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Expressing Horror: Ari Aster’s 'Hereditary' and 'Midsommar', with August Strindberg

by Sarah Hajkowski

Ari Aster has skyrocketed to fame since the release of his debut feature film Hereditary in 2018. The auteur’s admirers pinpoint his attention to detail, horror subversion, and emotional elements, while critics challenge his impenetrability and find his films imbalanced in their delivery. Of course, he is far from the first to receive such mixed praise. One historic motley crew of artists, known as Expressionists, harmonize with Aster’s vision and style. Diving still deeper, the theatrical stationendrama popularized by playwright August Strindberg casts a surprising light on the direction in which Aster drives. Fair warning: spoilers and horrific references ahead.

Expressionism is consistently underrated among art movements, especially in the field of theatre. This may be attributed in part to confusion; a wide variety of artisans and oeuvres have at one time or another either called themselves or been called ‘Expressionistic.’ In effect, the ripple of Expressionistic qualities in painting, literature, music, theatre, film, and more is felt everywhere. 


Said reverb includes motives of evoking strong emotion, integrating the self, refuting social norms, transmuting subjective point-of-view into a universal truth, and subverting Expressionism's older brother, Impressionism. Many of these goals, like impacting an audience and speaking back to constraints of normativity, are crucial to the artist-storytellers of today like Ari Aster.

Historically, Expressionism was in its infancy around the 1880s and peaked during the 1920s. The style resisted Impressionism (and in the case of theatre, Naturalism), both of which aimed to represent the world of people, speech, color, etc. as objectively as possible. Impressionists strove for purity of reproduction. Expressionists sought to radically rebel against objectivity by centering the emotional individual in perception. 

A letter written by Vincent van Gogh describes in painting what many–like abstract painter and theorist Wassily Kandinsky–read as an apt description of Expressionism in all mediums.

“…to express myself more forcefully…instead of painting the ordinary wall of the mean room, I paint infinity…the richest, intensest blue that I can contrive…[which] acquires a mysterious effect, like the star in the depths of an azure sky.” (Wasstein)

Expressionism is about the depiction of feeling rather than pure substance. Works in this style radiate social commentary and introspection because these are some of the most penetrating families of feeling. Enter the stationendrama.

Etymologically the theatrical style gives itself away to English speakers; it refers to “station drama,” characterized by a story structure that is episodic rather than unified and cumulative. Forged by Swedish playwright August Strindberg, it is also marked by the use of archetypal roles rather than developed characters, investigation of the human condition, and destabilized conventions of time. 

For those seeking a deep dive into stationendrama, Strindberg’s till Damaskus ("to Damascus"), written in 1898 as part one of a trilogy, is both accessible online and reasonably entertaining. In his own words, Strindberg sought soul in what he felt to be a soulless modernity. He, too, was drawing on historic forms; the station drama aesthetically evolved from the medieval custom of cyclic Biblical plays, described also as ‘mystery’ and ‘miracle’ plays, these dramatized stories from the Christian Bible and thematically progressed in largely unrelated episodes, or stations.

Somehow the notion that Ari Aster may draw on historically medieval modes in his art is not all that surprising – not after viewing his first two feature films back-to-back, that is. For those uninitiated –and initiate is the right action, for Aster captures the operations of cults in diverse forms – Aster is an American filmmaker whose three credits to date as auteur are for Hereditary (released in 2018), Midsommar (2019), and Beau is Afraid (2023). 

As of writing, this reviewer has not seen Beau is Afraid, and is waiting to watch with their fiancé, so that both may be terrified and exhilarated together. But like so much religious fervor, the mania for Aster’s first two blockbuster brainchildren has gripped me in a hyperfixation to rival all hyperfixations.

Hereditary sees the contemporary Graham family in a torturous spiderweb of emotional and sometimes literal dismemberment. The disfigurement follows a matrilineal line plus Gabriel Byrne, who married into the mess. A stealthy slow burn raising questions about inheritance, Hereditary leaves audiences dark and comically questioning whether the whole ‘family thing’ really is right for everyone. 

