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(Credit: A24)


Ari Aster's 'Midsommar', and the art of the breakup movie


There are those that seek out the softest, most harmless animation possible when they go through a gut-wrenching breakup, and then there are those who seek out an existential horror. It’s this difference in personalities that keep the world turning and allows the concept of ‘the breakup movie’ to exist. After all, who else really wants to watch such an emotionally tormenting subject matter fold out on screen. 

For a filmmaker, or in fact, the viewer, to watch a breakup movie is to engage in the act of catharsis, an emotional release that helps to expound your inner fears and most heartbreaking emotions. In the case of influential director Ari Aster, the most efficient way to present his feelings was to wrap them in the genre package of folk horror, cast Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor and release Midsommar in 2019.

“I think you’ve made the most idyllic horror film of all time, you’ve taken Stepford Wives and shattered the attractiveness of that movie with this one. That alone is a feat,” Get Out filmmaker Jordan Peele said to Aster in an interview between the two of them in Volume 2, Issue #4 of Fangoria magazine. “I mean, this usurps The Wicker Man as the most iconic pagan movie to be referenced,” Peele’s glowing praise continued, though of course, Midsommar is only attractive from the outside looking in. The reality it represents is far darker. 

Aster’s second feature film fits into a folk horror sub-genre whilst eliciting subtle nods to the pain and torment of a romantic breakup. Fitting this subtext within the realm of folk horror acted as the perfect conduit to tell such a story, with Aster stating: “I just wanted to write a breakup movie, and I saw a way of marrying the breakup movie that I was having at the time with the structure of a folk horror film,” whilst in discussion with YouTube channel Birth.Movies.Death.

“One thing I love about genre filmmaking is that the genre provides you with a very sturdy framework that you can lay messier emotions onto, and you can tell a very personal story but it provides you with a very strict path that you have to adhere to.” Aster continued. Moving on to his inspirations for the film, along with his own recommendations for the best breakup movies, Aster explains, “I have those movies, where if I go through a breakup and it’s rough, I’ll go to Albert Brooks’ Modern Romance, or I’ll go to Eyes Wide Shut, or like Scenes from a Marriage“.

“The big one” for Ari Aster, however, is one that marries horror and romance, just like his own Midsommar, he notes, “Zulawski’s possession, that’s a big one and that’s a big one that I return to again and again, I think if there is any legacy for the film, I would love for it to be a movie that people go to when they’re going through a breakup, I hope this qualifies as a contribution to that tradition”.

Whilst Midsommar certainly does fit into this mould as per Ari Asters wishes, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone willing to sit through its terror shortly after experiencing visceral heartbreak.