Category: Lisa Iris Written by Lisa Iris
Midsummer, Light and Dark
June 23rd and 24th – Midsummer’s Eve and Day. In this season, whatever is in process will ripen or be cut back – be it roses or relationships. If there are scores to be settled, beware the meddlesome Fae or other powers that mock our preening self-regard. As Puck would say, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”
Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1595) and Ari Aster’s film Midsommar (2019) beg mention and comparison. Is there anything more disparate than an Elizabethan comedy and a shocking horror film? Despite being very different stories, a strange symmetry exists. Is there a harmony of opposites or connecting themes? Let’s take a look! This overview is only one of many interpretations. Graphic events are not described in detail, so as not to alarm, Gentle Reader.
Setting the Stage
Both AMND and Midsommar feature young people traveling to escape a looming romantic crisis. AMND begins with an impending marriage (between Theseus and Hippolyta), but this triggers amorous complications amongst their friends. Shakespeare’s couples run off to the woods on the shortest night of the year, and the play is a comedy of errors: romantic inconstancy, mistaken identity and fairy interference, but all ends well in a triple wedding. The characters’ confusion, and the magic that caused and resolved it, transpires deep within the woods at night.
Aster’s film Midsommar takes place in the opposite setting: an open field beyond the woods, under a blazing sun that never sets. There are no impending nuptials but an imminent breakup. A young woman, Dani, traumatized by the death of her family, is about to be dumped by Christian, an evasive, passive aggressive boyfriend of four years. His friends, Josh and Mark, are fellow anthropology students who encourage Christian to jettison Dani at her time of need. She accidently discovers that the boys are off to Harga, Sweden to participate in a Midsommar celebration at a commune, which happens every 90 years. A Swedish student, Pelle, has invited them, and he’s the only person who treats Dani with respect. As an afterthought, Dani’s awkwardly included in their venture. Christian and pals can barely conceal their resentment.
Each character has packed their nature and agenda to take to the event. In contrast to AMND’s cooing, quarrelling and reconciling couples, Midsommar’s romantic plot is the young men’s anticipation of hooking up with hotties, and Dani’s hope for crumbs of empathy from Christian. Dani gamely navigates the edges of an abyss. With nothing to lose but her raw receptivity, she’s a tabula rasa, ready for any experience.
Fairies and Folkways
In AMND, the collision of worlds is between humans and the fairy realm: primarily King Oberon, Queen Titania and Puck, who does their bidding. In Midsommar, the protagonists arrive at a Swedish commune to be greeted by practitioners of ancient ways who seem to have emerged from another time. Dressed in white robes embroidered with runic designs, crowned with floral wreathes and beaming beatifically, the festival participants, young and old, are attractive, otherworldly and completely in control.
As Shakespeare’s fairies enjoy feasting, music and dance, these too are festival activities, along with, ummm…. other things. Repeatedly, this sun-drenched idyll shifts to horror and back, in a heartbeat. In both AMND and Midsommar, hallucinogens are given to visiting outsiders. In Shakespeare, it’s the purple Love-In-Idleness flower. It’s essence, when squeezed over the eyes of the sleeping, makes one fall in love with the first person seen. In Midsommar, it’s ‘shrooms and proffered drinks, distorting reality into a shimmering haze, rising like summer heat.
Similarly, the Bard’s play and Aster’s film serve up disorientation, in the extreme. Control, objectivity and direction are lost. All protagonists are isolated from the outside world, if they can remember that such a world exists. All are players and pawns, ensnared for a pre-destined performance. As the young men in AMSND stumble through a forest fog after dark, Midsommar’s Christian, Josh and Mark are benighted by their self-absorption. Gathering content for their Ph.D. theses, they too chase a will o’ the wisp, blinded by their opportunism, delusory ambition, and the deceptive façade of their agreeable hosts.
In AMND, the King and Queen of the Fairies have their own relationship issues. Queen Titania admonishes Oberon that their quarrels have disrupted the natural order, causing fogs, storms and floods. Selfishness and jealousy reside at the absence of balance.
The Midsommar Elders and festival participants quickly get the measure of Christian and his friends. Mark desecrates the communal sacred tree where ashes are scattered. Josh trespasses into a sanctuary and photographs the pages of a secret tome. Mark and Christian are sizing up the girls. Dani struggles with grief and family ghosts, but is slowly recalibrating. It’s time for balance to be re-established, but not by way of lovers reconciled.
Christian, Josh and Mark are out of their depth as they bumble and betray their way to perdition. Like the trickster Puck, festival participants use deception to lure the boys merrily along, without missing a dance step.
We turn to Shakespeare’s device of turning tragedy and horror into comedy. AMND’s parallel plot concerns a band of tradesmen, who fancy themselves actors. They rehearse in the woods at night. One of the actors, Nick Bottom, is so arrogant and clueless, that Puck temporarily transforms Nick’s head into that of a donkey. This bungling troupe will later perform the violent tragedy, Pyramus and Thisbe, at the triple wedding party. Their performance is so awful, it’s thoroughly enjoyed as a comedy.
Here Comes the Bride
In contrast to Christian, Josh and Mark’s undoing – Midsommar is Dani’s awakening. The contractive energy of her grief and rage explodes in an assertion of power. She’s the last woman standing after a competitive dance that sends all the other girls tumbling to the ground in exhaustion. Dani, now enveloped in a floral robe and crown worthy of Queen Titania, has her ex dispatched at the festival’s end, a stark opposite to AMND’s triple wedding. Dani’s smile breaks through her trauma and tears. She’s survived it all to become a May Queen/Bride of Nature - the goddess of regeneration personified - to reign uncontested for the next 90 years.
A disturbing “happy” ending because, after rooting for Dani all along, we’re complicit in the unspeakable. Therein lies the topsy-turvy truth of Midsummer, where rules are suspended for everything to change. Dani has found her new home, family and culture in a ritual theatre of sex, betrayal and death. The protagonists of AMND awaken from their collective mayhem, returning to their respective partners, believing it was all a dream. They return home and resume their lives. In Midsommar, no one gets to leave.
Shakespeare’s and Aster’s tales both portray the disintegration of reality in the midst of forces that aren’t necessarily benign. Alternative worlds, and their rules, exist exclusive of our understanding. Thresholds are crossed at our peril. Suspending normalcy affords Midsummer’s transformative power - be it falling in love or falling from grace - to shuffle off this mortal coil or to awaken.
About the Author:
Lisa Iris is an artist and proprietress of MYTHOS Art and Counselling 289 High St., Fort Erie, ON. Her artwork is represented exclusively by crystalwind.ca and is featured in The Crystal Wind Oracle by Antonio DeLiberato.
Lisa enjoys opening her home to kindred spirits for conversation and for making magic happen.
Butterfly Fairy Artwork and this text is Copyright 2023 Lisa Iris. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with written permission from CrystalWind.ca and Antonio DeLiberato Exclusive Worldwide agents for Butterfly Fairy by Lisa Iris.
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