Ari Aster’s additional scenes expound on themes of codependency, adding to the emotional intensity of the film.
Many theaters, including Tulsa’s own Circle Cinema, have had second runnings of Ari Aster’s 2019 sophomore film “Midsommar,” this time showing the director’s cut. While this extended version doesn’t make many important additions to the plot, the film does start to reveal some of its deeper themes upon a second viewing.
The film tells the story of Dani Ardor (Florence Pugh), a student whose sister’s murder-suicide also takes the lives of her parents This tragedy, combined with her deteriorating romantic relationship with Christian Hughes (Jack Reynor), puts her in an incredibly vulnerable place. Dani’s mental state seems to be further exposed when she takes a trip to the Harga, a pagan commune in Sweden.
“Midsommar” makes a large shift from its predecessor “Hereditary” on an aesthetic level. Aster exchanges the dark and gritty hues of his debut for a bright and floral look. However, the thematic elements of the two films are incredibly similar. Both deal with death, grief and family.
The director’s cut seems to mostly add scenes pertaining to the deterioration of the romantic relationship between Dani and Christian. He is a far worse boyfriend in this version, lying to Dani repeatedly and failing to console her when the Harga reminds her of her own trauma. A second viewing allowed for many moments of realization, revealing the clever foreshadowing Aster places in the earlier sections of the film.
The pivotal moment of their relationship occurs when Dani sees her boyfriend having sex with one of the Harga. Pugh’s reaction is nothing short of catastrophic, but the true genius is the way the female members of the community feel pain with her. They wail with the same volume as Dani; when she stops, they stop. She begins to cry louder and more sporadically, and her crowd mimics these changes, creating an almost symphonic effect of grief.
This scene’s point isn’t merely to show the depth of Dani’s sadness, but also to show how the Harga community deals with sadness. The women don’t necessarily make an emotional connection with Dani, but they offer a sense of shared pain, letting her unleash the sadness that has been bottled up inside her for months. This feeling of community is what ultimately leads Dani to abandon her boyfriend (and her previous life) for a life in the Harga. Aster cites one of the main themes of the film as “codependency,” and this scene shows Dani’s dependency shift from Christian onto the Harga.
Dani’s consumption of psychedelic drugs push her even further into a state of crisis; this also allows Aster to play with the visual aspects of the world he creates. He places Dani’s dead family members among the members of Harga, illustrating both the horror she sees in their rituals as well as the extent to which Dani is willing to use this community as her new family.
Dani finally reaches emotional catharsis in the final scene of the film. She makes the decision to sacrifice her boyfriend and join the community as a smile slowly creeps on her face to replace the frown that the audience has grown used to.
Aster’s unique film combines typical elements of horror, a compelling personal narrative and pristinely haunting visuals to create a film that is not just incredibly unique, but emotionally honest. Aster has said that the breakup of Dani and Christian was written as the main focus of the film after he himself went through a rough breakup. Perhaps he chose to include more of Dani’s breakup in his preferred version because of this breakup. In either version, however, it is this personal inspiration is what makes “Midsommar” such a hard-hitting movie.