Midsommar is again enmeshed in the present day, particularly for its unempathetic coldness. Its solitary intellectualism is the perfect storm to thrust twenty-something-year-old Dani Ardor into a cult cunningly hidden behind embroidered white and a bewitching zest for living.


“Not only does the play take place entirely within the psyche of the Stranger; it also derives from this source the complete embodiment of scenes, personages, and actions.”

(Dahlström, “Situation and Character in till Damaskus”)

What bookworm hasn’t passionately wished themself into a story? Which writer hasn’t poured some part of their experience even into the most fantastical product?

In the citation above, Strindberg’s “Stranger” – in some translations, “the Unknown” – is on a journey where all external figures and forces hinge upon his own existence. Strindberg’s till Damaskus anticipates a much more 21st-century convention with the playwright’s open use of the Stranger as a “self-insert character,” familiar to fandom communities and Vonnegut addicts. To put it one way, the self-insert—in noun form, “self-insertion”—is a frequently postmodern technique where “the author writes themself into the story under the guise of…a fictional character.” ( 

It has incidence as early as Dante in his Divine Comedy, yet has attained fierce vitality in the present day as the relationship between creatives, creation, and audience continues to flux and deepen. 

Not only is the Stranger doing Strindberg’s legwork for answers to his questions about existence, but in the till Damaskus cycle he is at the center of all dramatic character, conflict, and action. Eponymously, he is strange and unknown to all others. Yet if he is the origin of the playwright’s universe, his makeup must also be in these unknowns, abstractions, archetypes—his lover, his rival, the beggar he meets on the road. Strindberg also identifies a stranger in himself.

Anyone unfortunate enough to have grieved a loved one will likely find resonance in the suggestion that it is an isolating event. What we call ‘tunnel vision’ often sets in. We become the center and sole proprietor of our own loneliness, and all that remains is the furor - peopled density - of loss.

In Hereditary, family tragedy affords each member a version of that perspective. From the film’s first frame, everything in Ari Aster’s world proceeds from a unified source. In black and white we read the obituary of Ellen Taper Leigh, survived by a daughter Annie (played by Toni Collette), her two children thirteen-year-old Charlie (Milly Shapiro) and sixteen-year-old Peter (Alex Wolff), and spouse Dr. Steven Graham (Gabriel Byrne). Preceding Ellen in death was her son, Charles.

Indeed the title of Aster’s debut film implies an issuing forth. Annie Leigh Graham is alive to inherit what her mother has sown and reaped both by broad daylight and in candlelit shadow. We get a sense of Grandmother–we might say Queen–Ellen from Annie and the other Grahams in bits and pieces; she’s none too missed by anyone besides her granddaughter Charlie, she apparently drove her own son Charles to suicide, she physically nursed and obsessively coveted Charlie but wanted her to be a boy, she was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder (DID), and kept “private rituals, private friends, private anxieties” (p.3, Hereditary draft 2016).

The path Ellen trod returns threefold on the Graham family when Charlie is killed in an unforgettable, violent accident. Here tunnel vision canalizes Annie with the unrelenting engine of a mother’s grief for her child. Regardless of what her husband Steve, son Peter, and countless others may do or try not to do around her, many in Aster’s audience grasp viscerally that nothing but the restoration of Charlie would console her.

The centerpiece of Annie’s mourning is its inconsolable loneliness. Following her horrific discovery of Charlie’s body she wails on the floor of her bedroom, “I can’t! I just wanna die,” (p.37, “Hereditary” draft 2016, emphasis added). Though Steve is with Annie, soothing her while she is prostrate with grief, she can only be aware of her pain and a longing to replace what she sacrifices by sacrificing her own self. 

Sometimes more than others, she is sensible of her estrangement, as in the infamous dinner table scene which a number of Aster’s fans and critics alike jointly call its most horrific.

“your / sister is dead. She’s gone forever.

And what a waste. If it could’ve

maybe brought us together –


Annie explodes from her chair at Peter. The air ripples with suffering and rupture as she processes out loud:

“But you can’t 

take responsibility…so

now I can’t accept. And I can’t

forgive. Because nobody admits anything

they’ve done!”

(p.58, Hereditary draft 2016)

Annie is doomed because she cannot escape the elevator plunge of self-absorbing grief. Without her own volition, rather reft of it, Annie soaks in herself, swelling and moldering with each abortive attempt to connect with those on the outside.

