Charles Manson is often credited with being the violent punctuation mark at the end of the hippie movement -- he revealed the sour intestinal underbelly of free love and poisoned the sippy cups that the Jonestown folks would drink from nine years later, with that near-decade in between being nothing but the death knells of idealism, one fly dropping after the next. The bright pop futurism of 60s design turned into matted rugs the color of snot, crocheted plant holders like clumps of rotted flesh dangling from the rafters, Cronenbergian slabs of pus-hued formica closing in on all sides.
Somewhere in the middle of that John Waters squeezed suburbia like a fetid zit, happily popping hot goo in our faces, and Alejandro Jodorowsky blew up elaborately outfitted lizards lining religious shrines of his own making -- walls so candy-colored and tall they seemed without end or sanity or reason. You could feel the hallucinogens pulsing through your veins just by looking at directly at it -- you were damp with sweat and viscous, seeing gods tumbling out of every crumbling orifice.
Every age has its own sways, its own ups and downs, and the art that comes to represent each new temporal form of madness, but I know I'm not the only one feeling a mid-70s vibe these days -- just turn on the news and hold your breath until you hear the name Richard Nixon, I promise you won't have to pass out for it. Manson's getting his own explicit revision soon from Quentin Tarantino, but Ari Aster's horrific day dream of Midsommar out this week is for my buck the blast of Jodorowskian psychosis this moment in present tense truly calls for. We're all mad these times, and here's just the movie for us.
Last year Aster staked his claim as the high priest of grief with Hereditary, tossing Toni Collette into the pits of hell and poking her with a stick for good measure -- this time around it's Florence Pugh, her bright round pink face beatific from her own bed of flames and flowers. When we first meet Dani (Pugh) she's in a panic that Things Aren't Right, a feeling I think we're all familiar with upon waking every day -- sure enough they ain't, and once again Aster knows well enough that leaning into our horrible suspicions about everything, absolutely everything, is the stuff of horror movie magic. Now I look upon the sun and the sun itself is corrupted.
There's been an earthy folksiness to a lot of pop culture for some time now -- childish drawings dot our advertisements and movie titles, ukulele Zooeys grin their sly grins in sitcom embellishment, hand-stitched dresses and Warby Parker onesies. The Brooklyn ethos of white people shit, tied in pink ribbons and overpriced. Midsommar is Ari Aster gutting Etsy like a fish, its cutesy cotton innards splatting on the sage dusted floor. Curlicued doodles of creatures and their lopsided genitals engulfed, undone; the obscenity of A-frames.
Midsommar feels like what would happen if you or I -- you know, relatively normal people, all things considered -- suddenly and accidentally by no fault of our own wandered into a Jodorowsky picture at its drug-bent nastiest. Dani finds herself on a bad trip, a bad trip indeed, as she heads off to the middle of nowhere, Somewhere Scandinavia, with her asshole boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his asshole friends in tow to where the sun never sets and the plant-life pulses, inhales, wheezes, coughs up a lung or two. And there in the center of this anti-Eden stands one of those A-frames, its unholy black heart, but yellow as a Caution Sign, a school-bus skidding off a cliff.
Hereditary was rich with this form too -- Aster loves an attic, a spiked trinity of symbolic strength and fortitude, closed to outsiders and self-fulfilling, self-sustaining, feeding itself forever, a three-tiered commune without start or finish. The word "family" written in severed fingers pointing in every direction. That film ends with one defiled attic space, clotted with flies and naked sagging flesh, replaced by another -- the outside playhouse where little Charlie took refuge from the world; a peak-roofed miniature poised upon stilts, a ghost face hovering over the lack of a house. It was nothing but attic, the heat-blackened brain of a home, severed and floating just underneath the blank blot of outer space -- the middle-placed absence, thick with fate, where we all end up.
With Midsommar Aster again drags us kicking and screaming towards the everything and the nothing of triangular architecture -- human beings trying to replicate the lines of the divine, father and son and the pretend holy spirit, in wood mud and always bone, singed and soft singing turned to sacrificial screams. The bright sun, our best reminder of utter godlessness and contempt, sits at its upper most point, never blinking, burning down our eyeballs to ashen pits of their own. Wailing I woke up with a fright the morning after seeing this movie, and greet each day after with a knowing smile of reinvigorated madness; freshly pleased with my punch-drunkenness, perchance to dream again of an insane ever after tucked softly, warmly, away from it all.