Tuesday, July 16, 2019


I think 'Midsommar' might be my favorite movie of the year so far. 'Us' is the other one that comes to mind. And I'm not even all that into horror movies. So what's so good about it?

The cinematography is great (not that I'm an expert, but I think that what a film looks like matters to me more than it does to many other people). There are also a couple of Wittgensteinian points and a couple of political ones in its favor.

First, Wittgenstein. The movie involves a bunch of the kind of rites that Frazer writes about, and so that are familiar to anyone who's read the Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough (this link goes to a book about Wittgenstein's remarks, not the remarks themselves, but the book appears to be both free and interesting). Secondly, one thing that the community featured in the movie do is to mimic emotions expressed by individuals. For instance, if you start crying then you might find yourself surrounded by others who all (pretend to) cry with you, even matching your particular sobs and sighs. I think this would feel like mockery, even it is isn't intended to be, but perhaps it would be comforting. The idea seems to be to reduce feelings of separation from others, which could be wonderfully communal or suffocatingly anti-individualist. I don't think Wittgenstein talks about this, but anything to do with expression of emotion and the role of others in this aspect of life is at least vaguely Wittgensteinian.

Second, politics. To the extent that we want to be able to have our own feelings and to be individuals, the movie is anti-mob and pro-liberalism. This makes it timely. The film also provides a reminder that white people are every bit as primitive or savage as anyone ever has been. Yes, it's fiction, but what we see is close enough to real things (things even more horrific than Morris Dancers and maypoles) that this doesn't matter. And, relatedly, it provides a reminder that communities' being isolated is not always a great thing.

Manohla Dargis liked it less than I did. She notes that the characters are not very well developed (which is true, except for the central character, but I'm not sure it matters) and suggests that there's an anti-women bias in the film. Here's her concluding paragraph:
Unlike Kubrick or Peele, though, Aster [the director] isn’t interested in psychological complexities that can make a character’s terminal fate meaningful and turn directorial virtuosity into vision. Despite all the time he lavishes on Dani and Christian’s relationship, which is drawn along stereotypical gendered lines (consuming female need that becomes devouring), the couple remains instructively uninteresting. That’s the case despite Pugh. She works hard to make Dani into more than a walking wound, but again and again, the character betrays both her common sense and your faith, all so the women can dance, the men howl and the maypole can hook up with ye old vagina dentata.    
This seems unfair to me. Dani (the central character) worries early on that she will seem too needy to her boyfriend Christian, but it becomes clear that she is right to be worried and is not bothering him unjustifiably. I'm also not sure what to make of Dargis' suggestion that characters, including Dani, behave stupidly. One does seem annoying in an implausibly constant way, but any mistakes I can think of that people make in the film all seem likely enough to me. And the usual horror movie question, Why don't they just leave?, doesn't apply here. Dargis' final reference to vagina dentata is also a bit mystifying. Sex does not appear to be any more dangerous than any other activity, and women no more dangerous than men, in the community portrayed here.

If you want a review that reflects my view more closely than Dargis' does, try this.

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