Photo: Midsommar (2019) A24, Nordisk Film

Still, more concentrated egoism animates Ari Aster’s second film, Midsommar (2019). Opening with an uber-fun and definitely-not-foreboding mural which we’ll examine later, the film’s half-proverbial curtains part and knocking—or, ringing—comes the abrupt intrusion of Death, a Strindbergian archetype looming at the narrative fringes. A mortal end enwraps Dani Ardor’s entire family consisting of an unnamed father and mother, at the hands of her suicidal sister, Terri.

Death itself stretches through the film in its entirety, both fatal and figurative. It is seen alongside typical associations of dark color, the Devil, and sins catching up with their perpetrators. Too though, Death operates as a springboard for transformation in all kinds. It is ironically non-static.

“[Midsommar] is also a breakup movie, and I wrote that while I was going through a breakup…I guess I’m pretty expressionistic in my tastes. I like taking whatever I’m feeling and honoring the intensity of those feelings.” 

-Ari Aster on “What Inspires Him to Write” with the AFI (American Film Institute.)

Something else is dying. Against the backdrop of this emotional tumult is the corrosive breakdown of a romantic relationship between Dani (Florence Pugh) and her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor)–thrown onto sharper rocks at the prospect of a trip to Sweden. 

The invite comes from Christian’s friend Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), a visitor from Sweden’s Hälsingland province who has the endearing habit of capturing Dani’s likeness in portraits. Though he avows the ritual being “only for birthdays,” Pelle completes two for Dani, functionally quarantining one iteration of her from the depth and complexity of whole others. Incidentally, this variant of Dani is the one who will be assimilated into the seductive cult-family of the Hårga with the promise of “feeling held” by them, the promise that Dani will no longer feel estranged from anyone or anything.

More to the point Midsommar is Dani’s journey, or at least a passage for a version of her. The story’s action concerns itself with her first, and at times thinly uses the veil of her trials, ecstasies, and ultimate moment of peripeteia for what they really are—Ari Aster’s reflections on a decaying relationship and the collateral damage done by shallow friendships.

But dead matter often makes the finest fertilizer to flower. In terms of strict realism, Dani ends the film absorbed by a community that perpetrates homicide, suicide, and sexual assault. She doesn’t know these people who have delusively inculcated her, crowned her with a temporary queendom, and killed off everyone she knew in Hälsingland. 

Yet assessed more horizontally Midsommar is also the self-actualization of one Dani Ardor, albeit an amoral offcut of the organic original. Dani is a piece of herself, but she is also the entire constellation of our story—its characters and progression hinge almost solely on her.

The Hårga tellingly reduce all of their newcomers to stereotype, distinct only in passing. Dani fares the best under this scrutiny as she plays the virtuous maid and summertide queen for the once-in-a-lifetime festival. All others are conducted like animals to slaughter. They are Josh the academic, Mark the fool, and Christian the devil. For the Hårga they are little more than vehicles to supplication, communion wafers. The indoctrination of Dani Ardor is achieved when she shares a little of this perspective too.

Aster’s Midsommar is Dani-centric just as till Damaskus unfolds from a singular Stranger-self. Her immersion, half-literally, into the flowers-and-sunshine on the surface of Hårga ways is not autonomous. It does however honor her and only her in the intensity of her emotions.

Stages of hopelessness

Midsommar (2019) advertises the fact that its action will be divided into stages. To expand upon what many have pointed out, the film reveals its sequence of events in the first onscreen frame; a detailed mural in a pseudo-medieval style which canvasses the journey of Dani and her companions from inciting incident to finale inferno. In fact, this main mural at the top is one of several examples of station-division in Midsommar. 

"Midsommar Mural, Redux" Original visual created using Canva. Elements supplemented by sketchify.

Note: the above is an original visual fashioned after the real masterpiece created by Boschian muralist Mu Pan. To reference the source mural while reading, click here. As laid out in Pan's epic tapestry and emulated above, our story starts in literal and tonal darkness. Soon will come the haunting trauma of Ardors asphyxiated—not the only emblem of “love” choking to death in Midsommar. But as Dani’s own pilgrimage is the germ and gravity for Midsommar to exist in the first place, hers and her fated companions’ stars are already fixed and illuminated, unswerving, unchangeable.

