MIDSOMMAR: The Dark And Deliberate Dissolution Of A Very Bad Romance

Ari Aster’s guttural shout-out to his ex.

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Midsommar opens with the kind of conversation sadly familiar to most women. In brutal, unforgiving close-up, Florence Pugh's Dani tries desperately to get her uninterested boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor), to care about a difficult family situation. As Dani frets about her suicidal sister, Christian lambastes her for being soft and "giving in" all the time. After acquiescing, Dani brightens and reminds him they have plans later on to which Christian responds as though it's the first he's hearing about it, gaslighting her into believing she's being clingy and weird (something Dani will worry about aloud with her friend afterwards).

As much as she might obsess over being too much to handle, Dani isn't asking a lot of Christian. All she wants, really, is to be comforted and listened to, the kind of support any good boyfriend should provide without a second thought. Dani's fears are realized when the film's focus jumps across town where Christian is sat with his friends feeling sorry for himself. Encouraging Christian to just dump Dani already, fuckboy Mark (Will Poulter) suggests he could find a girl who "actually likes sex," a line that's a punch to the stomach for anyone who's ever worried about whether her boyfriend was bored enough to sleep with somebody else, and whether he'd be justified in doing so.

Ari Aster's script doesn't sugar-coat Christian's friends overwhelmingly negative attitudes, particularly when it comes to Mark's hideously sexist outlook. As far as he's concerned, Dani is too much of a pain in the ass for Christian to waste any more time with her. Rather than a fully-formed person requiring care and attention, she's a noose around his neck – Dani is ruining Christian's life and she doesn't even have the decency to fuck him! When Christian inevitably betrays Dani and sleeps with someone else, albeit while heavily drugged, it's a devastating moment. Pugh plays it like she's being choked; the breath caught in her throat so the only sound that escapes is an otherworldly wail. Part of the hurt comes from knowing it was eventually going to happen, and maybe even that it was somehow her fault.

Christian is a terrible boyfriend from the outset. He trudges dejectedly to Dani's apartment to comfort her after the loss of...her entire family. Even in the most devastating circumstances imaginable, Christian is still reluctant to do the most basic thing. He half-heartedly clutches Dani as she sobs uncontrollably, an expression of utter confusion, even irritation, on his face as though he can't understand why he has been put in this horrible situation. Likewise, later Christian will nonchalantly inform Dani he's off to a party as though it's the most normal thing in the world. Why can't he enjoy himself? Why does she always have to ruin everything for him?

In fact, the whole premise of Midsommar revolves around Dani supposedly harshing Christian's buzz. He's only forced to invite her on the boys’ trip to Sweden because she was inconsiderate enough to grieve for longer than necessary. The couple fights over his inability to be honest in Dani's apartment and, cleverly, Aster shoots the scene with Christian glimpsed only in the mirror at first, emphasizing the vast gulf between these two people. Even when they stand opposite each other, Dani reaching out to make contact and Christian letting his hand hang there in the air, it's clear they're in two completely different places.

Dani is, again, begging for Christian to care about her. She reasons with him, makes a rational argument about simply being told that he was planning on heading halfway across the world for the best part of a month, all the while keeping her tone calm and kind. Christian is argumentative and disrespectful, annoyed at even having to have this conversation in the first place. But, by the end of their talk, Dani is somehow the one apologizing, again pleading for Christian to stay with her. She's repeatedly manipulated into believing she's the problem, something that's reaffirmed once the group actually makes it to Sweden, where it's clear Dani isn't welcome.

It could be argued that Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) provides a counterpoint to Christian by showing Dani some affection, even if his intentions aren't terribly noble. But she's so loyal to her boyfriend, no matter how badly he treats her, Dani rejects Pelle's tentative advances out of fear Christian will notice and get jealous (the fact she even believes this is kind of sad in itself). The longer she stays in Sweden, and the more Christian ignores her, the more appealing Pelle and his death cult family seem, culminating in a kiss that Dani clearly reciprocates, even if only for a moment. It's worth noting that Christian doesn't kiss her on the mouth for the entire movie. In fact, he barely touches his girlfriend at all. Their story is one long, very slow break-up.

