- Praise is pouring in for “Midsommar,” the new horror film about a Swedish summertime festival gone very, very wrong.
- “Midsommar” was written and directed by Ari Aster, and it’s just as excellent as his first feature film, 2018’s “Hereditary.” It also features an equally baffling ending.
- We break down all of the symbols, references, and hidden meanings in the movie – and how they all relate to its shocking ending.
- Warning: This video contains spoilers.
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Following is a transcript of the video.
Narrator: “Midsommar” is a horror movie about a Swedish festival gone very, very wrong.
The film was written and directed by Ari Aster, the man behind 2018’s “Hereditary.” This follow-up is equally disturbing and just as baffling.
Here are all of the symbols and hidden references in the movie, and how they relate to its shocking ending.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
First of all, while “Midsommar” quickly turns into a cultish nightmare, the movie is ultimately about the end of a relationship between the two main characters, Dani and Christian.
Ari Aster was recovering from a breakup of his own while he was developing the film, and that experience influenced his writing of the characters, in particular Dani. He was also inspired by romantic films, like 1973’s “Scenes From a Marriage” and 1981’s “Modern Romance.”
Robert: I don’t think that we should go out anymore.
Narrator: As for his horror influences, there’s a clear reference to “The Shining” in this overhead shot of the journey.
Early in the movie, the paintings on the walls of the apartments hint toward the ending of the film and the very messy breakup we witness.
In Christian’s apartment, we see a painting by Brooklyn-based artist Mu Pan. The work is part of a series called “Dinoassholes,” a title that seems very appropriate for Christian’s character, given his callous treatment of Dani.
Also visible is this work by Swedish artist John Bauer. It depicts a little girl in a crown facing a large bear.
This painting directly alludes to the movie’s ending, when Christian is placed inside a bear carcass and set on fire. Dani watches him burn while wearing a crown of flowers.
Later, in Siv’s house, Christian also sees an image on the wall of a bear being burned alive, further foreshadowing his untimely death.
Simon: So we’re just going to ignore the bear then?
Ingemar: It’s a bear.
Narrator: Aster compared the sacrificial burning of the temple to the burning of a box of an ex’s personal items as a sort of catharsis post-breakup, only, of course, far more extreme.
The sacrificial burning at the end also calls back the ending of “The Wicker Man,” in which the outsider main character is placed in a wooden statue and set afire.
Aster and his team spent months researching Scandinavian and Germanic folklore and scattered Easter eggs throughout the film, which also hint at the culmination of Dani and Christian’s relationship, major plot points, and other characters’ deaths.
One of the most important set pieces, the bunkhouse, exemplifies this attention to detail. The inner walls are covered in elaborate murals painted by artist Ragnar Persson and based on medieval art. If you look closely, these images actually reveal much of the plot.
Basically, the bunkhouse fulfills the same function as the dollhouse did in “Hereditary,” illustrating much of the story before it actually happens.
For example, above one of the beds we see an illustration of two people having sex, surrounded by onlookers. This clearly refers to the mating ritual Christian is later lured into to impregnate Maja. This scene is also hinted at when the boys are eating earlier in the film and discussing all of the Swedish girls they plan on impregnating during the trip.
Another illustration shows people cutting their hands as a sacrifice. Soon after, we see the old couple cut their palms atop the cliff, right before they jump to their deaths. Also covering the walls are many runes, an ancient language that features heavily throughout the film.
At one point, the characters refer to the runes as Elder Futhark and Younger Futhark, two evolutions of the same system of language. Looking at the meanings of some of these symbols, we can try to piece together why Aster chose them in certain parts of the movie.
He assigned each character a rune, which we can see clearly on their robes. Dani has an R rune on her dress, which symbolizes a ride or a journey. This likely refers to her own journey of finally coming to terms with the truth about her relationship.
The hourglass-shaped rune next it symbolizes day or an awakening. This likely refers to Dani’s breakthrough about Christian, a moment of clarity for her.
Dani’s character also experiences a slow reawakening throughout the festival. The first sign of her rebirth is when she wakes up from her nap and suddenly her skin appears golden and almost glittery.
Meanwhile, Christian’s robe has an up-arrow rune, which could reference either the male symbol or a willingness to self-sacrifice, ironically, a quality he does not have.
The first bloody sacrifice we witness is that of two senior members of the community who throw themselves off a cliff. This tradition is called ättestupa. It’s based off of Nordic legends in which people would commit ritual suicide when they grew too old to care for themselves any longer.
When the man and woman rub their bloody hands on the rune stones, the two symbols that appear are the R from Dani’s robe and the up arrow from Christian’s robe.
The shape of the dining table is also significant. This rune symbolizes tradition, the passing down of rituals and rites. If you look closely at the sunlike entrance to the village, you’ll see the same shape, but upside-down.
The X inside the sacred temple can mean gift, which makes sense, as the community is planning on gifting nine souls to the gods.
