“Midsommar,” directed by Ari Aster and starring Florence Pugh, depicts a rural town in Sweden celebrating a midsummer festival. The trip would seem ideal to most young Americans, especially for the main character Dani, who just lost her family in a murder/suicide. But what begins as a beautiful trip of reconnecting with nature in gorgeous Sweden quickly turns into a violent and bizarre game for the matriarchal pagan cult.
The cult in “Midsommar” made me consider community and its importance to the human psyche in a world that continues to become more isolated, despite our connectivity through technology. This cult feels pain as a group, they cry when one of their own cries. They eat together and sleep together: They are a unit of emotional and physical support not often seen nowadays in America.
Dani ultimately suspects that something strange is going on despite the beauty of the commune. However, the community accepts her and even feels with her. In one scene toward the end of the film, Dani moans in pain after seeing her boyfriend cheat on her, and a group of women moan with her to show their solidarity. For Dani, who has mostly been abandoned by those who are supposed to be supporting her, this feels important. At the end of the movie, when Dani is adorned in floral and crowned the Midsommar queen, she remains the only surviving member of the original group that showed up with the two native brothers. After the final ritual, in which the visitors and two natives are burned, Dani smirks.
Cults bring in people with an abundance of welcoming, friendship and praise. How can I blame Dani for taking in this acceptance when it is a feature slowly dimming from modern society? It seems Dani’s experience is a cautionary tale of the times. Excruciating emotional pain and disconnect can lead to desperation and an urge to escape, not necessarily to places of isolation but to places where reconnection blossoms. The native brother, Pelle, asks Dani, “Does he make you feel held?” Despite all the violence Dani has seen at the hands of the community, they make her feel held. The desperate need to find community again in the face of deep loss can lead the self into places they never thought they could possibly go. Matched with the prospect of acceptance and praise, Dani leans into the cult.
Illustration by Amber Duan