Pelle the pilgrim sits in his treetop catbird seat, enjoying his knowledge of the design prior to its rendition in flesh and blood. The gang proceeds to the land of the midnight sun, mere new bloods met on the pretense of welcome beneath its wooden arch. After shenanigans including ritual senicide, maypole rites, and a bear, only Dani remains to be embraced by the cult’s drug-happy smiles and deceptive intimacies. 

Viewed against works like till Damaskus and the original miracle plays, Aster’s Midsommar is comparable to what drama scholar August William Staub summarized as “a struggle in which each station becomes more and more hopeless” (Staub, “Modern Drama”). 

What exactly we hope for at the start of Midsommar, and whether we lose or gain it is arguably up to interpretation. As we have explored, Midsommar is a masterclass in how malevolent cult communities inveigle the vulnerable and isolated into their ranks. The Hårga idyllism is camouflage, their actions unendurable, their romanticization treacherous. Still, the fictive parable is complicated by Dani’s gaze, by Aster’s gaze. Midsommar’s ending is not didactic but it is, self-proclaimedly, a little funny.

Internally, Midsommar also discusses life events in terms of the seasons, and in the cycles of ritual. Intentionally, Pelle has amassed a friend group consisting entirely of individuals whose age aligns with the Hårga midsummer.

“We think of life like the seasons. You are a child until 18, and

that’s Spring. At some point

we all do our Pilgrimage, and

that’s between 18 and 36. That’s

Summer.”  (p.44, Midsommar draft 2018)

Dani is real and truly hitting her midsummer in the aforementioned life cycle. She even celebrates her twenty-seventh birthday while staying with the Hårga, a major consideration for Pelle in wooing her for his “family.” She is just departing young adulthood and still “malleable” as a candidate for integrating with the Hårga (moreso still for her recent family loss), as well as viable for sexual reproduction and fulfilling domestic gender roles. 

Dani is shaped surreptitiously for these potentials. Her experience at the titular Hårga festival celebrating midsommar—a fixture of the film also effectively divided into stages—progresses in nine or fewer days of feast, sacrifice, and ritual in the name of honoring their gods. 

Aster’s screenwriting, often characterized by elaborations and parentheticals, is even more revelation for the reader beyond that of spectator. “A SMILE finally breaks onto Dani’s face.” He writes in the summative lines of the Midsommar script, “She has surrendered to a joy known only by the insane. She has lost herself completely, and she is finally free. It is horrible and it is beautiful.” (p.115, Midsommar draft 2018)

Dani’s “horrible and beautiful” transformation is linear to stages of hopelessness. She is euphoric in the film’s closing shot, but Aster’s intentional craft and his carefully selected production team, including score artist Bobby Krlic (“The Haxan Cloak”) tip audiences off to the tragedy underwriting triumph. At every station of the Sun’s journey across the sky, Dani’s clarity on and liberation from the Hårga slip increasingly beyond recovery.

Hereditary (2018) A24.

Hereditary’s engagement with the concept of stages is comparatively understated. Essentially it presents itself in dual framing devices of Annie’s stylized microcosms in dollhouse miniatures, and exterior shots of the Graham home between night and day. These symbolize Annie and her family embroiled ever deeper in the bloodline curse that closes in on them, gorging on the familial and structural bounds of their everyday lives until this reality is not spacious enough to hold them.

This breaking down is likewise twofold. As Aster’s most dedicated fans picked up on, Satanic cult members physically encroach on the Graham’s lives and their homestead. Their presence is an easter egg only for those who inspect Aster's cinema with care. Their naked, eerie forms linger in the trees fringing the Graham house and press symbolically closer in every transition.

Finally, even the curated order of Annie’s painstaking miniatures must founder. Miniatures in Hereditary run the gamut as commanding imagery. Aster distorts this ideogram of the textbook nuclear family, from an early continuous shot superimposing the dollhouse bedroom onto Peter’s own, to Annie’s harrowing representation of Charlie’s death, to the clutch of art exhibit-hopefuls which she smashes to pieces in a rage.

