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How THE WIZARD OF OZ Influenced Ari Aster’s MIDSOMMAR

“From the beginning, I knew that I was making a fairytale.”

That’s how Ari Aster described the process of creating his latest horror feast Midsommar when we recently spoke on the phone. Aster–who speaks thoughtfully, almost tenderly–was reticent to get too specific about the purpose of his films, including last year’s breakout Hereditary. But it’s easy to piece together purpose from what he would dole out: that Midsommar is rooted in the same macabre storytelling tendencies of the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen; tales that, though whimsical, were peppered with gore and death–blunt accounts of life with sprinkles of magic–that did more to disorient than comfort. Midsommar, for all its sunlight and color, fits the same bill. It’s about the impossible depths of grief, the staggering curse of codependency, and what life looks like on the other side of the rainbow.

It evokes, almost immediately, another film where sepia tragedy bleeds into sunlight and magic: The Wizard of Oz, which Aster has cited as an influence from the early days of Midsommar‘s marketing. “It’s a Wizard of Oz for perverts,” he told Vulture back in March. And indeed, those similarities become almost immediately present when watching the film. There are no flying monkeys, no little barking dogs, no yellow brick roads. But there are parallels–many of them accidental–that make the films feel like bastard siblings.

I asked Aster to elaborate on how The Wizard of Oz both directly and indirectly influenced Midsommar, while drawing some of my own similarities between the two. (Warning: Major spoilers for the end of Midsommar are under the cut.)

The “Kansas” Sequence

Midsommar begins with a terrible tragedy. Our lead character, Dani (Florence Pugh), loses her entire family in one swipe when her bipolar sister floods the family home with car exhaust. This is timed rather unfortunately to the recent issues in Dani’s relationship with her boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor), who’s grown distant, spending more time with his friends and planning summer vacations without Dani. This grief and turmoil all happens in a prologue of sorts, which takes place in the grey dreariness of winter. The color palette changes when Dani decides to join Christian and his friends on their trip to a remote Swedish village, where darkness transitions to a pastoral summer.

This is very similar, tonally, to what happens in the beginning of The Wizard of Oz, which opens with Dorothy (Judy Garland) trapped in her boring, menial life on a Kansas farm. The film is rendered in a gloomy sepia, before a tornado carries Dorothy and her little dog Toto to the colorful land of Oz.

“It was mostly in retrospect that I caught the allusions,” Aster said of Midsommar‘s connection to The Wizard of Oz. “But the first section could be seen as the Kansas section, yes.”

Just like Dorothy is brought to Oz by a force of nature, Dani also has a conduit from one realm to the next in the form of mushroom-laced tea. As her farmhouse is sucked into the twister’s cone, Dorothy experiences visions, first of harmless things like chickens and men in a rowboat, then of her cruel neighbor Miss Gultch (Margaret Hamilton) transforming into a terrifying witch. Dani, as she trips on mushrooms, has her own series of visions, where she sees her dead family. On the other end of both experiences is a new, candy-colored land of opportunity for our female protagonists.

Dani/Dorothy

Aster was quick to draw parallels between both Dorothy and Dani, noting that their journeys are similar in their implications and messaging.

“I wanted [the village in Midsommar] to serve as a real place that has a deep well of tradition and a rich history, and I wanted you to be able to stand in it and live in it,” he explained. “And at the same time, [the villagers] are really there for Dani. I wanted them to feel like a manifestation of Dani’s will. And in the end, they’re there to provide Dani with everything she needs, which Christian can’t.”

Aster compared that to Dorothy’s experience in Oz, where she encounters the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), Tin Man (Jack Haley), and Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr), who help her on her journey home–which is, metaphorically, really a journey of self discovery. “Everything [in Oz] is there to provide Dorothy with these revelations that are tailor-made for her,” Aster said.

Over the rainbow

Just like Dorothy eventually arrives in a place of peace in Oz, so does Dani seem to find satisfaction and community in the remote Swedish village. The film ends with Dani anointed as queen, after she’s the last to stand during a drug-induced dance around a maypole. Meanwhile, Christian beds a local village girl in a ritualistic ceremony, and is killed as a solstice sacrifice. Other men are sacrificed along with Christian–some willingly, some not–and are even stuffed with what looks like straw as their bodies burn. This recalls the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz, a character aligned with Christian earlier in the film, as well; his apartment in the film’s opening has scarecrow figurines and a framed photo of what looks like Ray Bolger’s character in the 1939 film.

“I am reluctant to expound too much on this,” Aster said when trying to avoid too much explanation for the film’s ending and what influence–if any–The Wizard of Oz had on certain choices. “Certainly, when we get to the section when Christian’s eyes are truly opened up, that’s where the film reveals what it really is what it has been this whole time and what this place is.”

Are we meant to see Christian like the Scarecrow, a brainless figure whose sole purpose is to get Dorothy/Dani where she needs to be in her life? That’ll depend on your interpretation. And given Aster’s coyness when it came to discussing the ending, what it means, and what influenced him, I imagine he’d like you to step over the rainbow and come to your own conclusion.

 

Images: A24

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