Imagine your worst break-up with your former significant other. Now add in rural Swedish folk religions, ritualistic meals, magic mushrooms, death ceremonies, an endless summer sun, pubic hairs, and a bear costume. That’s Midsommar, a horror movie about the worst break-up in cinematic history.
For those who may still be lost on what director Ari Aster (who scared us half to death last year in Hereditary) was cooking up in Midsommar, here’s an explainer to help you settle down and make sense of harrowing mushroom trip.
Warning: Full spoilers for Midsommar ahead.
In Midsommar, Dani (Florence Pugh) is traumatized by the recent murders of her parents. In a last-ditch effort to also save her relationship with her boyfriend Christian (Jack Rynor), she tags along on a research trip to Sweden, where they find themselves in an isolated commune that’s about to begin a festival celebrated once every 90 years. Here, the sun never seems to set.
Over the week, the commune’s true face is slowly revealed. While they’re not explicitly a death cult nor devil worshippers, the very old ways of their ancestors is a shock to the system for outsiders.
To these pagan folk, life happens in “seasons.” Elders in the “winter” of their lives they willingly commit suicide for the younger generations to thrive. Seasons are an underlying theme in Midsommar; the film’s title is literally “mid-summer” in Swedish, and our protagonists, including Dani, are in the “summer” of their lives between childhood and old age.
Dani, more than anyone else in the movie, has experienced a crucial part of growing up (burying one’s parents) in arguably the worst way. (Doubling down on the seasons theme, it’s no accident Dani’s parents were killed in winter.)
Truthfully, this trip is the last thing Dani could have done to get over her trauma, but you can’t blame her for trying. Especially since her relationship with Christian appeared to be on the line.
It’s this seemingly inconsequential part of the story that explodes in a big way at the end of Midsommar: Of the film’s many threads, the most important is the disintegration of Dani and Christian, who have the worst break-up in recorded history as Dani sentences Christian to die as part of the final ceremony.
How Dani Kills Christian
When Dani unexpectedly wins the crown of “May Queen” by surviving a dizzying dance competition, Dani is given privileges over the festival. Besides earning a head seat at the table, the May Queen must also perform some pointless ceremonies while the others drug Christian into having sex with a young girl in their community, Maja (Isabelle Grill).
To the community, Maja is of age to give birth, and she has chosen Christian to do it by putting her pubic hair in his food (foreshadowed in a creepy tapestry earlier in the film). While the commune is no stranger to incest, they regularly mate with outsiders like Christian to ensure a healthier population.
With Maja (presumably) pregnant, the commune has no more use for Christian. They leave him drugged and paralyzed on a wheelbarrow as Dani, now grown into her role as May Queen, oversees the final ceremony of the festival: The burning of the ominous yellow pyramid barn.
Inside, the community places the stuffed bodies of Dani and Christian’s friends, while they choose two more of their own to die by lottery. Finally, the May Queen chooses one last sacrifice, one who must die wearing the skin suit of a living bear. With all the film’s emotions climaxing at this moment, bolstered by Dani witnessing Christian having sex with Maja just a few minutes earlier, Dani sentences Christian to die as the bear.
I guarantee that no matter how bad your break-ups have been, you’ve never had one like Dani and Christian. Midsommar is a dense movie, packed with universal themes such as truth, trust, lust, and death. But Ari Aster, a bold director growing into his own in his second feature debut, has also squeezed in a dark romantic-comedy within the framework of a cult horror movie.