Two women pave their paths out of fantastical nightmaresby Caspar Salmon / July 18, 2019 / Leave a comment
“A Wizard of Oz for perverts” is how Hereditary director Ari Aster has described his second film—a tantalising description for this particular friend of Dorothy, and an apt one when you consider both the format of the film and the derangement Midsommar sounds out.
But the film, centring as it does on Dani, a young American woman accompanying her anthropologist boyfriend to a Nordic festival that turns steadily more sinister, also brings to mind Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In both, whimsy and horror collide. In Midsommar’s presentation of a vulnerable, virginal femininity—embodied by anxious college student Dani—rubbing up against cruelty and unreason, the movie creates a familiar sense of disturbance which it then takes a wicked pleasure in subverting.
Aster sets his film in purposefully loose and hazy circumstances. Its tight preamble manages to lay out narrative facts—for instance Dani’s fraught relationship with her boyfriend Christian, a gaslighting nightmare who also dabbles in casual cruelty —while being vague about the passing of time and psychological details, much like the hazy difference between reality and dream at the beginning of Lewis Carroll’s story. And just as Alice experiences a blurring of the line between the real and the fantastical, between normality and nightmare, so the beginning of Midsommar flips between America and the trip to Sweden, prefiguring the descent into chaos of its heroine.
In a startling edit, Aster cuts from Dani vomiting in a bathroom upon being reminded of the death of her parents and sister, to a scene of her being travel-sick on board the plane. In a sense, Dani is already in the nightmare that we are about to witness.
In other scenes, such as the early drug-fueled hallucination where Dani perceives her hands as overgrown with moss and grass, Aster creates a strange sense of horror. It is less to do with fright or anguish than it is with the uncanny—the feeling of strangeness being in some way familiar—as when Alice’s body stretches and distorts itself under the effect of various biscuits and medicines.
Just like Alice, Dani spends a great deal of the story apologising for her behaviour. While Alice feels compelled to say sorry to a mouse (for talking about her cat), a particularly uncomfortable scene early on in Midsommar shows Dani apologising to her boyfriend for offending him when we already know he has abused her trust. Like Alice, Dani spends a…