I thought it was brilliant!! It was about several interesting things, I thought (LOL). I don’t have a good outline for putting my thoughts together so I guess they will just be all over the place. For starters don’t you think it was basically the ultimate “culture clash” movie? It explored cultural encounter in such a brutal way. I guess it wasn’t just culture clash, it was specifically a critique of American globalization–the way rich Westerners get to travel around the world scooping up bits and pieces of other cultures they find interesting, and how despite the fact that these encounters are always described as amazing and beautiful and “the people are so friendly over there” and such it’s actually a really dehumanizing act. Seeing other human beings as sites to visit and take home something from. The Americans in the film were excited to encounter this strange other culture and they did it in such an acquisitive way, a way that wasn’t about people at all, wasn’t about being together in different ways on the earth. I was really into the moment when they first arrive at the village when the Anthropology student (not the boyfriend, the other one, I can’t remember a single character name) meets the village leader who tells them something about some custom they’re about to do, and the guy is like “oh yeah, don’t the such-and-such people of Sweden have that same custom?” Like as though he’s just chatting abstractly about “culture” to someone else “interested in culture,” rather than to a dude who is living his damn life not thinking of it as “interesting culture to compare academically with other cultures.” And so the village elder just looks at him in confusion. I loved that. And of course the bickering of the two students over who “gets” this culture–it’s mine, I called it I have dibs! The more overt signaling of how disgusting these people’s attitudes toward other human beings are (mirrored in the boyfriend’s lack of feelings for his own girlfriend)
So there was that. But then also the movie raised questions I don’t know how to answer, about cultural relativity. When they all witness the old people’s deaths, the different reactions of the outsiders are so interesting and it all raises questions that to me are disturbing and pretty urgent. Our main girl is horrified by it, it triggers her dead-family-trauma, but then her instinctive impulse to flee is tempered by the Anthro dudes who somehow have taken it in stride, they somehow aren’t disturbed by what just happened. They’re amazed but they immediately fold it into their academic understanding of culture; they perform their anthropology methodologies on it, immediately working to understand the ritual in its historical and cultural context. But this act totally evacuates not only moral judgment (which is the point–anthropologists aren’t supposed to “judge” the cultures they observe really) but also PERSONAL response (which is maybe less forgivable/more disturbing). It seems like what’s really disturbing about the Anthro dudes is that they don’t CARE. Their bodies don’t shudder; they aren’t concerned about the old people’s inner experiences; they won’t have nightmares about this moment. So it’s complicated–on the one hand, the terrible Anthro bros are RIGHT, right? You don’t go traipsing over into somebody else’s culture and then start screaming about how it’s evil. And yet our hero is also right to FEEL FEELINGS about what she sees, and to be overwhelmed and upset by these things that are so outside her enculturated understanding of right and wrong. Also, the two British characters are right to immediately start screaming and crying and saying you people are monsters, and to trying to leave. All those reactions are correct, in their own ways, and yet you see in the film how inadequate each one of them is, how none of them take the full consideration of human life/experience/culture into account. And you’re left wondering: what would be the BEST reaction? What possible reaction could you have, other than the three we were shown? So in that way I also thought the movie was about the irreconcilability of difference, which is something Ive been interested in lately because I’ve been reading all this anarchist theory and anarchism is all about a kind of radical inclusion that doesn’t try to prevent or ignore “antagonisms,” in the words of one cool book I read. And it’s hard to think this way. It’s hard to develop a politics that truly, genuinely, includes EVERYONE. Because some shit just IS irreconcilable: I put it to you that none of us could encounter that village in a way that didn’t somehow invoke an irreconcilable difference in feelings or judgment. And yet, the village exists, and we exist. What to do? Midsommar to me was at least partially about this. There maybe IS no way to appropriately contextualize or experience this crazy village; it’s just itself, doing its own thing, and what you think of it doesn’t matter, and yet here you are, too.
Along these lines I was especially interested in how the village/villagers were depicted. I think the main source of why this movie felt so “disturbing” to people was that the villagers were not evil, but that insistently-reiterated fact doesn’t gibe with the things we see them doing (ritual human sacrifice). The villagers were fun and nice, full of love and joy, full of enjoyment for one another and of pleasure in getting to live in a beautiful place together. The “horrible” stuff they do as part of their religion ISN’T HORRIBLE TO THEM, it’s beautiful and thrilling and deep. I loved all the moments that showed us this. The crazy sex ritual where they drug the boyfriend and make him impregnate that girl in front of all the naked women—for him, he’s having a truly horrifying, traumatic nightmare experience; but for HER she’s having one of the most special, exciting moments in her life! She’s so happy, and all the women are so happy for her–the mom kneeling down and taking her hand and singing to her, it’s such a beautiful, beautiful moment. Getting to be a part of this special ritual, that will only happen to a girl one time in her life! Meanwhile the dude is basically having the worst acid trip anyone has ever had on this earth and his brain breaks apart. How to reconcile both those experiences of that moment, both of which were very authentic and “correct” given who the individuals involved are?
