[ZINE] “THE QUEEN MUST RIDE ALONE”: FINDING ETERNAL STRENGTH, COMMUNITY & BLISS IN ‘MIDSOMMAR’

Her smile at the end is freedom. It’s eternal bliss. It’s finding peace within herself, and it’s finally finding a home.

In relationships, breaking up is hard to do. Things can get tricky, and needs aren’t always met. That’s when things start to rot. People fall out of like and love. Emotions get too heavy to carry. Resentment starts to pour in and destroy everything. Even some people who are in stable relationships have to part when things aren’t working.

As human beings, we crave and need love. For some, we can’t help but keep holding on, even if it isn’t working. That’s when things start to get tricky. Because trying to hold on to a relationship — if you hold on too tight — will sometimes hurt both of you later on. Midsommar is about that kind of breakup, but it also tells the story of a person who finally stops holding on too tight. It’s about a relationship that has lived long past its expiring point and how one partner is able to find a sense of community, a new lease on life and love in the most unexpected place.

Midsommar tells the story of Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor), a couple who have been in a very flux relationship for close to four years. After Dani suffers a massive tragedy, Christian and his friends (Vilhelm Blomgren, William Jackson Harper, Will Poulter) decide to invite her to a “once-in-a-lifetime” festival in Sweden. Once there, things start to spiral out of control. It shakes the foundation of Dani and Christian’s relationship once and for all.

Midsommar is the sophomore feature of Hereditary’s Ari Aster. It’s a bigger, better and much more incredible feat of a film. I wasn’t a fan of Hereditary, but Midsommar is everything I want in a horror movie. Folklore, interesting characters, beautiful cinematography, a disorienting narrative, and some fucked up cult shit that only someone like me can love. Midsommar isn’t just about that, though. It also feels personal and gut-wrenching because at the heart of the story is an utterly relatable couple completely falling to pieces while 100% knowing it.

Before I begin, if you still haven’t seen Midsommar, I want you to heed my warning about spoilers and stop reading now.

A RELATIONSHIP IN CRISIS

Dani and Christian are two very different people holding on to each other by the thread of tragedy. When we first meet them, they’ve been dating for a year. Dani is worried that she’s losing Christian, that she’s bothering him and pushing him away as she constantly drags him into her family problems. Christian is looking for a way out of the relationship. He doesn’t see a future with her and his friends aren’t making that any clearer for him. With Dani’s constant worrying and Christian seeking an exit, it was only a matter of time before something caused them to decide on their commitment. That decision comes in the form of a tragedy when Dani’s sister commits suicide and takes her parents with her.

Dani is left without a family. The tragedy emotionally destroys her, but she tries to be as normal as possible while on the verge of ten nervous breakdowns at once. Christian stays with her to curb her tragedy, knowing that if he breaks up with her now, it could put an overwhelming amount of hurt on the already fragile Dani. Both of them move around each other like they’re walking on broken glass. They’re nervous and scared to talk to each other, but they were like that even before the tragedy. No relationship should feel like you have to walk on eggshells. This is where the line of communication starts to break down between them. When Christian’s friends mention that they’re taking a trip to Swedan, Dani is the last to know. She offers to talk about it. She needs to talk about it, but Christian feels attacked.

Dani is the kind who needs constant reassurance that everything is okay. She needs to know that the partner that she has will be by her side through thick and thin. We see this later when another couple, Connie (Ellora Torchia) and Simon (Archie Madekwe), come to the island with them and Simon leaves without Connie. (or so they assume.) While at the table, Dani relates to that and says she could imagine Christian leaving her there alone. She even dreams about it. Dani needs communication and love from a partner. Not in an overbearing way, but a reassuring way. It’s not criminal to ask for love, and sometimes when you don’t feel that affection from a partner, it can be damaging. Dani is not a shitty girlfriend. She just needs her affection reciprocated. She needs to know that he’s going to be there, especially after what she’s been through.

Christian is very much the opposite. He’s the type of person who doesn’t pay much attention to anything surrounding him. He’s slightly — slightly — narcissistic, and he doesn’t want to handle the bigger emotions. Christian is done with the relationship from the start. He, out of pity, and some kind of love for her, stays. Christian isn’t great at communication or giving attention when needed. He forgets Dani’s birthday because he’s more concerned with himself (and his thesis, and the community) at the moment. However, this doesn’t necessarily make him a bad boyfriend. This only makes him a bit of a shitty person.

The breakdown of communication between the couple forces viewers to believe that these two people absolutely should not have stayed together. The way that they talk to each other and distance themselves from their problems makes it feel like they’re not going to have a happy ending.

When the couple arrives in Sweden, we find out that they’ve been together for four years. FOUR FUCKIN’ YEARS! This trip together feels like a way for the couple to figure out whether the relationship should continue. With the help of the village meddling in their business and full-blown drug-induced psychosis, Dani finds her strength to become a stronger woman. Someone who is loved, listened to, and not ashamed to express their emotions. She finally finds a community that embraces her and all her imperfections.