Beyond the bunkhouse murals, there’s a tapestry in the open field that also foretells parts of the plot. It depicts a bizarre love story in which a girl puts her menstrual blood and pubic hair in a boy’s food and drink to make him fall in love with her. This is exactly what Maja does to Christian. You can see here that his drink is darker than the others, with a reddish tint. And he pulls a pubic hair out of his mouth after taking a bite of the pie.
While the most horrific events in the film are fictitious, the holiday and many of its rituals are very real. Midsummer is an annual event that takes place in mid-June, around the summer solstice. It’s popular across the globe, particularly in Scandinavia.
And it’s even depicted briefly in the Disney movie “Frozen.”
Midsummer was initially a pagan holiday, but it eventually merged with the Christian feast day of St. John the Baptist, a celebration of the prophet’s birth. Indeed, there are several references to John the Baptist in the film.
Pelle tells Dani that the festival lasts nine days and that the event is special because it only occurs every 90 years. In the Bible, the Virgin Mary stayed with John the Baptist’s mother, Elizabeth, for 90 days before Elizabeth gave birth.
Then, when they get to the field outside the village, Ingemar wishes Pelle a happy St. John’s in Swedish.
One of the flowers that covers the village is St. John’s wort.
It’s customary to celebrate St. John’s Day with bonfires, like the one that burned the sacrifices alive in the final scene, and with torches, like those that the villagers carry throughout the film.
One of the key components of “Midsommar” is the maypole, which we see in the film covered in flowers and greenery for good luck. The ritual in which the villagers dance around the maypole is based in a real-life Midsummer custom, one that revolves around procreation and fertility. So it makes sense that Christian’s bizarre sex ritual is a major part of what comes next.
The community makes way for new life by making a lot of bloody sacrifices.
Let’s start with what happened to Josh.
When he goes to bed on his last night, he’s already set on sneaking into the barn to photograph the holy book. The camera lingers on his shoes as he pulls the blanket over his body. The shot of his sneakers may be referencing the mass suicide of the Heaven’s Gate cult in 1997, when 39 cult members were found dead on their bunk beds, having taken a powerful sedative and covered themselves in purple sheets.
As an anthropology student, Josh is obsessed with northern European pagan traditions, to the extent where he’s fully embraced this cult in Sweden. His ambition and academic passion is ultimately what brings his demise.
In the barn, Josh is attacked by Ulf, the same man who got angry at Mark for peeing on the ancestral tree. The most disturbing part: Ulf is now wearing Mark’s face.
Later, we see the skin of Mark’s face placed on a straw dummy and topped off with a jester’s hat. This cruel fate is foreshadowed earlier in the movie.
Simon: What are they playing?
Ingemar: Skin the Fool.
Narrator: In retrospect, this bit of foreshadowing makes sense, as Mark pretty neatly fit the comedic archetype of the fool.
An even greater horror is done to Simon, the Londoner who mysteriously disappeared without his fiancée, Connie.
Christian stumbles on Simon tied face-down in the chicken coop, with his back sliced open and liver and ribs exposed. As we look closer, we see that his lungs are moving, indicating that Simon is still alive.
If you’re wondering how anyone could come up with this stuff, it turns out Aster did months of research on Viking torture techniques. What Simon’s subjected to is right in line with the “blood eagle” method of execution by torture, a prolonged type of ritual killing detailed in Norse poetry.
So why have such brutal Viking rituals survived in this insular community? And what does it all mean?
To get an idea, we should look to Ruben, the so-called oracle in the community. As an elder in the village explains, Ruben was purposely inbred to serve as a conduit for the word of the gods. The boy is said to have unclouded judgment as a result of his condition and his pure blood.
Towards the end of the movie, he’s shown sitting on a seat covered in cotton, looking almost like he’s sitting on a cloud.
In Aster’s words, Ruben embodies the political message of the film, which is perhaps partly critiquing the global rise of xenophobia and the return of the far right in Sweden. As Aster said in an interview, “If you consider Swedish history, it is a very closed society. And what does that really mean? There are things happening in Sweden right now that are echoes of things that happened in the Second World War.”
OK, now back to the ending of the film. It seems that the burning of the sacred temple was part of Pelle’s plan from the very beginning.
One theory: While Dani’s family seemed to die in a murder-suicide, what if it was actually a setup? Next to her parents’ bed was a crown of flowers, and there are similar yellow flowers on their wallpaper too, a mysterious bit of foreshadowing. What if, say, Pelle killed Dani’s family to trigger the series of events that led her to the festival? He does emphasize that he was most looking forward to Dani coming along on the trip, more than anyone else.
Whether or not Dani was chosen by Pelle, there are some other hints that she was always a perfect candidate for May Queen.
One is her birthday, which Pelle is well aware coincides with the beginning of the festival. Dani’s in her mid-20s, which is significant because, as Pelle explains, his community thinks of one’s life in terms of seasons. The first 16 years of life are equivalent to one season, spring. Dani is midway through the next season, summer, so literally midsummer.
Regardless of the impetus for Dani’s journey, the movie comes full tragic circle by the end, beginning with the deaths of her family and ending with the death of Christian.
As Aster says, “You start with the unfathomable, and you end with the unfathomable.”
So did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments.