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Midsommar is an overly long, ultimately incoherent American horror film set in Sweden. It is the fruit of cross-cultural collaboration. Ari Aster, the film’s director, is a Jew from New York City who was born in 1986 and grew up fascinated with horror movies. Aster felt the film was personally cathartic because it allowed him to combine fascination with the horror genre with the experience of breaking up with his girlfriend, which felt “apocalyptic, like the world is ending.” So, from Aster’s perspective, Midsommar is “a perverse wish fulfillment fantasy,” in which sex leads to horror. Aster is, however, quick to add: “Nobody in the movie is a surrogate for my ex-girlfriend. It’s not like this is what I want to do to my ex, but there is a feeling of you want to set fire to that part of yourself and that part of your life and move on clean because it’s so painful.”

The key to understanding the incoherence is the name given to the main character, whose name is “Christian.” The name is pregnant with significance, but ultimately incomprehensible given the way the director handles it. Aster’s explication of his use of the name in Midsommar is no better than his dramatization in the film. “Christian and his friends,” according to Aster, are unaware that “they’re all walking into a folk horror movie and that’s what the movie is going to be for them. But for [Christian’s girlfriend] Dani, by the end it’ll be revealed that in fact the movie is a fairy tale only for her.”

Don’t feel bad if you’re still in the dark because the movie makes no sense of the term either. “Christian” is one of a group of 20-something anthropology students who talk a lot about sex and take a lot of dope, but his behavior isn’t remotely Christian, not even in the hypocritical sense so beloved by Jewish movie directors. Christian’s friends spend most of the beginning of Midsommar trying to convince him to break up with his girlfriend Dani. Christian and his buddies live in a clearly post-Christian world, so post-Christian in fact that the only remnant of what this film is really about is the protagonist’s first name. The main character is Christian in name only; his name has nothing to do with his behavior. He is not an authority figure; he is a grad student in anthropology who has “no idea what his thesis is.”[2]

The film begins with scenes of Swedish woods in Haelsingland in winter and then cuts to a house in suburban Minnesota. “The neighborhood is very quiet,” but Dani, a grad student in Brooklyn, is worried about her family, after she gets a dark e-mail message from her sister, who writes: “I can’t anymore – everything’s black – mom and dad are coming too. Goodbye.” Worried that something bad is about to happen, Dani calls her boyfriend, “Christian,” who announces that he “just smoked some resin,” introducing the drug-use theme that will continue throughout the rest of the film. Christian is unavailable emotionally at Dani’s time of need.

“Christian” manifests this lack of concern for both Dani and her emotionally needy sister, whose imminent suicide, which involves the murder of her parents as well, is dismissed as “another clear ploy for attention.”3 Christian has become too self-absorbed to care about anyone but himself. So when Dani says to him “I’m really lucky to have you,” he replies, “Me too.” Dani then says, “I love you,” to which Christian replies, “So do I.” Christian is looking for a way out of what seems like a sexless relationship with Dani. After conferring with his 20-something grad student buddies at a pizza parlor in New York, Christian is told that he needs to “find some new chick who actually likes sex.” When fellow anthropology student Josh brings up Christian’s uncompleted Ph.D, the waitress gives Christian a seductive smile, and a discussion of those sexual possibilities ensues only to be broken off when Dani calls to say that her sister committed suicide, taking her parents with her, by filling their house with carbon monoxide from two cars in the garage. Back in Dani’s apartment, Christian holds his crying girlfriend while he “stares into space, imagining a future that he’s being chained to. He looks TRAPPED.” In the window behind the couple “HEAVY SNOW,” we are told, is “raging in a black vacuum.”

In order to understand Midsommar we have to go outside of a film that has difficulty telling its own story. Like most Hollywood films, Midsommer is a remake. Aster describes it as “a conjoined hybrid of The Wicker Man-style folk horror with the painful examination of heartbreak as in Modern Romance.” The 1973 film The Wicker Man has nothing to do with an affair gone bad. Quite to the contrary, it is the story of a man who believes that sex should be reserved for marriage, as well as a brilliant analysis of the rise of neo-paganism in Britain. The main character is a policeman, Sergeant Howie (played by Edward Woodward), who shows up on a remote island off the western coast of Scotland to investigate the disappearance of a 12-year-old girl. Shortly after his arrival, Sergeant Howie, who is a devout Christian and a virgin who is engaged to be married and shown as taking communion, is confronted by the rampant sexual decadence which has taken over the island. After a protracted struggle with temptation when the hotel’s waitress (played by Britt Eckland) tries to seduce him, Sergeant Howie loses no time explaining that he represents the Christian social order which the islanders have evidently abandoned. Whenever he tries to get something done or obtain a crucial bit of information, the islanders refer him to Lord Summerisle (played by Christopher Lee), who is the source of all authority on the island. On his way to Summerisle’s castle, Sergeant Howie notices a number of women dancing naked in a field on his property, leaping over a fire. The scene is right out of Euripedes’ Bacchae, and it has similar consequences for Sergeant Howie, who is now clearly identified with Pentheus, the ruler of Thebes, who must restore order after the arrival of Dionysos has lured the women away from their looms to dance naked on the mountain side. But Sergeant Howie is also something of an Oedipus figure because he is determined to find out who is responsible for the disappearance of the girl, no matter what the conseqences. Like Oedipus’s Thebes, which is suffering from the plague, Summerisle has experienced crop failures. The island became an agricultural powerhouse after Lord Summerisle’s Victorian freethinking grandfather introduced scientific farming principles and, more importantly, paganism, which is equally responsible for the resurgence of fertility there. Every year the natives make animal sacrifices, but when the crops fail nonetheless, the gods need human sacrifice, which means, in this instance, the missing girl Rowan Morrison, whom Sergeant Howie has come to find.

Howie’s plans to leave the island before the May Day celebration are thwarted when the natives disable his seaplane. Instead of leaving, Howie dons the costume of a fool and takes part in the procession to the sea, where the human sacrifice is to take place. There he finds Rowan, but in his attempt to save her he discovers that she was the bait in a trap which got laid for him as its intended victim. Sergeant Howie is then trussed up and put inside the Wicker Man, which goes up in flames.

Aster got the ending of Midsommar from The Wicker Man, but the related issues of loss of faith in Scotland, the collapse of that country’s Protestant state church, and the neo-paganism which filled the cultural vacuum after that collapse, also had relevance for Sweden, where the Lutheran state church had lost its hold on Swedish culture, creating a vacuum that was being filled at the time of the film with Islam and white nationalism, in reaction to the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees which flooded the country as a result of the United States’ ill-fated attempt to topple the Assad regime.

In 2015, Sweden took in more refugees than Germany precipitating a political crisis that is now raging in both countries. At this point, what began as a spiritual crisis in the previous generation became a racial crisis, and Malmo became, in Brexit party leader Nigel Farage’s words, “the rape capital of Europe.”[4] Sensing that the Lutheran state church had lost its ability to defend Swedish culture from the migration invasion, Swedes turned to racial identity politics, which inevitably led them to a valorization of Sweden’s pre-Christian past. Like Nietzsche, who made his own contribution to the resurgence of pagan ideology in Germany, Swedes began to wonder whether the Protestant version of Christianity they had grown up with had feminized and weakened them, rendering them incapable of defending their women and their culture. Do the Christians care about the fate of Sweden’s women, or have they been emasculated by a Gospel which urges them to turn the other cheek as their sisters are being raped by Muslims and Africans? After witnessing the degeneration of Lutheranism into a religion that seemingly condoned the rape of Swedish women, Swedes began looking for an alternative. Neopaganism arrived in Sweden on the heels of racial identity politics when it became clear that the state church could no longer provide the spiritual authority which was necessary to enforce the social order. The first place where the social order breaks down is in the realm of sexuality, because hedonism is what people use to replace the sense of meaning after they lose faith in Christ. Liberated sexuality, as Pentheus discovered when Dionysos arrived and the women of Thebes left their looms, invariably leads to social chaos, and social chaos leads ultimately to death. The Wicker Man makes it clear that Scotland is no exception to the rule. Midsommar tries to make the same point in its incoherent way. The return of sexual license, which is the engine driving neo-paganism in Europe, leads inexorably to death, first of all because abortion is the natural sequel which follows the removal of sexuality from marriage, but secondly because the fertility cults which were the basis for European paganism were invariably bound up with human sacrifice. Lord Summerisle hints at this, but Sergeant Howie learns the full story by doing some research at the local library, and then as the representative of the Christian state decides to do something about it.

Aster’s film is a combination of personal anguish, fascination with horror films, and Hollywood’s penchant to re-make dependable money earners. Midsommar may have been Aster’s way of “working through my breakup,” but the opening credits claim that the original concept came from two Swedes, Patrik Andersson and Martin Karlqvist,[5] who approached Aster with an idea for a Swedish-set folk-horror tale. Andersson and Karlqvist claim that all of the details regarding the rituals depicted in the movie have “at least some basis in historical fact.”[6] The oversized mallet used to finish off the botched attempt at euthanasia depicted in the film was based on a replica of the mallet which Aster and his Swedish collaborators saw in a museum in Stockholm. The scene showing the two septuagenarians jumping off the cliff to their deaths was based, according to Aster, on customs in practice “not so long ago for elderly people. . . . So it’s true, all of it. And that’s the scary part.”

Claiming that neo-paganism is scary because it involves human sacrifice is understandably something that neo-pagans might find annoying. Swedish White Nationalist Henrik Palmgren at Red Ice did not like Midsommar, calling it “a hate movie” as well as an example of “racial discrimination against people of — especially Nordic heritage, but white people in general.”[7] Lana Lokteff at Red Ice took offence at the movie’s portrayal of neo-paganism, calling the movie “another attack on an ancient, beautiful European tradition.”[8] In spite of its flaws, Midsommar convincingly makes the point that human sacrifice isn’t beautiful, but both of Aster’s Swedish collaborators argue that the human sacrifice scenes in Midsommar are based on solid historical evidence, and the historical sources back them up in their claim. Peter Cowie mentions the chronicle of Adam of Bremen, who claims that Uppsala was “at the center of bloodcurdling sacrifices during certain periods of the year.”[9] Both the Sagas and Adam of Bremen claim that human sacrifices were offered at Swedish pagan temples.[10]

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According to Adam, the temple at Uppsala was the centre for the national worship of the gods, and every nine years a great festival was held there where the attendance of all inhabitants of the Swedish provinces was required, including Christians. At these festivals men and male animals were sacrificed by hanging. Adam recounts from Christian eyewitness accounts that up to 72 corpses could be seen hanging in the trees next to the temple during these sacrifices.[11]

The wounds on the bog bodies unearthed near Portlaoise and elsewhere in Ireland led Ned Kelly, keeper of antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland, to conclude that they were also victims of ritual human sacrifice. Kelly claims that “the Celts performed human sacrifice as part of their religious rituals” elsewhere in Europe as well. Wherever Druids occupied “the religious social class, they almost certainly would have participated in human sacrifices, and probably officiated at them.” This claim has been substantiated by Roman accounts as well:

Experts say that Druids in the Celtic era possibly committed ritual human sacrifice on a mass scale. Julius Caesar, who led the first Roman landing in 55 BC, said the native Celts believed that gods delighted in the slaughter of prisoners and criminals, and when the supply of captives ran short, they sacrificed even the innocent.[12]

The collapse of Protestant state churches in Europe created a vacuum, which we all know is abhorrent to nature. Sex is the bait that leads the inhabitants of formerly Protestant countries like Sweden and Scotland into the trap of neo-paganism. The director of The Wicker Man makes this perfectly clear with a few strokes of cinematic artistry. Appalled by the bawdy atmosphere of the pub where he is staying, Segeant Howie goes out for some fresh air and a change of scene only to find couples copulating in the dark. The church he visits in the morning is in ruins, but, as if to show the spiritual ruin which flowed from the collapse of the church, the director shows a naked woman sitting on one of the graves in the church yard.

The same situation is to be found in Midsommar, but only if the viewer knows where to look after having watched The Wicker Man. Months after the death of Dani’s sister and parents, Christian still doesn’t know what his thesis is, but sitting in Mark and Josh’s apartment, which is “essentially a stoner’s den crossed with a serious anthropologist’s home,” he slowly warms to the idea of an anthropological field trip to Sweden, where he can observe ancient rituals in a small “incestuous” community. After Christian, Dani and the stoner anthropology students arrive in Sweden, Mark is struck by how attractive Swedish women are. “What is it that makes them hotter?” he wonders.

The short answer to that question is social engineering. But to explain that angle we must once again depart from the film. In 1955, a journalist by the name of Joe David Brown wrote an article for Time magazine, which was then the information ministry for the CIA, explaining that “in modern Sweden sociology has become a religion in itself, and birth control, abortion and promiscuity—especially among the young—are recognized as inalienable rights.”[13] Brown’s article was part of a multi-national conspiracy to strike down obscenity laws in which figures in the United States and Sweden played key roles.

