In the years since Midsommar, much has been written about the movie’s portrait of grief and community. Ari Aster’s second feature is also rightfully celebrated as one of the best horror movies ever, and it’s impossible to watch it and remain indifferent to the nightmarish wonders Aster conjured on the silver screen. However, while Midsommar is a layered work of art that invites multiple readings, many people still fail to see the most obvious one. That’s because, at its core, Midsommar is a cautionary tale about the ability of white supremacist groups to increase their ranks with promises of support and comfort.
Why the Hårga Are White Supremacists
Midsommar follows a group of friends that get invited to be part of a nine-day festival held by the isolated Hårga community in Sweden. Upon getting to the secluded place, the friends witness strange rituals inspired by Nordic mythology and tradition. While on the surface it seems like the Hårga is just part of an alien culture, further analysis allows us to make a parallel between the community and white supremacy groups. Both wear tradition as a shield against racism accusations, claim to be honoring their ancestors with their violent actions, and are deeply concerned with ideas of segregation.
It doesn’t take too long for the audience to realize there are only white people in the Hårga community. And contrary to most horror movies, Midsommar happens almost exclusively in the daylight. The movie illuminates every dark corner of the community with a bright light, and every member of the Hårga is wearing white clothes all the time. It’s hard to ignore that whiteness is a theme in Midsommar, and while many interpret this choice as a way to represent the purity of an idyllic paradise, there’s too much going on to reinforce how the Hårga are white supremacists.
For starters, it’s not random that Aster, a filmmaker coming from a Jewish family, chose to use Nordic elements to represent this all-white community. It’s not news that Nationalist movements in Europe looked back at an idealized version of Viking culture to justify their racist ideals. In fact, the use of runes by Nazi Germany is even alluded to directly in the movie by the book “The Secret Nazi Language of the Uthark,” found in Christian’s (Jack Reynor) apartment. In the director’s cut of the movie, there’s even an extended road trip scene highlighting how Josh (William Jackson Harper) carries the book around to pester Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) about the Hårga using runic language.
Midsommar’s vision of Nordic rituals also seems to reflect the distorted Viking history claimed by white supremacists worldwide. Even though what we call “Vikings” as a uniform society represented multicultural communities, ancient Nordic people are still portrayed as pure-breed white people like the Hårga. And while the “blood eagle” and the suicidal “ättestupa” rituals are two of the most brutal practices of the Hårga, scholars now point out how they are distorted historical anecdotes, more fiction than fact. While Aster has every right to use whatever made-up ritual he wants to bring the Hårga to life, the filmmaker has already proved with Hereditary that he goes to painstaking lengths when it comes to research. So, the apparent historical impressions of the Hårga’s traditions are most likely another clever way to highlight how they represent white nationalists, fascinated about a past that didn’t even exist.
If we listen to what Aster himself has to say about his movie, it’s clear that he intended to use the Hårga as a metaphor for the dangerous expansion of white supremacists worldwide, particularly in Europe. In Aster’s words, the Hårga were designed as racists and represent “a part of Swedish history and European history.” And when they look outside their conservative community for “new blood” they can recruit or use for breeding purposes, they are exclusively searching for white people.
That means Josh and the other POC characters were only invited to the once-in-90-years festivities to be used as sacrifices. Meanwhile, both Christian and Mark (Will Poulter) were chosen as breeders, while Dani (Florence Pugh) was targeted by the Hårga to become a member of their community. Josh, in particular, has a tragic journey. The young man dedicated his life to studying people that ultimately despise him, which we can see by the way even Pelle always promises to answer his question “later” while sharing new details of the Hårga culture with his white friends. In the director’s cut, Pelle even says “Josh was already brainwashed” before he knew him, another nod to how the Hårga lure people with sweet promises only to warp their worldview.
While historical incongruities could be dismissed by naysayers, the Hårga explicitly tell the guests how they control the bloodline by carefully picking the people that can have children, in order to keep their blood pure. That’s the ultimate wet dream of white supremacists, and another strong evidence of how Aster uses the isolated Swedish community to explore a contemporary social issue.