(yes there are issues of consent of course, the Americans did not “consent” to becoming the ritual sacrifices of this weird Norwegian cult. I’m leaving that aside I guess)
It’s interesting that both Hereditary and Midsommar are about roughly similar kinds of culture clash. In Hereditary it’s a group of pagan devil worshipers doing human sacrifice; in Midsommar it’s a group of pagans (not sure if they worship the devil explicitly) doing human sacrifice. And they have SUCH SIMILAR ENDINGS, where the harried and confused son/main girl finally SUBMIT to the madness of the pagan cult, and just kind of accept it and go along with it and get subsumed into it, and there’s this huge sense of RELIEF in that final moment, ahhhh it’s OVER. But the feel of the two films is powerfully different. It feels like Hereditary is about evil, but Midsommar is not, and the quality of why/how they are each disturbing films is very different to me. We talked about it after and we decided part of this difference is that the Satanists in Hereditary want evil things–money and power–and they are murdering and torturing people in order to attain those worldly goals; and also that THEY have come into OUR place, our culture, where they aren’t wanted. The Midsommar people don’t want money and power, and they haven’t gone out into the world infiltrating other cultures; it seems important that the Americans/Brits came to THEM, as part of their fun tourist attitude. The villagers are just there, doing what they do. They’re just what Gary called later “a garden-variety pagan fertility cult,” the kind of culture that was a dime-a-dozen a few thousand years ago, all over the world. And reading about this kind of culture in ancient history doesn’t seem to bother us so much. That’s what they believed, and everyone involved in the society was on the same page with it, so it wasn’t horrible. The idea that what is “horrible” is relative, whatever the majority agrees upon–I think that is a hard thing to grapple with and yet it is true. The Midsommar situation only becomes “a problem” or “disturbing” when put into juxtaposition with modern Western values or whatever. The old people who die in the beginning are fine with it and their death–after your initial shock of course–actually maybe doesn’t seem that horrible. It’s the outsiders who are not part of this cultural situation who make it into a nightmare. They don’t want to live this way.
And yet, the way the Americans DO live is portrayed as so empty and shallow. The boyfriend character was so great for this and I thought that actor portrayed him so well. The guy who seems like a nice normal guy but actually inside his heart he is a howling void of emptiness, there’s nothing inside of him. I was laughing with my cousin because we were going so deep interpreting this movie but then we had a moment where we were both just like GOD he was SUCH A SHITTY BOYFRIEND, and like I love that that’s also what this movie was somehow about: the ways dudes can be the worst fucking boyfriend on the earth. Hahahaha and her ultimate reconciliation of that coming in the form of having him murdered! Jesus. But yeah, so, the film also forces us to be like, huh, is the way you people live really all that moral and wonderful compared to these weird villagers? Is your inner life so deep, your spiritual experience so rich, that you can really stand in judgment of what these people do?
So basically I felt like overall the movie was really about feelings, specifically crying. It was about feeling feelings together, fully living together in the full awareness of life in all its beauty AND terror, and how modern life in the sense that we all live it totally precludes that possibility, and how that is actually what is horrifying. I think maybe what we experience as “disturbing” with this film is the fact that deep down we’re kind of on the side of the villagers; their life seems better, realer (and the American characters are such pieces of shit), and we can’t really see them as evil even though they are doing these horrifying things. But yeah, feeling feelings and honestly facing life TOGETHER, not alone. The main girl didn’t have anyone who would do the work of being with her in the face of her intense emotions. She had no one who would cry with her, no one she could really cry with. The mirroring of the first horrible crying scene, in the sterile apartment in the snow with the bad boyfriend / vs. the amazing cathartic scene of screaming and crying and grieving with all the women on the floor of the dormitory (and also how insistent the film was about showing us the whole village ritualistically crying/screaming together), I found that juxtaposition incredibly meaningful and powerful. This is a village of people who can withstand feelings and don’t turn away from them; even the most brutal thing of all, DEATH, is something they face honestly together, turning it into a site of joyfulness and honor. The thing the town witch or whoever she is says after the old people die is TRUE–isn’t it better to live 76 years and then die on your own terms, brilliantly, in the bosom of your respectful family who honors you? Than to crumble into nothing slowly, in a hospital bed, looked at by nurses who don’t care about you, cycled into somebody’s spreadsheet somewhere, shitting your pants etc.? There IS something so powerful about that first death scene, the old woman is clearly feeling such intense, profound feelings, making those powerful runes with her arms, communing with the fucking spirits that made the earth and control the tides, then facing death actively, bravely, in front of everyone. It was fucking awesome.
