Ari Aster’s folk horror movie Midsommar is filled with obscure symbolism, to the extent that the Midsommar deaths’ four elements connection might expand the whole movie. One theory about the deaths in Midsommar, in particular, suggests that each side character’s death represents the four elements: earth, fire, water, and air. Through these four Midsommar deaths, four seasons are invoked in the rituals of the Hårga cult. While Dani Ardor (Florence Pugh) and her relationship with Christian (Jack Reynor) are the primary focus of the movie, their friends and the people they meet at the mid-summer festival in Sweden are just as important to their framework. Their deaths are meant to symbolize an even deeper connection to the Earth for the Hårga cult, whose reliogio-cultural practices are somewhat steeped in the tenets of paganism.
In recent years, folk horror has grown increasingly popular as a genre, evolving into a mode of relaying culturally rich stories of various kinds and degrees, as evidenced in films such as The Witch and The Ritual. From Joko Anwar’s recent release of the Indonesian folk horror movie Impetigore to the remake of Lake Of Death, the folk horror sub-genre has been met with praise in the 21st century, for its ability to encapsulate such unique tales. Aster’s movie is influenced entirely by the history of mid-summer festivals in Sweden, which were held to harken a period of seasonal harvest and fertility. Midsommar follows Dani, Christian, Josh (William Jackson Harper), and Mark (Will Poulter) who travel with their colleague Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) to join in the cultural festivities with his ancestral commune. While the sun shines bright as the days amble, a darkness looms over the characters, as each of them begin to leave or disappear under bizarre circumstances.
In order to understand why the elemental theory works, it is critical to acknowledge the fact that the Hårga cultists share a strong relationship with the Earth and nature as a whole. Their entire mid-summer tradition serves the purpose of ensuring that they will have a plentiful harvest, healthy livestock, and a growing community with new births. Their insistence on ensuring that they are giving back what they take from the Earth is enough to validate the theory that Josh, Mark, Connie, and Simon’s deaths are symbolic of the four elements — here’s why the Midsommar deaths’ four elements theory is entirely plausible.
Josh’s Death Represents Earth
After the Harga cult’s sacred text, Rubi Radr goes missing, the disappearance is blamed entirely on Josh. Prior to the accusation, he is in the current oracle’s home taking photos of the text in order to include it in his Ph.D. thesis. While taking pictures, he is hit over the head by a member of the Harga cult while a man wearing Mark’s face stares at him. While this particular scene in itself does not point towards any elemental symbolism per se, Josh’s demise is a result of his unhealthy curiosity that verged on ignoring the commune’s rules, for which, he is brutally punished. It is also interesting to note that Josh’s fate is left unknown until the final fifteen minutes of the movie when Christian runs from the building where Christian had sex with Maya.
As Christian runs towards a small barn, he sees Josh’s foot sticking out of a garden plot with a Swedish rune engraved into the bottom of his foot. This specific rune is known as the Ansuz rune, which represents the transmission of intelligence and knowledge. While Josh was killed for his drive toward achieving his goal to attain as much information on the Harga cult’s traditions as possible, his death represents earth rather than the selfishness of intellectual gain. His body is buried under fresh dirt, and his foot sticks out of it like a plant. This is symbolic of what the Hargas hope to achieve with their mid-summer festivities: give back to the Earth and be rewarded with plentiful crops as a result. Apart from punctuating a truly bizarre and memorable moment in folk horror movie history, Josh’s leg represents the sacrifice of his body for a plentiful harvest, along with the fact that no outsider is deemed worthy of forbidden knowledge within the confines of the cult.
Mark’s Death Represents Fire
The Hårgas kill Mark after he accidentally urinates on their sacred ancestral tree, an act that is interpreted as a massive transgression and insult from the cult’s perspective. As Mark’s death is not immediately established as he is missing halfway through the film after being beckoned by a Hårga girl, it is revealed much later during Josh’s final scene with the Rubi Radr. Mark’s death was somewhat foreshadowed in the initial scenes of Midsommar, as the children playing “skin the fool” is a direct reference to Mark’s skin being peeled off later on, owing to the incredibly foolish act of urinating on a sacred artifact. Notably, Mark does this despite the fact that Midsommar’s Hårga is a cult. When the final sacrificial scene towards the end is underway, his body is stuffed with hay and placed in a wheelbarrow.
