Dani's Sister Was Murdered: A Brief Essay on Midsommar

I was originally planning a piece on my personal and emotional response to Ari Aster’s beautiful film Midsommar, exploring why I did not initially like the film, how my identification with certain characters skewed my viewing of the film to be different from many of the reviews I’ve read, and how you can be an asshole and still not deserve to be raped by a swarm of naked murder cultists. I will still probably write that piece. But, I honestly don’t think I’m fully finished processing the very specific affect that this film had on me yet so, instead, I’m going to spend the next few hours of my life attempting to prove to no one in particular, and for no discernable reason, that Dani’s sister, Terri, did not, in fact, kill herself and her parents, but Pelle did.

I occasionally fixate on very small details in films, wondering where a pen came from, or how a certain character gained some very specific bit of not-plot-important information, or what books are on the shelves in someone's room. Usually these distracted tangents don’t amount to anything but occasionally I get to have a very fun journey down a rabbit hole of my own making. The journey I’m about to take you on started with just the tiniest thought about the hose used to transport the exhaust from the garage to the rest of the house: Where did that hose come from? Now, yes, obviously the simple explanation is that it is probably an easily purchasable product found at any hardware store and available to any person wishing to get it, including Terri. But we’re walking down Wild Speculation Lane right now and I’m leading the way so hush. It’s obvious that this isn’t just a garden hose that could have been taken from the backyard and run through the house. No, this hose is too wide, and far, far too long. This hose starts from the tailpipe of a car in the garage, travels through the first floor of the house, climbs the stairs, and enters two separate rooms on the second floor of the house. And there are two separate lengths of this hose. Even if Terri had purchased the hose in a manic spur of the moment suicidal urge, the likelihood that she would have gotten enough hose to reach both rooms from the garage is unlikely at best. This took planning. And for a family that is, apparently, on near constant suicide watch with Terri, it took planning that I doubt she would have been able to carry out unnoticed. An enormous coil of hose suddenly popping up in the garage probably would have raised an eyebrow or two. These are the thoughts that were occupying my subconscious mind as I underwent my second viewing of this film.

Later, as I was thinking about the film after leaving the theater, some other stuff started to jump out at me. Like Pelle is really in to Dani. Obviously we are shown this explicitly in later parts of the film but even early on there are these little moments and interactions that hint at what we find out later. Pelle is the only one of Christians friends to not say anything negative about Dani when the group is out for drinks before the bodies are found. He doesn’t defend her either, but it’s not his place to yet. He just sits there, drawing in his notebook. When Christian and Dani go to the party a few scenes later, Dani is drawn out of her fog to Pelle bringing up their trip to Harga, making sure Dani is reminded and fully aware of their plans. This sparks an argument with Christian, after which Christian invites her along on the trip because he feels guilty for not clarifying their plans better. When Dani visits Christian at his apartment, Pelle is genuinely excited at the prospect of her going on the trip with them. He encourages her, tells her how excited he is that she’s coming, and shows her pictures of the festival that they will be attending to pique her interest. He also expresses empathy at her loss and attempts to draw a connection between the death of her family and the death of his parents when he was younger. He brings this up again later when he attempts to comfort Dani after Attestupan, saying that he always felt comforted and held by his community and challenging whether she ever felt that in hers, especially with Christian. Pelle also kisses her after she wins the May Queen competition.

The Harga community is noticeably more accepting of Dani than any of the other outside guests. She is invited to participate in more activities such as cooking dinner and the May Queen competition. They are eager to aid her pain and more understanding of her discomfort in many situations. Part of this is because most of the other guests are marked for sacrifice, sure, but she seems to be being guided away from missteps instead of toward them like the rest of the group seems to be. It’s as though they know that it is Pelle’s plan to ask her to stay in the community with him after the festival ends. This is uncomfortably echoed in Pelle’s brother, Ingmar’s, discussion of how he was “dating” Connie before she and Simon became engaged. It seems as though he may have had similar designs for their relationship. Ingmar seems almost bitter when he brings it up at first, his tone just slightly less welcoming than usual for the residents of the village but he recovers quickly. He and Pelle probably had similar directives when they began their trips abroad. Either bring back sacrifices, or bring back individuals who can expand the gene pool. We learn from an elder later in the film, when Christian begins working on his thesis, that this is how they prevent all but desired cases of insest in the community. They bring in carefully selected outsiders.