But the ultimate twisting of Annie’s vocation to craft tiny worlds consumes Hereditary’s finale. Like one of Charlie’s rubbish sculptures, part of her corpse is supplanted on a full-sized mannequin. The very last frame of the film is a diorama developed after the Expressionist fashion rather than the Impressionist one. Candlelight and supplicant bodies converge on the Satanic temple that was once Charlie’s treehouse. Lit obscurely in a creeping, uncanny relief between small fires and shadow the climactic final scene is a coronation.

Photo: Dzenina Lukac via Pexels

Peter’s body is now occupied by the fusion of Charlie and the hell-king Paimon. According to Aster there never really was a Charlie, as “there’s a girl that was displaced, but she was displaced from the very beginning.” (Aster to Jenelle Riley, of “Variety”). For all that Annie chased a sense of control, her naturalistic scenes of the domestic don’t cut it anymore. 

“In true melodramatic fashion, I wanted a film that really honored the feeling of these people who are really suffering...Where the fears that are being exploited and investigated are impossible to remedy."

-Ari Aster to Emma Stefansky, of "Vanity Fair"

She is a part of her miniatures. Puppeteered by external forces, the entire Graham family is broken down to honor energies and worlds not of this life. Reality gives way to the ultimate heredity; digression in the form of the Graham family is stopped off and corrected to Queen Leigh’s chosen course. Charlie’s treehouse, where mother and children in their varying forms are now, is perverted to harbor those who caused their demise in a progression more hopeless at every turn.

Dream Recovery

Ari Aster has been hailed—perhaps rightfully—for his originality in plaiting together techniques of screenwriting, directing, and cinematography to generate original products that seep in, grate against, and probe at the nerves and bodies of his audience. Still acknowledging the remarkability of Aster’s craft, a look closely at the operations of dreams and the physical world in Hereditary as well as Midsommar reveals some striking harmonies between his approach and that of Strindberg’s stationendrama

Aster and Strindberg both use the esoteric as a means of writing back to the specifics of their sociopolitical realities. Strindberg’s Expressionist plays included the till Damaskus cycle as well as another, Ein Traumspiel ("The Dream Play"), a fantasy written as its own form of dream recovery in 1901 when Strindberg's beloved was leaving him.

"characters merge into each other, locations change in an instant and a locked door becomes an obsessively recurrent image"

-Caryl Churchill, on adapting "The Dream Play"

In his own time, Strindberg has written a "breakup movie." Yet his intent is not only to comment on his own situation, but the perception of reality itself. For both Ari Aster and August Strindberg, the drama of the individual is a direct allegory to the drama of society.

Strindberg and his characters are in tension with modernity. They dread a society too hyper-individualized, too staunchly intellectual, too conformed even in its approach to space and time. The gripping fear of living alone, of all society living alone, divorced from mysticism and rawness drove Strindberg to act.

Writer and critic Hermann Bahr is often cited for his synthesis of this “displaced” humanness in the throes of a modern world. He worries, in his treatise Expressionism (written 1914, translation published 1925) that “We no longer live, we are lived, we have no freedom left, we cannot decide for ourselves, we are finished; man is unsouled, nature is unmanned…Never yet has any period been so shaken by horror, by such fear of death.” (Bahr, p.83-84)

Strindberg and Bahr observed a Western world that increasingly seeks control—an agency previously ascribed only to the gods. In the U.S., it was a class-disparate Gilded Age, in Britain the Victorian Era of empire, and in France, the Belle Époque of a similar chasm between wealthy and poor—attractively hidden behind a whirlwind of cultural and artistic growth. 

Control of other peoples manifested in colonialism, control of land and sea in warfare, control of thoughtways in mass media newspapers and state-censored literature, control of the elements in scientific innovation, and control of religion in increasingly violent Anti-Semitism plus other cultural-political conflict.

At times the hyper-specificity of learning about eras like the 1880s and 90s obscures how they apply to the contemporary world. Yet reducing them to their bullet points reveals a high correlation. Colonial and borderland strife. Thought-control. The exploitation of science and academia. Religious intolerance (as well as intolerance of secularism).

