Ari Aster's latest film, Midsommar, is a carefully disguised break up movie hidden in the clothing of a folk horror film. Taking place over roughly half a year, it follows college student Dani who, reeling after the brutal death of her family, joins her boyfriend and his friends on a trip to Sweden to take part in a midsummer festival.
The film has been a definite hit, not least for its very well-written characters and original storyline and setting. However, part of what seems to be playing to the film's success is its layers and layers of detail. Lots of films will have hidden meanings with the intention being that you notice more and understand more about the plot with each viewing. This list will look at ten of the hidden meanings in the film and how they might change what we think of the movie as a whole—spoilers ahead.
10 The Opening Tapestry
Midsommar opens with a decidedly creepy tapestry marking the changes between winter and summer. At first, it appears that the tapestry is depicting the passing of the seasons with two scary faces marking the middle of winter and summer.
However, upon closer inspection, characters from the film appear in each stage of the tapestry, acting out what they will do at various points in the film. Before the plot has even begun, we are given a sense that everything has been pre-planned, as though everything that you are about to see is as natural as the passing of the seasons.
As the film is, at its core, a break-up movie, it naturally requires it's lead, Dani, to do a lot of self-reflection. One of the most effective ways the movie does this is through the use of mirrors.
We first learn of her parents' death by seeing their bodies reflected in a mirror. Also, the closest the movie gets to a traditional jump scare is when Dani sees the shadow of someone reflected in a mirror. The film deals a lot with the nature of reality and being able to 'truly see' the world around us. It seems that Aster uses mirrors as a way to reveal reflections, not of the characters themselves, but their inner thoughts and fears. There's definitely more to be spotted so keep your eyes out for mirrors.
8 Flower Crown
One of the key element's to the film's success is the way it manages to build a sense of dread and expecting the worst to happen. Perhaps, on first viewing, like the opening tapestry, it's not immediately clear that the main characters may not be in control of their actions. After all, Dani only really wants to come on the trip because the death of her parents has left her feeling very alone and vulnerable.
That is until eagle-eyed viewers spotted a flower crown next to Dani's dead parents. Shown early enough in the movie that the audience doesn't get the context and placed subtly enough that they may forget about it by the time Dani gets to Sweden. However, it all but confirms that Dani's family's death may not have been an accident.
7 Christian's Drink
Many people will have noticed that Christian's drink, in the last act, was a different color from everyone else's. With hindsight it couldn't be clearer why; he'd been selected for the traditional mating ritual.
However, on second viewing, the dark red color of the drink has different meanings. A lot of the rituals in Midsommar revolve around fertility and the menstrual cycle. When Christian found a pubic hair in his food it, was a more obvious warning than what now must clearly be seen as the blood mixed into his drink.
6 Faces In the Woods
There are a lot of drugs in Midsommar. Of course, they are part of the process of seeing the 'true' nature of the world, but, even so, the main characters do spend a lot of their time-tripping and hallucinating. Director Ari Aster shows the effects of the drugs by having plants and flowers move as though breathing and form impossible shapes.
However, as the film progresses, the screen is filled with hidden images as a result of the drugs. In one sequence at the end, an entire forest takes on the shape of a glaring face. When you watch it again, see how many images you can spot.
5 Use of Subtitles
Although it's set in Sweden, most of the film is in the English language. Some of the characters, however, do speak Swedish, but, interestingly, their lines are not subtitled. This is a deliberate decision to further isolate the Americans from their European hosts, but it also has an interesting effect on the audience.
We feel as isolated as the main characters, but, also, any hope we may have of gaining some knowledge about the hosts as we start to suspect them is taken away by the lack of subtitles. We are trapped, forced to watch the events unfold as they happen without any means of protecting ourselves. It's a simple but effective way of building dread.
4 Right-to-Left Tapestry
In one sequence, the camera pans from right to left as the main characters explore their surroundings. The shot ends as it passes over a series of tapestries depicting a ritual. The tapestries each depict one aspect of the ritual playing it out as though in a comic book. However, they are also hung and therefore presented in right-to-left reading order, suggesting that in this place time may not be what it seems.
The guests are already confused by how late the sun stays out, and effects like this are just one of many ways the film plays with a non-linear perspective of time.
3 Numbers (8 & 9)
Another way the film creates a sense of the preordained and non-linear time is it's repeated use of the numbers 8 and 9. Flipped on its side, the number 8 makes the symbol for infinity and is present in much of the architecture in the Swedish village. Also, in a brief moment of explanation, one of the hosts details elements of their culture, particularly the idea that they see their lives split into four main sections—like the seasons—which are made up of a number of years that are all multiples of 8. Death comes to the villagers at 72, the number you get when you multiply 8 by 9, and the ceremony we see happens once every 90 years.
2 Repeated Use of Symbols
The most obviously repeated symbol in the film is the figure of 8. It's seen in the buildings, and also in the design of a large dining table. While there are other symbols, they each have the same effect; they have to mean something, but we're given no clue as to what.
Instead, we're forced to come up with our own explanations, using these hidden details to explain other hidden details we've spotted (like the number 8 or the reflections in the mirror). It's a highly effective trick for keeping our brains in engaged with the guesswork, but we're still in the dark when it comes to what might happen next.
1 Two Types of Death
Ari Aster has described this as a break-up movie, and usually, that means watching someone live through a breakup and come out changed at the other side. The way this works is very on par with pagan attitudes to a liminal death. this was basically the idea that someone dies, then their body must be prepared for their new life in the society of the dead, effectively they die twice.
Taking in the whole structure of the film, we see this idea played out in two very different deaths; the violent death of Dani's family, and the ceremonial death of her friends which mark the beginning and end of a change in Dani's life.