Midsommar and Facism .pdf
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Director Ari Aster considers Midsommar, a film about the emotional empowerment of
Dani (Florence Pugh) through violent pagan rituals, “firmly [...] a breakup movie” (Rao). Yet,
Dani’s breakup has a political significance. Hårga, the commune portrayed in the film, grants
Dani the ability to express herself and connects her to a supportive, yet violent Nordic aesthetic,
illustrating the way in which facism appeals to individuals. By analyzing Aster’s second feature
through the writings of Frankfurt school cultural critic Walter Benjamin, Midsommar can give a
broad understanding of the nature of facism.
First, it is important to understand Benjamin’s characterization of facism. Marxist
writings originally described facism as the dictatorship of finance capital, while other
progressive writings linked it to an anti-modern cultural sadism. Benjamin writes that the key
aspect of facism is its response to “the increasing formation of masses” (19). The goal of this
response is “to organize the newly created proletarian masses” under a leader “without
affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate,” which it does by
giving them “a chance to express themselves,” through “introduction of aesthetics into
political life” (Benjamin 19). Essentially, Benjamin argues that facism diverts the anger of the
masses away from a meaningful revolution into aesthetic, expressive political displays, like the
massive, vitriolic rallies of Nazi Germany.
Midsommar’s choice of a pagan, nature-oriented, aesthetic is significant because it is the
teutonic aesthetic, the chosen style of Western facism. According to the Southern Poverty Law
Center, Nordic paganism, or Odinism, was a “ bedrock belief for key Third Reich leaders” and
“an integral part of the initiation rites and cosmology of the elite Schutzstaffel (SS),” chosen
because it “mythologizes the virtues of early northern European whites” (“New”). Odinism
created an aesthetic with which Germans could identify and create community. That, in turn,
provided the level of mass-expression that Benjamin identified as the way in which facism
empowers itself. The Nordic mythology in Midsommar is a fictitious version of Odinism that has
the same effect of creating a mythological white identity. Like the Nazis, the Hårgans use this
aesthetic to elevate emotions to a point where the Hårgans incite violence. They get rid of their
elderly, who would become a burden on food supply, through ritualized Pagan suicide. They use
expression and aesthetic to make a political unit that can accomplish political objectives.
Midsommar demonstrates on a personal level the expressive power of this facist aesthetic
over the main character, Dani. The community, Hårga, has their own language, the Affect
language, comprised only of strings of emotions, or “emotional sheet music” (Aster). Language
is a core aspect of culture, so the Hårgan’s language suggests that emotional performance is
central to their culture. The murder-suicide of Dani’s sister and parents, and the emotional
distance between her and her boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor), puts her at a point of utmost
vulnerability. The empathy ingrained in Hårga counteracts her boyfriend's indifference and pulls
Dani into the community. When she sees Christian cheating on her, Dani bursts into tears.
Immediately, Hårgan women surround her and cry with her sympathetically. Instead of stopping
the cheating, they create a show of emotional solidarity, which is enough to appeal to Dani in her
vulnerable state. At the end of the film, Dani participates in this expressive culture by deciding to
have Christian burned alive. She expresses her decision to separate from Christian on a
ritualized, performative level. Ultimately, the outlet of self-expression that the Pagan rituals of
Hårga provide is enough to make Dani a part of the Hårgan community, and cause her to join
their movement. In this demonstration of the power of aesthetic and expression, Midsommar
vividly illustrates the way facism gains traction amongst people.
Aster, Ari, director. Midsommar. Performance by Florence Pugh, A24, 2019.
Benjamin, Walter. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Edited by Hannah
Arendt. Translated by Harry Zohn, Schocken Books, 1969.
“New Brand of Racist Odinist Religion on the March.” Southern Poverty Law Center, SPLC, 1
Jan. 1998, www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/1998/new-brand-racistodinist-religion-march.
Rao, Sonia. “The Horrifying 'Midsommar' Is a Breakup Movie, According to Director Ari
Aster.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 11 July 2019, www.washingtonpost.com/
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