Midsommar doesn’t bother to hide the underlying themes of mental health and perhaps even lets that be one of the main points of the film. After an intense series of short phone calls on screen, Dani is shown taking a prescription of Ativan, a drug used to treat anxiety and insomnia.
So now, after the tragic passing of her entire immediate family, she is able to find comfort in her close friends, her boyfriend, and his friends- who invite her to a lovely trip to Sweden to help her relax. This is a lovely narrative that unfortunately has no place in the psychedelic, dark film that is Midsommar.
From the little insight on Dani’s life that we’re given, she has one friend whose only purpose is to establish that Christian, Dani’s boyfriend is an asshole who she should leave. We never see nor hear from this friend again not even when Dani finds out that her family has passed, instead we get an eery shot of Dani curled up in her boyfriend’s lap, crying as he sits stoicly, doing, presumably, his best in comforting her.
Judging by the change in lighting, from the dark cold of winter to the bright light of spring, it’s only been a few months. Dani is lying in bed looking completely hallowed out and just over her shoulder, Christian is shown sneaking out of her apartment for a party. This is of course where she learns that Christian and his friends are going to be going to Sweden for the greater portion of two months resulting in a fight that brings on Christian gaslighting Dani, somehow all of it resulting in Dani getting a not-at-all genuine invite to tag alone. (a scene made longer in the Director’s cut that was so deserving to be in the first screenings)
Dani is a character that stands all on her own and not in a particularly stable way either. She clings to Christian in fear that he doesn’t love her and wants to end their relationship, she refuses to talk about or acknowledge the damage the death of her family has caused, and she seems to lack any real sense of self.
Whether it’s because she feels as if her emotions are a burden to others or because she simply has no one who shows they care about her, Dani doesn’t just hide her emotions, but she literally represses them. Dani covers her mouth, letting out these terrible muffled cries as a method of taking no more than fifteen seconds to sort through her trauma. It’s troubling to watch her remove herself repeatedly from group settings just to stand alone and cry into the palms of her hand only to return to a group of completely oblivious companions.
It’s very clear that Dani’s treatment differs from the rest of the people she arrived with for the Midsummer festival. She is greeted with a “Welcome home, I was most excited for you to come” and throughout the various observations of the Harga culture, she alone seems to catch on to the customs and traditions; waiting to eat, when to be quiet, who to watch, the power dynamics at play- more than anyone else. Her status as an outsider exists more with the her boyfriend and his friends exists more with them than it ever does in relation to her and the Hargan people. With this slipped in change of character power and importance, Dani’s emotions start to run on high.
Pelle, who is the first and only person to connect with Dani, seems to catch her in the middle of one of these momentary breakdowns. As Dani is packing her bags frantically looking for a way out, Pelle brings up her refusal and denial to talk about her parent’s death. Pelle’s shares how he lost his parents and that it was the people in the Harga community that held him. These people, his family, held him and he turns to Dani and asks “Do you feel held by him? Does he feel like home to you?” Confusion, shock, and perhaps a lack of willingness to accept the truth, ring clear across her face as she struggles with Pelle’s words.
It isn’t until the May Queen contest, that Dani seems to let go and these incredible scenes of her confusion, for once having nothing to do with her emotional torment or relationship, intercut with her smiling broadly take over. What starts as apprehension quickly becomes genuine joy and a sense of community, as the girls dance hand in hand cheered on by the on lookers. After another round victorious, she notices Christian, the only one in the crowd not sharing in the jazz hands celebration, and seems to falter, but it lasts only a few seconds before the dancing starts again.
It’s in this scene where it becomes clear that Dani is more than just her lack of desire to address her trauma and she is holy more than the girl who can’t let go of a relationship long past it’s expiration date. She is glowing, with sweat yes, but also with happiness. There is a light in her eye that doesn’t seem to exist in any other moment in the movie. It is as if she has finally found her place, as if all along she was meant to be here. While that may hint at the larger plot of scheming carried out by Pelle and his people, it still feels genuine.
There is still that desire to turn back to her past and not let go. The constant touching they do in intimate forms of greetings and physical extensions of their emotional bonds is such a soothing and foreign concept. In a society where emotional supression is the norm and the majority of people don’t have the important bonds where they feel safe or comfortable letting out their emotions, Dani becomes a completely sympathetic and cathartic character. So in the moment when she sees through the proverbial looking glass and literal keyhole and no longer can hold of her emotions in, watching these other women swoop in was gratifying.
For the first time Dani doesn’t hold anything in. As her cries turn to screams she becomes enveloped in both, a terrifying and yet oddly theraputic net of women, holding her and mirror her emotions. Her pain, just as Pelle had shared about his own, becomes their’s. Confusion and perhaps even fear ripples through her and then realization, that the only way out is through, as her crying becomes all the more intense. On the floor of this community building, Dani is no longer alone.
And maybe things are going to be okay.
In the ending sequence of Midsommar as the bright yellow building burns, these artful master shots of Dani standing shrouded in flowers give the audience time to reflect on how far removed she is from her past life. She stands alone watching the flames as the Dani she came as, unsure and afraid, her lips pulled downward in that award winning pout, as the people around her erupt into screams and cries.
These people see life as something as valuable both during and after, no matter what happens they are going to hold her, they are going to be there for her.
And as her frown moves into a bold smile she stands in the final closing shot as the May Queen, her smile a reflection of her new self. Dani stands on her own again, separate and yet whole. She still has things she needs to work through, but with these people behind her it feels as if they will be. Their interest in her is more than just superficial, it feels as if she belongs with these people and as if that initial greeting of “Welcome home,” became fully self realized.