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Midsommar Doesn’t Do a Great Job with Its Female Characters

Honestly, why would you even go there?

Florence Pugh as Dani in Midsommar

Midsommar is the kind of movie that makes you want to rip your hair out and throw your hands up because of the frustrating nature of its characters. With men who are not fully rounded characters but just ideas of terrible dudes mixed with women who won’t stand up against them, we’re supposed to look at the Swedish cult that these young people find themselves in and see it as a haven for characters like Dani (Florence Pugh). That’s not the case. Instead, I just yelled about everything and found myself frustrated with every single person onscreen.

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I haven’t stopped thinking about Midsommar since I saw it, and I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s a good thing, the reason being that I just want to know why no woman in that movie stood up for themselves. Even Connie, the most self-assured woman in the movie that wasn’t a part of the cult, let the men in this place tell her what’s happening, and she trusts them to her own death.

For many, Midsommar is a complicated movie because it uses mental illness in a negative way, and then, in a character like Dani, doesn’t explain her own bouts with panic attacks and anxiety to be of any significance. The movie starts with Dani worried about her sister Terri, a girl who seemingly turns to her sister whenever she has a manic episode and constantly sends Dani into panic mode. Dani tells the audience that Terri has bipolar disorder, that she is always worried about the emails her sister will send her when she’s in this state, and that she can’t get in touch with her family.

Though Dani’s boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) answers the phone, he very clearly doesn’t want to be dealing with Dani’s family drama, and instead of Dani calling him out for being a bad boyfriend, she worries that she’s a burden to him, even after her fears are confirmed and she learns that Terri fed carbon monoxide into their home, killing their parents and herself.

There is a beautiful piece that explains the negative aspects of Dani’s sister and how her character spreads a dangerous stereotype about those struggling with bipolar disorder. While I love the way the writer explains why Terri’s character is an issue, I disagree with the idea that Dani is a good example of a character dealing with mental illness in a film.

In the context of Midsommar, we know that Dani panics about Terri and often turns to Christian to rely on him throughout these moments. We know that Dani sees a therapist and takes Ativan, a sedative that is often used to treat anxiety, but other than that, her mental state is not brought up outside of herself making a joke of her major and self-diagnosing herself among Christian’s friends.

So, to categorize Dani as a decent representation is questionable to me because every man in that film mocks her for her need to rely on Christian (which stems from the fact that I think every character in this film is poorly written). Every one of Christian’s friends views Dani as a one-sided character, and each of them are a one-sided character in return. Mark is the asshole friend who doesn’t understand women, Christian is the “I’m a good boyfriend” douchebag, Josh is the “intellectual” who doesn’t care about people because he’s too worried about his thesis, and Pelle is the “good guy” who’s trying to steal his friend’s girlfriend. Stereotypes.

Dani? She’s the needy girlfriend who constantly needs affection (in their eyes). The entire film is filled with stereotypes, and it doesn’t do anything to explain why these are bad or make a point about it.

Therein lies my problem with Dani. Never does she stick up for herself against Christian and his friends. There’s a point in the movie where she wanders off into the woods of Sweden, and everyone there with her just leaves her there, only for her to wake up hours later and be told that she’s been out since they found her. Why not ask her deadbeat boyfriend why he didn’t bother to make sure she was okay since they were in a foreign country?

Dani isn’t the only female character who just lets these things happen to her, though. As I said before, Connie is probably the most fully-formed character of the bunch, and even she just willingly gets led to her death because someone tells her that her boyfriend Simon left her. Why are all these women just listening to men and not questioning anything?

Within the cult, it’s the same deal. Women (and men alike) are ready to die at 72 because that’s just what they have to do for a good year. A girl picks Christian as her target and gives him a love potion of her pubic hair and menstrual blood so he’ll want to sleep with her and impregnate her, and they all do it because it’s what they have been told they have to do. No one fights against it, and even Dani succumbs to it and lets them name her the May Queen and, even when they explain everything and tell her that she has to send someone to their death, she just willingly does it because of the idea that the people of the cult are letting her feel her panic attacks and emotions—something that, if established throughout the film, would have had more of an impact.

Even if it was clear that Dani was struggling with a mental illness, dealing with her mental state wouldn’t stop her from being a fully-formed character and branching outside of her anxieties and panic attacks. The film could have taken a look at mental illness within the context of the cult without letting everything become consumed by them and their traditions, and I think it could have been a better film. Instead, we have Christian sleeping with one of the cult members, and them letting Dani see to send her into a panic attack so they can “be there for her,” and then she’ll send her boyfriend off to his death as part of their traditions—not exactly great, if you ask me.

I liked Midsommar for what it was: A weird tale that left me in my seat laughing and confused. I think it has a lot of issues that need to be looked into, and the fact that none of these characters felt fully formed is a problem, but at least we got some sweet bear content, am I right?

(image: A24)

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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh.

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