In the late 1930s, roughly a decade before it got taken over by Alger Hiss, the notorious Soviet spy, the Carnegie foundation brought the Swedish socialist Gunnar Myrdal to the United States to write a book on racism. In 1942, Myrdal’s book An American Dilemma rolled off the presses in the United States to universal acclaim, which is unsurprising considering its source in America’s psychological warfare establishment. Myrdal’s book purported to be about America’s racial problem, about which he knew nothing when he was recruited to write the book, but in reality An American Dilemma was about the advent of social engineering in America as part of a collaboration between the elites of Sweden and the United States which targeted the populations of both countries. Socialism was the answer to loss of faith among the Swedish elites because socialism could bring about heaven on earth via the social engineering which Gunnar Myrdal praised in America.

By the time the anthropology students arrive there, Sweden has moved along the inevitable cultural trajectory which leads from sexual liberation to death. Between 1973 and 2013, all porno films became horror films. And so instead of the ongoing orgy which Sergeant Howie witnessed on Summerisle, “Christian” sees a tree full of dead boars with flies buzzing around them, reminiscent of Adam of Bremen’s description and the central scene in Golding’s Lord of the Flies. The Americans are then offered a bag of magic mushrooms by their Swedish hosts, and after some hesitation Dani takes one and wanders off into the woods, where she has her own psychedelic epiphany. After seeing ants eating a dead rabbit in the woods, she tells Christian: “Nothing means anything. We’re just alone.” To which, the ever-clueless Christian says, “You’re having a bad trip. You think you’re alone because you made yourself alone. We’re all one. Those are the good things you’re supposed to think about when you trip. We’re all unified. Fuck.”

The American anthropologists then arrive at the “small village” which is their ultimate destination: “The scene is Utopic” [sic]. After being greeted by “about a hundred people” standing on the grass, “dressed like Amish people, but less formal,” the Americans are gradually initiated into Swedish paganism. In the ‘70s this would have meant sex then death, but in this era it means death first then sex. After watching two elderly Swedes jump off a cliff to their deaths, the Americans get harangued by Siv, the female leader of the cult, who explains their justification for euthanasia: “Instead of growing old and getting sick and dying in pain and shame and fear, we’ll give our life – as a gesture. Yes? A gift. And we will leave this chapter with dignity and gratitude. Before it can spoil.”

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Not sure whether he buys Siv’s explanation of why two Swedes just died, Christian mulls her speech over while munching on a meat pie which is really a love potion made of pubic hair and menstrual blood. Which leads, of course, to sex. Sensing the connection between sex and death, Dani decides that it’s time to return to New York: “No, Christian: this is pagan nature worship. This is completely backwards. We shouldn’t be here.” Ever the anthropologist, Christian counters by saying that “we need to acclimate.” But Dani continues to insist: “I want to leave.”

Christian is in no hurry to leave because he now finally knows what his thesis is. He is also in the process of going native. When Pelle, the Swede who has lured them into this trap, tells him, “I think my sister Maja has taken a liking to you,” he is suggesting in a not-so-subtle way that Christian make a contribution to the depleted, incestuous, neo-pagan Swedish gene pool. For some reason Dani doesn’t like this idea and continues to insist that they return to the safe confines of New York City. “New York is fun,” Pelle admits,

My pilgrimage has been fun. New York is fun. But I also find it terrifying how people live. As if it’s necessary and even good to be lost and drifting … and I haven’t spent one night over there that I haven’t longed to be back here…in the lap of the Hårgas. Stay, Dani. Please. It will be good …. And I swear we’re all finished sacrificing animals.

When Swedish neo-pagans say things like this in horror movies, you’re not supposed to feel relieved. Eventually, Pelle persuades Dani to remain so that she can become a part of the family she deserves, a statement which can also be taken in a number of different ways.

Both The Wicker Man and Midsommar are about the aftermath of the crisis of faith which swept through the Protestant countries of Europe during the second half of the 20th century. The decay of Protestantism led to socialism. If Protestantism was Christianity without the Church, socialism was Christianity without Christ. Socialism led to social engineering, which led to the collapse of sexual morality, and the collapse of sexual morality led to white nationalism, when the next generation realized that their culture was defenseless against foreign invasion. White nationalism then led to a return to paganism, which invariably involved human sacrifice.

[…] This is just an excerpt from Culture Wars Magazine, not the full article. To continue reading, purchase the July/August, 2019 edition of Culture Wars Magazine.

(Republished from Culture War by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Arts/Letters, Ideology • Tags: Movies, Pornography 
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