Midsommar (Ari Aster) 3½ out of 4 stars.
How can man evaluate another’s brutality? This is the question Ari Aster challenges in the follow-up to his 2018 sensation, Hereditary. In this breakup tale with the dressings of disturbing absurdity, Aster follows the demise of an American couple, portrayed effortlessly by Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor, on the verge of an imminent breakup in the wake of the horrific deaths of her immediate family. As they travel to Sweden to be part of a traditional Pagan festival, the spiraling insecurities of their relationship are pushed into the light as the festivities become sinister. The real fear for Pugh’s character, however, is not her impending breakup but her impending isolation. This is a horror that lives in perpetual daylight and understands that what really scares us is the fear that the earthly feelings we so often push away until night comes, the ones of loneliness, separation, or rejection, will seep into every second of our daily lives.
The most striking component of this movie seemed to be its commentary on social relationships. It’s an explicitly feminist film coming from a distinctly male perspective that seems to be clearly basing their perception of women on an individual woman they know very well. He does not intend to present her character as morally superior, but merely more familiarly slighted and debased in her proximity to the men around her. The specificity of the central character and the dynamics of her relationship invite a distinct relatability that becomes a cruel sort of wish-fulfillment framework within the narrative, encouraging her ultimate salvation through her separation from her romantic dejection.
The challenges of their relationship are further explored through the fascinating debate of the ways in which we react to our surroundings and our trauma. Through Pugh’s character and her boyfriend, an anthropology student, Aster compares the difference between reacting emotionally and looking at experiences logically and the automatic distance that the latter creates between the individual and the experience. The contemplation that perhaps their fates would have been different had they held different philosophies is something I will be chewing on for quite some time.
While its lengthy runtime simulates a true getaway, it occasionally creates problems for itself as it attempts to navigate its own creation of suspense. Like a rubber band, the tension is stretched and released, although it seems sometimes that Mr. Aster would like to stretch it too far. Much of what should be mounting delirium is assuaged by increased understanding and lowered stakes. Once it has been stretched so far, Aster is left a little directionless and minutes go by as you hang on to the last bit of peril before the film presents a clear step toward the next.
Within this runtime, Aster also occasionally stumbles in clearly grasping onto a singular idea. This issue with consistency is most notably witnessed in the line of perspective. After following Pugh’s character so closely, the film half-commits to a perspective shift that is unable to work due to the marked fulfillment of Pugh’s character alone. The farther it strays from her progression, the more muddled the narrative becomes. The issue with consistency further bleeds into the stylistic techniques, some proving jarring and tonally inconsistent with the rest of the film. Nevertheless, this is largely made up for by its general technical proficiency with its slow camera movements and acute sense of delicacy.
Beyond its elaborate production design and idyllically washed out grain, however, Midsommar comments on the absurdity of human culture, the nature of relationships, and the lengths to which we comfort ourselves with both rationality and resignation. While it is certainly affecting, I am still unsure whether it’s completely effective. I do know, however, that I will be spending a lot of time trying to figure that out, and that’s enough for me.