Keeping this chain of events in mind, the distinct way in which his body is prepared indicates that Mark represents the element of fire, because hay burns much quicker than flesh. Hence, it is entirely plausible that the Hårgas chose to gut him and then fill his body with hay, but it does not make much sense for his death to represent fire. Arguably, it would make more logical sense if Christian’s grizzly demise was representative of this element, as the final shot in the triangular building shows him engulfed in flames. However, even compared to Christian, the way Mark recklessly violates sacred ground, not caring about any consequences, is more comparable to the path of a wildfire.
Connie’s Death Represents Water
The truth about what happened to Connie in Midsommar after she attempted to flee the mid-summer festival with Simon has been a major point of discussion. While audiences see the physical bodies of every other character before the final scene, she does not reappear until the very end — in a wheelbarrow. How did she die? As she’s wheeled into the building, her body is blue, wet, and covered in seaweed. It is obvious that she was drowned by the Hårga members and left in the water until they needed to use her for the appropriate ritual. Therefore, Connie’s death is an obvious representation of water and a possible reference to the fact that her refusal to accept the ways of the commune was literally purged out of her body through death by drowning.
Simon’s Death Represents Air
Out of every side character’s death, Simon’s is the most unsettling, although it is also a beautiful example of A24’s signature cinematography. After Christian sees Josh’s foot in the garden, he seeks refuge in a small barn where he discovers Simon’s body hanging from the ceiling. The skin on his back is peeled from his muscles and positioned to have the appearance of bird wings, which is right in line with the blood eagle method of execution and torture. This kind of torture method has been referenced in great detail in Norse poetry, and it is interesting to note that his eyes are also removed and replaced with flowers. Perhaps the most disturbing part of Simon’s death is the fact that he is actually alive when Christian finds him. It’s very subtle, but his chest can be seen rising and falling with each painful breath he takes, serving to paint a much more complete picture of the cruelty of Midsommar’s Hårga cult. With the combination of his body hanging from the ceiling, the wings made from the skin on his back, as well as his continued breathing, Simon represents air.
These four distinct Midsommar deaths – representing the four seasons or four elements of nature – also reflect the journey of each character, and could explain why they were killed in such distinct ways and given important places in the final ritual. For instance, Josh reached too far and had to be grounded back to the earth. Meanwhile, Mark’s indiscriminatingly destructive actions are akin to a wildfire. As for Simon and Connie who insisted on leaving, they were each granted passage, through the elements of air and water respectively. Whether or not this theory about the four elements is true, Midsommar’s brilliant use of symbolism is one of the reasons why it’s considered among the best horror movies by A24. It’s also why Midsommmar continues to spawn fan theories years after it was released.
Midsommar Is Based On A Real Swedish Festival
Midsommar’s gorgeous and grotesque take on cult horror is inspired by the real-life Midsummer Festival, a tradition established by the Swedish Parliament in 1952 to celebrate the beginning of summer. While the Hårga cult performs its ceremonies once every 90 years, the Midsummer Festival is an annual tradition, typically scheduled in late June in line with the Summer Solstice. Just like its fictional counterpart in Midsommar, the Midsummer Festival is filled with symbols of nature, feasting, and ritual dance. Director Ari Aster chose the real village of Hårga because of the Swedish legend of Hårgalåten, in which the devil disguises himself as a fiddler and tricks the people in Hårga into dancing themselves to death – evocative of Midsommar’s harrowing rituals. Although the events in Midsommar are very loosely based on Sweden’s real Midsummer Festival and are more of a hodge-podge of spiritual practices from all over the world, there’s something to be said about the effectiveness of horror when it’s tied to reality. This is especially true when that reality is a fun festival that draws tourists to Sweden every Summer Solstice.