“THE QUEEN MUST RIDE ALONE.”

A lot of circumstances lead to the exploration of Dani and Christian as a couple and as individuals. Once at the village, the couple has to deal with jealousy, betrayal, feelings of insecurity, abandonment and more. The couple — again, together for FOUR FUCKIN’ YEARS — at this point is damaged behind repair. Dani hopes to become a better partner and find the love that’s been missing and repair what they can. It doesn’t get better when Dani finally notices that Christian isn’t interested in following her lead, but she’s trying so desperately to hold on. 

Dani starts to learn that this isn’t the way she’s supposed to live. I genuinely believe that this realization happens after Pelle gives her a birthday gift. Pelle doesn’t just remember her birthday, which is already a step above Christian, he also gives her something personal and from the heart. It’s the first time we see that he likes her, it’s also the first time that we see Dani sad about Christian forgetting. (She even reminded him about it earlier in the film, when they were talking about the trip in Christian’s apartment.) From there, we see Dani’s transformation begin, underlined by grief, hallucinogens, and depression. We watch as she takes this trip all on her own and we watch Dani figure out what’s right or wrong for herself in three different ways.

THE TALK WITH PELLE

Pelle has designs for Dani. It’s not apparent at first, but when they finally have time to talk together, it’s all the things that Christian should be saying to her. It’s the realization for her that this is what it might look like to be cared about. This is what it might look like to be wanted. Pelle asks her, “Does he feel like home to you?” It’s probably one of the things she needed to hear the most. Dani hasn’t felt truly at home in years, especially since her parents and sister died. Here’s Pelle with a similar experience, with a similar life, with good looks, a boyish face and a soft voice offering love and affection. He offers to actually talk with her and, more importantly, to listen. This is when she starts to slowly but inevitably settle into the community and find her place. 

HELPING IN THE COMMUNITY 

This one is short and sweet. When Dani is separated from her friends, she finds herself helping out with the village by no choice of her own, but she’s welcomed all the same. It’s Dani’s need for a sense of community that starts here. She helps with the baking and joins in with the daily tasks and activities. Baking with the other ladies in the village and being welcomed into their space and territory with open arms is something new to her. With Christian’s friends, she felt like an outsider. She needed that acceptance, and this is where the start of that happens. The final step is maybe the most important one that engulfs her into the community and allows her to find strength and herself.       

MAY QUEEN 

The village showed Dani affection. She was shown what life could be like as a part of this community. But the final step towards figuring out what she needs is actually becoming a queen. To stand on her own two feet and embrace herself. Dani danced out the others and won the title of May Queen. She was the last one standing in a competition that was as hard as it was exciting, exhilarating as it was nauseating. But when she wins the May Queen, it’s finally Dani’s time to shine.  

The village, in turn, helps to guide her towards accomplishing the journey of self-reliance that she needed. Dani found a place where she could feel wanted and whole. A place where it was okay to be emotional and not feel like she was a burden. She wanted a place where someone would sweep her up and tell her it was okay. 

A powerful scene depicting how the community affects her is after she finds Christian fucking Maja (Isabelle Grill). She runs away to the other ladies of the village. Instead of letting her cry, they comfort her. Instead of letting her go on her own, they surround her. They yell, scream, and cry with her, face-to-face. The women mirror Dani’s emotions and let her express them through the group. They let her get her emotions out while taking them on themselves. It’s a complete contrast to when she was full-blown wailing in Christians arms, and he didn’t know what to do but hold her.

The true final step in her transformation, in finding her eternal strength as May Queen, is when she starts making her own decisions. Dani learns in a single moment that she doesn’t need anyone else to hold her hand. After she wins the May Queen, she is rushed to bless the crops, but she asks if Christian can come. They say, “The Queen must ride alone.” That entire line sums up so much of who Dani becomes. She learns how to stand up for herself, by herself and make decisions without anyone holding her hand. She learns that she can make those hard decisions without someone being by her side. 

After all of this, we finally see both Dani and Christian as individuals. Dani’s journey has taken a full turn, and in that, the couple reaches the final leg of their journey together. Christian’s drugged, and he fucks up, betraying Dani in a mindset that wasn’t his own. But we see her making the ultimate decision. In the beginning, she worried that her actions and emotions were pushing people — mainly Christian — away. It leads her to make her final choice. She stays with the community and Christian, as a bear, is burned alive in their sacred shed.

Dani’s road to finding her place is long but worth it. In this murderous community, she found herself a purpose, a community, a potential new man, and she gained the title of queen both inside and out. Her smile at the end is freedom. It’s eternal bliss. It’s finding peace within herself, and it’s finally finding a home.

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