Ari Aster knows there is beauty in the smallest details, and Midsommar supports this idea.
Recently, while rewatching Midsommar, I couldn’t help but notice all of the small moments of genius that make this film so enjoyable to watch. It not only has some of my favorite elements in a film like subtle misdirection or the visual mediums that give the plot away, but Midsommar also has both audio and visual cues that are created only for the audience.
These cues are scattered throughout the film, and it's amazing. Although some of you have already noticed many of these details, you might have missed why these audiovisual elements exist. They are hidden throughout the film to create trauma that is solely for the audience. These are heavenly yet psychedelic and create a world that is both isolating and confusing.
Spikima Movies breaks down how Ari Aster uses audiovisual tricks to create tension in Midsommar:
Do you remember the first shot of Midsommar? It’s not the jarring image of Dani’s family lost in a murder-suicide, nor is it Dani (Florence Pugh) looking at her sister’s email. It’s a mural that has details of everything that is going to happen in this film. It is only on screen for twenty seconds, but if you look closely, the mural lays out the death, the mourning, the departure, the settlement, and the celebration that will be brought into Dani’s life.
Aster’s use of visuals to tell the story through a simple image that the audience can easily dismiss is reminiscent of Pedro Almodóvar’s use of visual art forms in his film Talk to Her. Almodóvar and Aster use visuals to create an ambiance for the film solely for the audience. Even if characters see the visual, it is of no consequence to them.
The image in Midsommar then opens up like curtains opening to reveal a stage. We are invited to witness this dark fairytale, and although we have no idea what is to come (even though Aster has already revealed the story), we are trapped.
The audience is not watching Dani’s experiences. The audience is forced to endure their type of trauma in the film to understand Dani’s trauma. Dani never saw her parents or her sister after she discovers they are dead, yet the audience sees the haunting image of Terri’s distorted face from the beginning of the film. The image of Terri follows Dani throughout the movie and appears to showcase Dani’s lingering anxiety. Aster has created a tangible trauma for the audience to endure so they can be in sync with Dani’s suffering.
Aster doesn’t stop there with the visuals. When the film shifts into the settlement, psychedelics are introduced to shift the trauma to confusion. The “trip visuals” are unlike the other visuals in the film. These are meant for Dani and the audience. The breathing of the mountains, the pulsing flower in the May Queen’s crown, and the extreme radial blur are accepted as real because of how they accentuate the fact that the characters are on drugs and are witnessing things that are slightly out of the norm.
All of Midsommar’s visuals amplify the feeling of isolation and explain the idea of loneliness and anxiety as a subjective nightmare that is impossible to fully communicate and share.
The tempo that leads to the reveal in Midsommar is flawless. The opening scene is a masterclass in how to use audio to enhance a scene without forcing an emotion. Let’s break it down.
The opening scene is 12 minutes long and uses five major sounds to create the atmosphere of the film. The first instrumental track is beautifully ominous. It’s fairytale music and prepares the audience for the show which is cut off by the jarring sound of a telephone ringing. The vocal medley carries the established mood, the winter of Dani’s life, and the ringing of the phone abruptly pulls the audience in and starts the conflict.
After that, no proper music is heard for five minutes. The lack of music forces an emotion of anxiety and dread of the unknown.
Inserting the appropriate music in a film is important because it accents the atmosphere of a scene, but when a piece of sound is perfectly removed from the scene, the absence of sound creates atmosphere. The absence of sound intensifies, creating anxiety for the audience as we are waiting for the reveal.
The first real score is introduced when Dani gets a phone call from the police. The score is played down to ease the audience into the upcoming climax. The score acts as ambiance for the film until Dani calls Christian (Jack Reynor) which causes a shift in the score’s role in the scene.
It takes the forefront of the scene and supplements the audience’s reaction instead of forcing an emotion. Not only does it mimic the flashing lights of the emergency vehicles, leaking gas, and sirens, it isolates the audience. Nothing exists outside of what Aster is showing us.
The score in Midsommar helps blend the visuals, creating a world that is inescapable for the next 148 minutes.
Aster’s ability to connect the audience with the character’s psyche through the audiovisual allows for audiences to participate with the film instead of acting as a spectator. Midsommar achieved its goal of immersing the audience into a beautifully bizarre world through unwanted imagery that creates intruding anxiety.
What are some of your favorite audiovisual moments from Midsommar? Let us know below!