so much more than a horror movie. It’s a deep, ugly look at a sensitive woman’s grief. It’s about loss. It’s about family. And for those reasons, anyone could watch Midsommar and see what I saw — a story about life as you know it being swept away.

Spoilers ahead.

via The New York Times

Of course, I’m seeing the story through Dani Ardor’s eyes. Dani, played by my future best friend Florence Pugh, is strong, but vulnerable. She’s smart but easily swayed. When we meet her, she’s where many of us have been — in a crumbling relationship.

She’s barely hanging on to Christian, (Jack Reynor), her boyfriend of almost four years. Christian is a stressed-out PhD student without a topic for his dissertation which of course, does not help his flailing relationship with Dani. In a scene with his three close guy friends at the start of the film, we learn that he’s almost completely detached from their relationship, but still indecisive about ending it.

(There’s also talk of a trip to Sweden, but that doesn’t come into play until later.)

Christian pulling away isn’t Dani’s only problem, however. Her sister is having problems again.

I don’t want to get too personal, but I am familiar with the impact mental illness can have on a family. When Dani worries about her sister’s mindset, after receiving “another scary email,” I empathize with her. It makes Christian’s cool, dismissive demeanor (“You let her do this to you, Dani,”) so off-putting and unforgiving.

The situation with her sister is escalating, but Christian has heard it all before. He’s used to being a bucket for Dani to pour her feelings into. He’s drowning in it and he’s done. But of course, my sympathy goes to Dani. I am also a person who feels too much. I often don’t know where to put my feelings. I struggle to build my own bucket, too.

Then, the unimaginable happens.

(Spoilers ahead. Spoilers galore.)

Dani’s sister, Terri, commits suicide via carbon monoxide poisoning. And as alluded in the last scary email, she takes her parents “with her,” filling the family home with toxic gas while they sleep. Dani is devastated and immediately goes to Christian, who seemingly shelves his plan for ending their relationship… for now.

Six months later, the couple is still together and Dani is not well. She’s sleeping all day, wearing potato-sack like pants and tops. Still, she rallies and attends a party with Christian and his friends, aka, Josh (William Jackson Harper, who we all know as Chidi from The Good Place), Mark (Will Poulter), and Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren, who I just followed on Instagram.)

We learn that Josh, unlike Christian, has chosen the topic for his dissertation (because of course, Chidi did.) He’s studying European midsummer customs, which will include visiting a handful of places celebrating the pagan holiday. He’s starting with Sweden, where Pelle is from. This is where that previously mentioned trip comes back to bite Christian in the ass.

Dani is unaware of Josh’s plans and completely blindsided that Christian has decided to go. He’ll be gone for a month and a half and the trip starts in two weeks. The observant viewer will surmise that Christian was planning to break up with Dani before the trip happened, thus, not needing to tell her about it. But he has not. He has not told her, he has not dumped her, and he still has not picked a topic for his dissertation.

After the party, the couple fights (ah, the customary after party fight!). Dani, who actually sees things exactly as they are, points out how strange it is that she did not know about the trip. She clearly expresses how uncomfortable she felt being confronted with the trip at a party, you know, because they’re leaving in two weeks and already have plane tickets.

“You didn’t apologize, you just said ‘sorry’,” Dani so justly says. “Which sounds like ‘too bad.”

Dani is right. Christian knows she’s right. But instead of granting her any of her sanity, Christian does what most shitty people do when they’re guilty. He gaslights her. He twists her words and expresses how uncomfortable her feelings are making him. Dani apologizes.

Put in an awkward position, Christian of course, still cannot man up and break it off with Dani, so he invites her to Sweden instead.

To be fair, the Sweden trip sounds like fun. Because in Sweden, Dani, Christian, Mark, and Josh will visit Pelle’s home community, a remote village called Harga. The Harga, aka, the people who live in Harga, are traditional and isolated from modern society. The group will be attending a special Midsommar festival, a supposed version of the festival with rituals that only happen every 90 years.

When they arrive in Harga, things start to get creepy. There’s a live bear. People start to go missing. Everyone is tripping on mushroom tea and various other concoctions the Harga freely offer. Someone finds a pubic hair in their meat pie. Two elders commit suicide by jumping off a cliff in a bizarre Harga ritual. Christian steals Josh’s dissertation topic.

That last one is less creepy and more of a dick move, but you get the idea. Things are not good. And again, I could go on and on about the horror aspects of Midsommar, I’m choosing to focus on Dani’s grief. Throughout her time at Harga, Dani constantly has visions of her deceased family members. Her sister appears to her in a mirror. She sees her mother walking through a crowd of community members. If you look closely, there’s an image of her sister’s face in the trees.

Her grief is everywhere. Just as she thinks she can escape it, there it is. Winning the May Queen contest does not bring her mother back from the dead. Receiving an illustrated portrait from Pelle for her birthday (which Christian forgets) does not revive her Dad. She can drink all of the mushroom tea she wants, but the memory of Terri and what she did cannot be washed away.

She’s already lost her family and throughout Midsommar, she’s losing everything else. Christian makes the demise of their relationship so much worse with his indecisiveness. He feigns interest and turns on his affection when he feels he needs to but drags Dani’s feelings through the muck. He continues to fade away, taking away the only other “family” Dani feels she has.

In addition to losing Christian, she’s slowly losing her actual sanity, as well as her freedom. At the beginning of their trip, Dani wisely points out that something is very wrong in Harga (Director’s Cut), but her weakened emotional state leaves her exposed. The Harga latch on to her, showering her with attention, compliments, and hugs. They give her the unconditional love she desperately needs, with Pelle playing the Pied Piper.

Finally, they orchestrate Christian cheating on Dani with a local. Dani does not know that Christian was drugged and given his behavior for the entire film, believes that he was willingly unfaithful to her. At the end of the film, she conducts a horrific act that dooms Christian, seemingly joining the cult who has claimed her as their own.

Image via National Review

I’ve read a lot of reviews that say Dani is better off with the Harga, but I disagree. This is not her family, this is a cult. Pelle is not her knight in shining armor, he is a puppeteer. The devastating grief Dani is feeling, in addition to her ability to feel too deeply, leaves her incredibly susceptible to their manipulation.

When you have nothing, you reach for anything. She may be free from Christian, but she’s found herself in another abusive relationship. This one is much more dangerous and difficult to flee.

Melissa Randall is a nonfiction writer and essayist. Her stories on Medium often discuss travel, film, and personal life experiences.

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