Warning: Midsommar SPOILERS ahead!
Prior to the release of Midsommar, director Jordan Peele spoke about Ari Aster’s Hereditary follow-up having some of the “most atrociously disturbing imagery” he’d ever seen in a movie. Now that the film is out, he has been proven right because Midsommar is full of scenes that horrify and nauseate in equal measure. While it would be easy to assume this is all the work of a deranged mind, some of Midsommar’s stomach-turning scenes were actually inspired by real stories, as Ari Aster explained:
Most of the rituals are references in one way or another to actual traditions and laid out in pre-existing folklore, but I did take a lot of liberties from there. So there are certain things in the film that are pure invention and there’s certain things that are absolutely pulled from reality. The pubic hair in the food and the menstrual blood in the drink, for instance, is tied to my actual research.
Well, that’s deeply unsettling. Midsommar is full of all kinds of strange and disturbing pagan rituals, and the film has lots of artwork in it depicting even more aberrant horrors. Ari Aster didn’t fashion all of this out of whole cloth though, and most of the stomach-turning scenes seen in Midsommar actually have some basis in either historical fact or folklore.
Some stuff was entirely his own invention, but others came from actual tradition to varying degrees that he then put his own spin on. Basically, humankind has been doing and thinking about doing some messed up things for quite some time, and Ari Aster just sampled some of its most grim and gruesome traditions and riffed on them.
Presumably some of these appalling traditions and folktales are what Ari Aster kept in the massive story bible he kept from his Midsommar cast. As far as specifics, the director told Letterboxd that the pubic hair from Isabelle Grill’s Maja in the food and the menstrual blood in the drink meant to ensnare Jack Reynor’s Christian, are tied to the research he did. So either in folklore or actual tradition, that comes from somewhere. Gross.
Although Ari Aster didn’t mention it when talking to Letterboxd, there is another disturbing image that is born out of folklore and possibly history. The character Simon, played by Archie Madekwe, is executed using the ritual known as Blood Eagle. Anyone who has watched History’s Vikings is familiar with this practice. A victim’s back is cut open and their ribs severed from the spine. The lungs are then pulled out to resemble a pair of wings.
Found in Skaldic poetry, there is a debate whether or not Blood Eagle was an actual historical practice or the work of imagination, but Ari Aster definitely got this one from existing stories. He did put his own spin on it though by suspending Simon to make his Blood Eagle fly.
In some ways this makes Midsommar even more horrifying. We can all imagine terrible things but we can often shrug them off in horror movies by remembering that it’s just a movie. But while the things in the movie aren’t actually happening to the actors, some of these stomach-churning things may have actually happened to some humans at some point in history.
It’d be fascinating to go through all of Midsommar and find out what was entirely Ari Aster’s idea and what was inspired by or came from reality. That would actually be a cool special feature on a Blu-ray, with scenes including little folklore backgrounds to see where Ari Aster got them.
If you would like to experience these stomach-churning scenes for yourself, Midsommar is now playing. Check out our 2019 Release Schedule to see what’s headed to theaters the rest of this year and for more articles you wish you read on an empty stomach, stay tuned to CinemaBlend.