Ari Aster's 'Midsommar' is the #DumpHim Movement as a Horror Movie
Is Midsommar a female empowerment film? We think Ari Aster’s latest might just tie into the burgeoning #DumpHim movement with a little help from some classic fairy tales.
Contains serious spoilers for Midsommar!
It takes less than a couple of minutes in Ari Aster’s Midsommar for the audience to instantly despise arrogant bro-hard Christian (Jack Reynor). Heard only as a cold, distant voice on the end of a phone call to his distraught - but playing it cool - girlfriend Dani (Florence Pugh), Christian is every prick you ever told your favourite people to break up with.
In his phone manner with her, Christian has all the annoyed inertia of a man tactfully, but lazily, swatting away a pest which he knows full well will only swing back to annoy him time and again. He’s someone who would rather complain about the obstacles in his life than ever make a real decision or take action to change it.
And all the while, Dani is focused on making him feel like she isn’t needy or a nag while a larger personal concern looms heavy in the background: Her sister, a sufferer of bipolar disorder, has sent Dani an ominous email indicative of a potential suicide attempt.
At a moment when she needs comfort and empathy, she’s instead mocked and berated. Christian minimises the issue and blames Dani for encouraging her sister’s behaviour by feeding her need for attention.
As Christian’s friends sit around laughing at his predicament and calling his girlfriend crazy - and reminding him of all the stellar Scandi babes he can pick up during their Summer trip to Sweden - Dani encounters the unimaginable: Her sister has died by suicide, and she’s killed their parents too.
Christian is there for Dani in the emotional fallout, but only physically: He silently cradles her while she grieves but he’s also trying to sneak out to parties while she’s sleeping. When Dani calmly asks him about this trip to Sweden she’s heard nothing about, but that he’s been planning for months, he acts like she’s unjustly attacking him.
Its a classic dickhead tactic for maintaining all the power in even the shittiest and flimsiest of relationships: Always play the victim, even if you’re the one who was in the wrong. Always be the one who needs nurturing the most, even if it means neglecting the needs of your partner. And it’s exactly this type of man who has inspired the tongue-in-cheek #DumpHim movement that you can often glimpse right across social media.
It could be argued that Midsommar is a cinematic extension of this movement, pushed to its darkest, most melodramatic, horrifying, and comical corners.
Though the term has existed for decades, it’s become popularised in social media by influencers such as illustrator Florence Given or designers like Ella Wiznia who have made the term into a humorous, wearable, liveable mantra. In the early 2000s a picture of Britney Spears wearing a tshirt emblazoned with ‘dump him’ shortly after her breakup with Justin Timberlake remains one of the most iconic images of the movement.
Wiznia, who sells a pair of vintage jeans with the Nike-parodying embroidered message of “Just Dump Him” on the ass, told Teen Vogue that the message is bigger than gender identity or sexual orientation. “The ‘him’ doesn’t have to mean a certain person,” she explained, “The message can be taken literally or as a reminder to shed the people, messages, thoughts, or ideas that hold you back from blooming into your most happy, loving, accepting, individual self.”
Meanwhile, Given has stated that the slogan came to be after breaking up with a boyfriend who made her feel as though she was “mothering a man-child.” Pugh told Teen Vogue, “The message behind ‘dump him’ is to encourage people, especially people who date men, to demand better for themselves. To realise that whatever they’re ‘putting up with’ in a relationship, whatever is causing them stress in their life, shouldn’t be. “
It’s certainly the conclusion that Midsommar appears to come to by the film’s brutal, yet oddly uplifting, finale. Dani, who has been craving empathy in a world severely lacking in it, finally finds a community offering it to her. Across an operatically savage conclusion that stretches over 40 minutes, Dani ditches the people, messages, thoughts, and ideas that were previously holding her back to discover her happiest, most loving and accepting self by occupying a completely new space.
