So it’s fare-thee-well, my own true love. We’ll meet an-other day, an-other time. It ain’t the leavin’ that’s a-grievin’ me, but my darlin’ who’s bound to stay behind.—Bob Dylan, “Farewell”
Dani (Florence Pugh) is hurting. A family tragedy has left her alone and shattered her sense of security. When she’s not lying despondent, Dani seeks the comfort of Christian (Jack Reynor), her boyfriend who was thinking of ending their rocky relationship before the tragedy. Now, he’s been backed into a corner and looking for a way out—maybe in Sweden.
Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), one of Christian’s roommates, has extended an invitation to his mates—Christian, Josh (William Jackson Harper), an anthropology doctoral candidate, and Mark (Will Poulter)—to visit his family’s commune in Sweden for the nine-day midsummer festival. Not wanting to be left behind, Dani invites herself, and the unsuspecting quartet heads off into the Swedish countryside.
At this point in the movie, Midsommar is firmly rooted in reality. But the worst is yet to come, and writer/director Ari Aster makes this clear through ominous images from cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski and a droning score from The Haxan Cloak—the stage name of British musician Bobby Krlic. Additionally, Aster slows his movie greatly with long, teasing takes and creeping camera movements: He is in no hurry to get where he is going. Aster toys with the audience, eliciting their urgency to get to the good stuff and then punishing them when he does.
Midsommar is a movie consumed by death, first by smoke, finally by fire. So it’s not much of a surprise when Dani and company learn that all is not what it seems in the Swedish countryside. Yes, the sun is high and bright, the fields are lush and green, and maidens frolic around in white dresses with blue trim, but this is no idyllic orgy as Mark might’ve hope, no awakening for Christian, and certainly no solace for Dani. Only Josh, who is excitedly working on his dissertation, seems pleased.
Running 140 minutes, Midsommar can be divided into three sections: dread, horror, and absurdity. The first two are the movie’s strongest, tackling the pain felt by those left behind. It also manages to turn a moment of graphic horror into a philosophical appreciation for the cycle of life. But then Aster discards all that and starts swinging for the fences, laying one bizarre image on top of another. Some are fascinating—powerful hallucinogens play tricks on the audience as they do the characters—most are just plain silly.
When person-of-the-moment Keanu Reeves was recently on The Late Show to promote John Wick 3, host Stephen Colbert asked the actor a beautiful and surprising question: “What do you think happens when we die?” Reeves took a deep breath and replied: “I know that the ones who love us will miss us.”
The first two-thirds of Midsommar agrees. The final third couldn’t care less.
Written and directed by Ari Aster
Produced by Patrik Andersson, Lars Knudsen
Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Will Poulter, Vilhelm Blomgren
A24, Rated R, Running time 148 minutes, Opened July 3, 2019.
The above review first appeared in the pages of Boulder Weekly Vol. 26, No. 47, “If I can’t have all of you, then I don’t want any of you.”