There’s one more piece of strange evidence that might be the most compelling but first I want to talk about Pelle’s motivations. If he liked Dani so much, why not encourage Christian to break up with her? Why not just wait for the trip and get rid of Christian then, along with the rest of the group? Why kill Dani’s entire family instead of just her sister? First of all, it’s clear in the beginning of the film that Christian is toeing the edge of the precipice that is breaking up with Dani. The relationship is clearly draining him and his friends share an obvious disdain toward her. Even if Christian does care for her, he has never been closer to ending his relationship with Dani. If Christian breaks up with Dani, there is no way she would ever come on the trip with them. And there would be no reason for Pelle to ever talk to Dani again given the group’s contempt for her. Even though Christian is right on the edge of breaking up with her, he does still care for Dani, and an actual crisis with Dani’s family is probably the only thing that would prevent their breakup before the trip. All of Christian’s friends, including Pelle, know how strained Dani’s family situation is. Mark and Josh both complain about how much she leans on Christian whenever Terri makes a threat on her own life or falls into a depression. Terri is unstable and Dani is inextricably linked to her because of that. Removing Terri from the equation both greatly increases the chances that Dani and Christian stay together, and removes the strongest link that Dani has to her home in the states. Which gives Pelle the opportunity to manipulate Dani on to the trip, and lessens the chances that she will have a great desire to leave Harga. So why include Dani’s parents? For that we can look at the post-Attestupan conversation again. Pelle asks Dani if she feels held in her life. If her parents were alive, her answer would probably be yes. Dani’s relationship with her parents isn’t really delved in to in the film but we can assume it’s pretty close. They seem to at least somewhat share the responsibility of keeping Terri alive and probably deeply rely on each other for emotional support, especially since Terri seems to have been sick for most, if not all, of her life. Leaving Dani’s parents alive creates far too many variables. She would probably want to return to them, to continue to comfort them and take care of them as they age. She might not have wanted to go on the trip at all, instead opting to visit her parents while Christian is away. She might even have been able to reach a healthy enough place by the time the trip comes around that she would have broken up with Christian herself, finally realizing the toxicity of the relationship in general. All of these variables could ruin Pelle’s chances of indoctrinating Dani into his village. Christian and Dani had to stay together, and all three of Dani’s family members had to die.

Finally, I want to address the manner of the deaths that occurred, in what I assume is Dani’s childhood home, on that fateful winter night. As we are lead, slowly, through the house, following the hose that started it all, we come upon Dani’s parents first. As a fireman breaks the tape that sealed their fate, we see that they are lying peacefully in their own bed, having died quietly in their sleep, undisturbed and unmolested by any outside forces save for the toxic gas that ended their lives. When we come upon Terri, however, a different story unfolds. Her body implies violence. Through her open door we see her sprawled on the floor of her room, propped up by the desk that also holds the computer that sent her final message to Dani. We move further into the room and see the hose taped tightly to Terri’s mouth, she is covered in vomit, and her eyes are wide open which, specifically in film language, implies a fear of or a sudden death. These details are integral to my theory that Pelle committed these murders. In Pelle’s community Dani’s parents would be elders. They are respected in his world. Even during the Attestupan ceremony there is no real violence toward the elders who end their lives for the community. Everything done is done with great respect, from waiting for them to sit and begin eating, to using the hammer to finish what the man failed to do in his fall. The way Dani’s parents are found reflects this respect. They are not to be disturbed. They simply need to relinquish their lives for the good of the community. The other deaths we see or find out about, however, those of the young outsiders who break the rules, are brutal deaths. They are dragged into the woods, isolated, violently and unexpectedly killed and then their bodies are mutilated. These deaths aren’t kind and their victims aren’t willing. Terri’s death is similarly violent in nature. As I described before there was clearly no respect given to her death or her body. She died awake, aware, and in pain. And while she needed to die for Pelle to coerce Dani into his culture, it can also be inferred that Terri’s constant threat on her own life was disrespectful to Pelle, who’s culture values life so vehemently. This is what prompted such violence.

It would have been a simple thing for Pelle to get Terri to compose the cryptic email to Dani. Just as simple to write it himself after everyone was dead. Either way he knows that no one will truly take it seriously, nor call any emergency personnel, until it is too late. Terri has worried everyone too many times before. And suicides aren’t investigated the same way homicides are. Especially when there’s a history. He probably didn’t even have to be very careful, though I expect he was. Pelle murdered Dani’s family to maintain a connection between the two of them and to ensure with absolute certainty that Dani would have nothing preventing her from staying with him in Harga.

I hope this has been fun for everybody. I certainly had tons of fun writing it. This film is heavy and personal and it will fuck your shit up. Sometimes you have to have some fun with really dark shit, even if this fun was also very dark, to help clarify or solidify the deeper feelings you have about something. Let me know what you think either here or on twitter (@QuarrlsomeQueer). I’d love to keep talking about this and attempt to defend my nigh baseless theory against all of its plentiful gaps.