[later addition: I was pondering the brutal death of the old man, getting his head smashed by his neighbors with a mallet, which is so upsetting to watch. I think maybe there’s something here about social responsibility–his kinsmen don’t turn away from his death, his suffering, they take responsibility for it. If he fails to die, it is their job to help him succeed, even though to the outsiders watching it looks so brutal. But is it really more brutal than, for example, dumping your parents in a nursing home and visiting them once a month, and feeling guilty and alienated and awful about it all? Again there’s something powerful about this community’s ability to face things together and to not just try to ignore or shove aside or make invisible the aspects of life that are uncomfortable or hard. Maybe?]
So those are my thoughts. What did I miss?? I thought that main actor was so brilliant. Florence Pugh?? I’m not going to google it even though it would take less time than it took to type this sentence. I really loved her. Everyone in the movie was good but that main couple really killed it. I also loved the friend who was from the village–I loved the moment at the end when he was congratulated for following his instincts and bringing them such good outsiders to offer as sacrifices, and he was genuinely so happy and proud. Hahahaha. And god the maypole scene. What a tremendous scene. And did you notice HOW FUCKING GOOD THE MUSIC WAS IN THAT GODDAMN MOVIE?????????????? The whole time I was also assuming the same person who did Hereditary did this one, because they are both so good and in similar ways, but they are two different people. The dude who did Midsommar has worked with Bjork and, like, sludge metal bands, so that makes sense, but also specifically what I loved about the score was how much amateur singing was on it. The singing of people who are not professional singers. If you watch that movie and pay attention to the music you will find it does major major work in the world-building. God it was so good. I really think that director is a genius. Every single shot in both these films is so precise and perfect (although Gary takes major issue with the opening establishing shot in Midsommar, which he says “ruined” the entire film for him, although he also says the film was otherwise “perfect,” so take that as you will). Isn’t it fun to get to discover a brand new filmmaker who you are like “I will see anything that dude makes”???–did you know that Hereditary was LITERALLY HIS FIRST FILM? He hit the ground running!!!!!!!
other answers to your questions:
– I got the new Dyson cordless vacuum and it is still a game-changer and I love it
– We are able to watch mummy movies because we got internet in the house after 3 years!! The town finally delivered on its promise to create a town-wide broadband internet network that would be regulated as a public utility. So it costs like 1/3 what Comcast costs and is great. It’s been totally fine having internet in the house again–I think those 3 years re-set my internet habits and now it’s not a source of distraction for me. My computer is 90% a workplace and 10% emails/reading the Onion and that seems fine.
– We have seen several more mummy movies since I last spoke to you, all of them are terrible except THE GHOUL, a Boris Karloff film made the year after the original mummy, which is not technically even about mummies at all but has lots of signifiers of the genre. It’s very very good. The rest of them are trash. We plowed through two of the Brendan Fraser mummies and then couldn’t continue because they were sapping our will to live.
– We cleansed our palate with maybe the two best zombie films I have ever seen: one is Korean and is called TRAIN TO BUSAN and it literally made us both physically cry; the other is, surprisingly, the sequel to 28 Days Later, which mark my words is much much much better than the original. Who knew??? It also made us cry. Both these movies are utterly bleak and misanthropic and basically about the sorrow of trying to continue struggling to be together and help each other in the face of the growing awareness that it’s all over and the world has ended. There is some father/daughter melodrama in Train to Busan that will make your heart explode. Like really that movie is actually a cliche plot about a father who works too much and only thinks of himself and doesn’t really care about his child, and through hardship he comes to learn the value of other people and of social responsibility and his intense incredible profound love for his child is reawakened–but because late capitalism is so powerfully dehumanizing it literally takes a zombie apocalypse for him to have these revelations, and of course the revelations come too late, because it’s too late for us all. God I cried