Spoilers for Midsommar follow below.
Like his feature directorial debut Hereditary, writer/director Ari Aster’s daytime horror movie Midsommar has a lot on its mind. On the surface, this is the story of a young woman enduring the most unimaginable grief at the same time that her romantic relationship is falling apart, all while attending an increasingly ominous midsommar celebration at a remote Swedish commune. Digging deeper, this is a story about the importance of empathy, shared emotion, and finding family in the most unexpected places.
Before we dig into the Midsommar ending and what it means, it’s important to track the arc of the film’s protagonist Dani, played brilliantly by Florence Pugh. In the film’s harrowing opening sequence, we see her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) is reluctantly answering her calls and telling her she’s hysterical for “overreacting” to a disturbing email from her biopolar sister. Minutes later, Dani calls Christian again screaming, having learned that her sister just killed her parents and then herself in a murder-suicide. Importantly, we see a scene in which Dani is inconsolable in grief, crying uncontrollably, while Christian half-heartedly attempts to comfort her, hand on her shoulder, staring off into the distance.
Indeed, Aster has called Midsommar something of a breakup movie, and throughout the story we see how Christian is distancing himself from Dani, treating her with severe indifference and ignoring the sensitivity of her emotions in this fragile state—as evidenced by his failure to warn her about the ättestupa ritual they witness, and also how he brushes off her concerns about Simon “leaving” without Connie.
As the film reaches its endpoint, the audience learns that—surprise!—this cult-like community actually is dangerous and has very specific plans for Dani, Christian, Josh (William Jackson Harper), Mark (Will Poulter), Connie (Ellora Torchia), and Simon (Archie Madekwe). In the final act, all of the outsiders except Christian and Dani have “disappeared,” and the midsommar ritual continues with a maypole dancing competition—which Dani wins. After the competition, Dani is crowned May Queen and is carted around the commune to bless their crops.
In the meantime, Christian has been taken away, asked to mate with Maja (Isabelle Grill) to bring some outside blood into the community, and subsequently drugged. Christian does indeed go through with the sex ritual, solidifying his severed ties from Dani. When Dani returns, she hears the sex ritual happening and witnesses Christian’s infidelity. She runs out, sobbing, hurt, and in great pain—but she’s not alone. The women of the commune surround Dani, follow her into the sleeping quarters, and begin echoing her cries.
We saw this practice earlier in the film, during the ättestupa, in which members of the commune cried out in pain when the elder gentleman’s fall from the cliff failed to immediately kill him. The members of this community value togetherness above all else, and when Dani is in anguish over discovering Christian’s unfaithfulness, the villagers literally share her pain. This is in stark contrast to the rest of the film, during which she’s been forced to quietly grieve alone while Christian either ignores her breakdowns or offers half-assed platitudes.
After Christian has fulfilled his purpose of mating with Maja, the true reason for bringing these outsiders to the village is revealed. For the midsommar celebration’s finale, ritualistic sacrifice is necessary. We learn that yes, Josh, Mark, Connie, and Simon have all already been killed and will serve as sacrifices in the ritual, which now needs two volunteers from the village and one additional sacrifice. For the final pick, Dani is allowed to choose who dies—Christian, or a lottery-selected villager. Heartbroken, bitter, and angry over Christian’s betrayal (not just physical, but emotional as she considers the entirety of their relationship), Dani chooses Christian to die, in turn choosing this community as her family. Christian is then stuffed inside a bear carcass (still alive, mind you) and placed in the sacred temple along with the four dead outsiders and two volunteers.
As the temple is set on fire, the villagers look on. When one of the volunteers screams in anguish as he burns alive, the villagers outside begin to mimic his cries, writhing around and crying out. And while Dani—still in her May Queen garb—initially looks on in horror, her face eventually curls into a smile, and she joins the villagers in their celebration.
At the beginning of the film, Dani is alone in her grief. At the end, she’s sharing not just her grief and pain, but joy and celebration. When her family died, Christian and his friends failed to fill in the gap. She was alone, isolated, and lacking any considerable empathy or compassion from those around her. By the film’s end, she’s embraced the values of this commune—values of community and found-family—and finally feels seen, heard, and felt.
It’s a bittersweet ending to be sure. The cult literally killed people, and while Christian kinda-sorta had it coming, the idea that Pelle (played by Broken Social Scene’s Vilhelm Blomgren) literally made friends with the express purpose of sacrificing them is disturbing. And although Christian sucks, some may question why Pelle chose to sacrifice Josh, who seemed genuinely interested in the rituals and way of life of the commune. Well therein lies your answer—the less the outside world knows about this community’s sex rituals and sacrifice, the better.
But the larger idea inside Midsommar is one of the importance of shared emotion. Relationships are tricky to be sure, but if there’s no foundation of empathy, of understanding, it’s tough to build a lasting companionship. We as humans don’t want to feel isolated in either our pain or joy, and one of the greatest gifts a partner or family member can give us is to share in those emotions. To feel a little less alone. And while yes, by the Midsommar ending Dani’s boyfriend Christian is being burned alive in a ritualistic barn, literally inside the carcass of a bear, alongside the mutilated corpses of their friends, Dani has found a sense of community. Whether she’s horrified or elated, she’s at least found a family in which those emotions can be shared.