“Like, what is the horror of existing? That is a feeling I know…I think most of us are very successful at surviving…a low hum that’s underneath everything, that if you just stay busy enough, you can keep it in the background.

-Ari Aster to Emily Yoshida, of Vox Media’s “Vulture” Network

While Ari Aster’s narratives are more immediately interpersonal, they often also feel allegorical. Midsommar’s Dani Ardor is a fairly complex character, yet her journey of integration with the Hårga cult and with nature runs parallel to a flight from conventional modernity to a communal wilderness. 

Aster writes “when he is going through something,” as seen in the breakup of Midsommar, and the disintegration of a family in Hereditary. The Graham family’s relationships to each other are all specified enough to resonate as unique characters, yet their plight of illness, inheritance, and miscommunication speak to the majority of Western world family units as a whole. They might even be applied along ideological lines to the rippling tensions of gender roles and responsibilities in toto being investigated by the nonconformists of today.

His longing for some regression or purging, then, is represented in a variety of ways throughout Hereditary and Midsommar. Some may best grasp its impulse in the retreat to nature, the “psychedelic centerpieces” (Yoshida) of quivering flower blooms and pastoral living among the Hårga

And then there are those who understand Aster’s inclusion of dream sequences in more penetrating terms of their mysticism and metaphysical logic. It is valid and rational to read Aster’s weaving of dreams as indulgent screenwriting. There is much support for the modern theory of activation synthesis, which casts dreams as a chemical catalyst for memory integration, nothing more. 

Still, we are in our own version of Strindberg’s second-to-worst nightmare. So often we hear that we must continue to "live in wonder" and stay curious about the fabric of our reality. Too often it asks so much of us that it's less feasible to achieve.

As a disclaimer, Strindberg's contemporaries and even some readers of today may align a vantage of wonder with the spiritual. The link makes some sense. This article is in no way prescriptive of some mass return to any number of organized faiths. The appeal here is for the simple courage of not knowing, whatever that looks like.

Resistance to organized religion, changing churches, calculating astrological signs, whatever the case, is encouraged. Incautious abandon of all undecideds, all nonsenses, all wildernesses, may be several irrevocable steps too far. 

The controversial Peter Szondi and Michael Hays theorized that for dreams in the stationendrama "unity does not reside in the action but in the unchanging psyche of the dreamer.” Forgiving that Szondi’s “Theory of the Modern Drama” only extends so far in analytical power, dream sequences in both Hereditary and Midsommar operate somewhat along the lines above. 

Rendering a case study of the two films’ major dream episodes, the raw materials are rich. In one corner we have Annie’s dream-rehash of dousing herself and young Peter in lighter fluid while sleepwalking. In the other is Dani’s amalgamation of the senecidal Ättestupa with the graphic death of her entire family, and being left by the all-male group who came with her to Sweden. 

To what extent are these night visions disjointed from the "unity" of their source? In terms of time, the final cut of Hereditary positions Annie’s dream in the time-skip after her new confidante Joan has apparently performed a séance. Dani’s nightmare in the Midsommar theatrical cut likewise comes after an omitted period of time, where she and Christian were at odds following Ättestupa.

Annie hears Charlie’s characteristic “cluck” noise from her empty backseat. Then later in the evening, she is restless. She pads to Peter’s room and in a rush she utters the unforgivable in her subconscious fantasy. “I tried to have a miscarriage…I did everything they told me not to do but it didn't work.” (p. 83, Hereditary draft 2016) The dream climaxes with Peter’s accusation “You tried to kill me!” and Annie lighting the match to set herself and Peter on fire.

Then, confusingly, we resume in Peter’s room by morning light. We hear Annie apologizing for saying words in anger that she didn’t mean.

Begging forgiveness, she “can’t stand” what she said. But wait; what did Annie really say? Audiences are obliged to rethink the timeline, and what Annie must logically be apologizing for is her vitriol at the dinner table so many runtime minutes ago. Still, the impression of her dream is indelible, it is critical. Its surreal timelessness visits our observations of mother Annie and son Peter for the remainder of the movie. Their bond is irreparably damaged, reconciled in this universe only when Peter self-immolates to house Charlie’s demonic essence in the vessel of his own body. 