Midsommar even got some heat for its use of eugenics and ableist tropes, as if these plot elements were cheap ways to build horror. However, we could argue this criticism missed the point entirely, as the Hårga are not the heroes of the story. They are the unquestionable villains, and the fact that they pay so much attention to preserving their sacred bloodline is evidence of their white supremacist roots. Aster is not defending these practices, he’s exposing them and showing how horrible they can be.
Still, while all of this has been discussed earlier, there are people who deny the white supremacist nature of the Hårga. Even worse, there are viewers who idolize the peaceful and nature-loving culture of the Hårga, unaware that they fell victim to Aster’s brilliant representation of white supremacists’ recruitment strategies.
Midsommar Seduces Audiences in an Uncomfortable Way
It’s a universal truth: the carrot works better than the stick. White supremacy groups have not been gaining strength in the last decade by spitting out threats. Their most powerful weapon is a sense of community. In a world ravaged by an everlasting economic crisis and the irreparable destruction of nature, it’s only natural people feel lost and helpless. And while minorities have been banding together to celebrate their culture and fight for equal rights, the average white person doesn’t have the same kind of community to turn to. That’s how white supremacists attract people, with empathy and an open heart. Just like the Hårga.
The story of Midsommar is told through Dani’s eyes. As soon as the movie begins, Dani loses her sister and her parents to a murder/suicide, leaving her alone with her boyfriend, Christian. Unfortunately, Christian is unsupportive, undermines Dani’s opinions, and treats her serious mental health issues as inconveniences. Dani is fighting her grief all alone. As soon as Pelle learns that Dani is joining the trip to Hårga, the Swedish cultist opens his arms and his heart to the girl. Pelle realizes that Dani’s loneliness and grief make her the perfect candidate to join the Hårga. That’s why he’s always offering her kind words, a shoulder to cry on, and a sense of shared trauma. Pelle wants to show Dani she doesn’t have to be alone, as the Hårga can become a family to her, too.
While the Hårga’s rituals are gruesome and cruel, we can’t say they are not a tight community. In Midsommar, the cultists share their pains and pleasures, united by their white likeness. That’s why, in the ättestupa scene, the whole community wails together when their elder suffers after a failed suicide attempt. They also scream in agony when Dani has her breakdown, after witnessing Christian have sex with another woman, and once more when the flames of the final sacrifice engulf the white people they chose to offer to the gods. The Hårga women also rejoice together when one of them feels the pleasure only sex can offer. In a chaotic world, the Hårga offers order, understanding, and mutual respect. And these are not things easily dismissed. That’s why, ultimately, Dani decides to join the Hårga and also reproduce their brutal rituals.
Yes, Christian is an asshole. In fact, he is a gaslighting buffoon. So, it’s easy to understand why we feel somewhat vindicated when Dani chooses him as the last human sacrifice in the Hårga’s festivities. However, in civilized society, you have the right to be a prick and not be burned alive because of it. It’s also important to remember that the community only shares pain for white characters, as every non-white victim dies alone, in the dark, and sometimes off-screen. They are just meat to feed a violent machine, and no second thought is given to them.
Midsommar’s rituals paint the Hårga as a violent community hostile to differences. And yet, Dani’s emotional journey clouds our judgments and makes us see Aster’s brilliant movie as only a metaphor for finding a family and healing from past traumas.
That’s what makes Midsommar so disturbingly good. By amping up the violence slowly while reinforcing the sense of community of the Hårga, Aster plays with our feelings, distracting us from the ugly truth until it’s too late. The Hårga can enthrall the audience just as they do with Dani, and we feel it’s easier just to join the cult and celebrate their union, instead of realizing we are cheering for the obvious villains. And the fact people still didn’t realize Midsommar is about white supremacy shows how successfully Aster showed the world even the most despicable communities can still recruit new members if they distract you with empathy.