The only other couple in Midsommar, friendly Brits Connie and Simon, shocks Dani by announcing they're engaged because evidently she sees how lacking her own relationship is in comparison. The fact Christian doesn't even know how long they've been together is doubly hurtful in the presence of such a loved-up duo. When Simon seemingly leaves without Connie, Dani is eager to tell Christian so she can judge his reaction. Speaking to a member of the Hårga, he briefly stops to remark on how it was a dick move, before immediately returning to the conversation. The look on Dani's face suggests she's finally starting to see Christian as he really is. Indeed later she'll take a shot at him for leaving her if given the chance, something we know Dani is worried about after a particularly vivid nightmare. It's the only time she really takes aim at him, and although Christian is momentarily shaken, his attention is soon elsewhere. He doesn't even care enough to fight with her.

There are several moments throughout Midsommar when Dani is forced to see Christian for the worm he is. Chief among them, when they witness the ritual suicide together – the worst thing someone whose sister just killed their entire family in a murder-suicide could possibly witness – she expects Christian to react with similar horror, but he just shrugs it off. When Dani presses him, Christian says of course it was horrible, but whatever, that's how they do things here. He doesn't consider even for a moment that maybe something like that would hit Dani harder, or that it should've hit him harder because they're in a long-term relationship. 

Devastatingly, and in keeping with women who find themselves in these kinds of lose-lose situations, Dani actually coaches herself to be less of a pain. Early on, when the group takes psychedelics (she's peer-pressured into it, naturally, to Christian's obvious irritation), Dani has a bad trip and removes herself from their party. Once out of earshot, she soothes herself. “You’re fine,” she says. “It’s almost your birthday.” Even when Christian isn't physically next to her, Dani feels this constant need to be less. Never mind that he completely forgets her birthday and gets shitty with her when Dani is less than impressed with the makeshift celebration he musters. Their whole dynamic is predicated on Dani begging Christian to do the bare minimum and Christian getting mad when he does even less and she isn't jazzed about it.

Aster has been open about the fact Midsommar is a break-up movie, and that we're meant to identify with Dani more so than Christian, even suggesting she’s a surrogate for Aster’s own experiences. Twitter was awash with users claiming to have sat next to couples during screenings who, when the film was over, argued over whether Christian deserved his horrible fate. Generally, the women thought he did and the men angrily disagreed. Whether this is indicative of deeper problems within those relationships is anyone's guess, but it does appear that female viewers think Dani is justified while guys reason Christian wasn't that bad of a boyfriend.

It's bizarre to consider how much of Midsommar, a horror movie about a death cult in Sweden luring dumb American grad students to their doom, rings true for those who have endured a less-than-perfect relationship with a bad dude who wasn't necessarily the worst in the world. There are tons of romantic partners who beat their girlfriends, rape them, or do any other number of terrible things. Christian, however, is emblematic of a different variety of horrible boyfriend. Aside from gaslighting Dani at every turn, he often ignores her completely or makes her feel stupid when she tries to connect with him (like when she brings him flowers and he tosses them aside). It's worth considering what would have happened if Dani was taken by the Hårga instead of, er, everybody else. Would Christian have looked for her? Would he even have noticed she was gone?

Christian's dalliance with Maja, a young member of the Hårga looking for a mate, stings that much worse because he doesn't even seem particularly invested in it. Although it's clear how much Maja’s attention bothers Dani, Christian doesn't reassure her there's nothing to worry about. Even if he's drugged and coerced into having sex with Maja, Christian is hardly blameless. He's not an active participant in his own life, instead choosing to float along and do whatever he feels like, including stealing his friend's thesis idea, but this doesn't make him innocent. When Dani wins May Queen, Christian doesn't celebrate, but it's unclear whether it's because he doesn't care or he's oblivious to anything going on around him that doesn't explicitly involve him.

Christian's greatest crime, then, is his lack of care for anyone or anything outside of himself. When the time finally comes for him to pay, the expression on Christian's face is again one of confusion (okay, he's also still heavily sedated, but regardless). He can't understand how he got here, how the woman so desperate for his attention has turned against him so completely. Dani, too, isn't so sure at first. She quite literally chokes on the ashes of their relationship, gasping for air once again, before breaking into a triumphant smile. Similar to finding comfort with the female cult members who wail alongside her, Dani's big moment of catharsis is ours too, as we speculate over which of our own hideous exes we would enjoy watching boil alive inside a bear carcass.