There are only so many moments of microaggressions and neglect enacted by Christian towards Dani that you can handle before you grimly find yourself rooting for her to get the fuck away from him by any means necessary. By the time he’s been involved in a disturbingly comical conception ceremony, is made mute and paralysed, and becomes stuffed inside a dead bear to be burned alive - all with Dani’s watchful yet reluctant approval - the whole ‘dump him’ message reaches grotesque yet comedic proportions.
When the closing shot of Dani smiling curls onto the screen, perhaps for the first time in the entire movie, you can’t help but feel perversely delighted for her.
While Aster has mentioned that he wants for audiences to “watch the film from two perspectives” (that of Dani and Christian) because “we’ve all been in either position” in a dying relationship, it’s also interesting to note that he qualifies Christian as being the real villain of the movie.
“Hopefully, you go in thinking that the Harga will be the villains. Then you realise that it was Christian, all along, because we’re with Dani. For her, he’s the foil. She wants to be close to him. Her dilemma is that she is alone in the world. And he’s the thing preventing that from being resolved … because he is not allowing her in.”
The filmmaker has suggested that though the film follows Folk Horror beats, that he was also just as inspired by fairy tale tropes - and particularly with Disney’s interpretation of them - as well as with telling a folk horror story with the “trajectory of a high-school comedy.”
“We begin as Dani loses a family, and we end as Dani gains one,” Aster told Vox, highlighting the fairy tale trope of the orphaned protagonist, “And so, for better or worse, they are there to provide exactly what she is lacking, and exactly what she needs, in true fairy tale fashion. “
It’s an interesting parallel to draw from Midsommar, particularly in relation to some of the memes and messaging that crop up time and again in relation to the dump him movement. Dump him memes, for instance, have often took inspiration from the toxic messaging of pop culture in romanticising toxic romances or creating love interests out of deeply damaged male characters who need fixing.
Curiously enough, many of these can be found in Disney, where plucky female protagonists are all too often forced to sacrifice something in order to pursue a romantic relationship with a guy.
In The Little Mermaid, of course, Ariel basically sells her voice to a sea witch and gives up her rockin’ tail to become a humdrum fish-wife with smelly human feet so she can marry some dull human prince she’s known for all of five days.
In Beauty and the Beast, Belle is made to give up her everyday life and is literally locked up in a castle and forced to love a hairy brute of a man in order to save him from a curse.
And in Sleeping Beauty, Aurora is rudely awakened from the best goddamn sleep of her life by some dickhead who kisses her without her consent. Rude.
In Midsommar, it initially seems like Dani could be the one to experience the worst horrors imaginable at the behest of folk horror tropes by the traditions of the Harga. But by the end we discover that it’s the rest of her group who suffer the greatest, and her boyfriend who ultimately has to make the biggest sacrifice in order to give Dani the freedom we see hinted at by her final smile (even if he literally has no say in the matter).
In a fiendish reversal of fairy tale tropes, Christian is muted just as Ariel was and has his consent taken away from him just as Aurora did. You could even posit that, shoved inside that bear corpse, he looks like a more horrific version of the Beast. Only this time, the beast doesn’t win the girl - the townspeople successfully set fire to him in order to set her free and maintain the prosperity of the land, and its people.
It’s an act that doesn’t just serve the Harga, it elevates Dani’s position in life. It allows her to reclaim the power Christian had taken away from her in their relationship and it gives her the option to get exactly what she needs: Distance from her family trauma and a shot at a new life. #DumpHim, indeed.
In a Slate profile regarding the film, Reyner is said to have been appalled at the suggestion that audiences thought “Christian deserved” what happened to him, while Aster told Slate, “It should be cathartic, and there should be a perverse thrill … but it should also be troubling just how much further the film goes than what his behaviour warrants.”
Brutal, hilarious, disturbing, and indeed, perversely cathartic, Midsommar is a reminder to have those painful conversations and make those difficult decisions that can ultimately save or end a relationship, before it hits a level of hideous you may never really come back from.