Annie’s psyche is in a way "unchanging" on its path to self-destruction. She is not yet aware and will not realize before it’s too late that heredity demands tribute. She may open an unworldly door intended for the lightness and quirk of her deceased daughter. But even more constant than Annie’s stubborn efforts at resurrection is the reciprocal risk of ushering in the uninvited. When an unstoppable force meets an immovable object, heads will roll.

As for Dani’s nightmare, its impact derives less from revealing new information as employed in Hereditary. More, Dani’s vision of being left alone with the Hårga and commingling the death of her parents and sister with that of the community’s elders and their voluntary suicide, is a formative glimpse into the “psyche of the dreamer.”

If one is strictly committed to the bleak reality of Dani’s situation at the close of Midsommar, the nightmare is an integration stage. Dani’s fear mixes with curiosity, making her vulnerable to the Hårga influence. The dreamy pathway to radical acceptance of her trauma digs in the hooks on which Dani and her companions wind up distinctly impaled.

Yet in relation to our “horizontal” reading of the Midsommar finale where the ending is “happy” for a warped and horrifying version of Dani Ardor, the dream is almost an equally happy premonition.

The trauma of Ättestupa is stealing into her psyche with a reframe. It seems that with this visceral fear (abandonment) faced, Dani is never so overexposed to its powers again. She does, memorably, panic at her loss of Christian in the third act. Yet this time she is surrounded by members of her new family, the "queen's guard" of women who travel with her on the ritual for abundance. They mirror her with new empathy.

At the film’s finish, the three American men who came here with Dani are out of the proverbial “picture” and she indeed is by herself with the Hårga, as their reigning May Queen. The trauma of losing her family so graphically to homicidal suicide can be reworked as Hårga matriarch Siv promises:

“We view life like a circle. Yes? A re-cycle… instead of getting old and dying with shame and pain and fear, we give our life. As a gesture.”

(p.55, Midsommar draft 2018)

At first viewing, Dani’s dream may seem out of time or irrelevant. But on continual reflection, it hits upon a radial spread of purpose for Midsommar’s aims and offerings.

As the film’s credits roll, an intentionally jaunty and tragicomic tune plays “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” by Frankie Valli. “When you’re without love, baby,” the song annotates, there is no sunshine, there is no moonshine, there are only tears.

How frightfully seductive then, to flee to a world where dream and reality interweave, and everyone always feels held by one another.



Midsommar muralist Mu Pan

sketchify on Canva



AFI (American Film Institute.) “Ari Aster on What Inspires Him to Write.” YouTube, YouTube, 1 May 2023,

Aster, Ari. “Hereditary Draft 2016.” Script Slug, Accessed 24 Feb. 2024. 

Aster, Ari. “Midsommar Draft 2018.” The Script Savant, Accessed 3 Feb. 2024.

Bahr, Hermann. Expressionism. Translated by R. T. Gribble, Frank Henderson, 1925. 

Carl E. W. L. Dahlström. “Situation and Character in till Damaskus.” PMLA, vol. 53, no. 3, 

Riley, Jenelle. “‘Hereditary’ Filmmaker Ari Aster Answers Burning Questions (Spoilers).” Variety, Variety, 12 June 2018,

“Self-Insertion - Wiktionary, The Free Dictionary.” Wiktionary,,the%20story%20as%20a%20character. Accessed Feb. 2024.

Staub, August William, "The Subjective Perspective; Aspects of Point of View in Modern 

Drama." (1960). LSU Historical Dissertations and Theses. 638. 

Stefansky, Emma. “That Horrific Hereditary Scene Is Director Ari Aster’s Favorite.” Vanity Fair, Vanity Fair, 8 June 2018,

Yoshida, Emily. “Ari Aster on Midsommar: ‘I Really Don’t Know What I’ve Done.’” Vulture, Vulture, 1 July 2019,


About the Writer

Sarah Hajkowski is a freelance writer based in Western NC. In alignment with Erato, Sarah believes in the power of the written word to change the world, and is invested in mining the human experience both for the depth and pure, fun chaos of it. In her downtime, she will be storytelling with fellow creatives, baking, or listening to music.



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