Community Building through Bodily Affect in Ari Aster’s Midsommar

Abstract: Although falling squarely into folk horror tradition, Ari Aster’s 2019 movie Midsommar establishes its horror by drawing on the family and its intricate connection to affective, that is both emotional and bodily, belonging. I argue that Midsommar outlines how the depicted cult’s sense of community stems from its practices of physical displays of compassion by juxtaposing the two storylines of Dani’s tragic loss of her biological family in the US and her subsequent absorption into a death cult abroad. Hereby, I seek to expand Rosenwein’s and Chaniotis’s concept of an ‘emotional community’ to that of an ‘affective community.’ This analysis of Midsommar sheds light on a form of personal apocalypse exploited and reinforced by the destructive powers of a death cult in its access to a new member, using her body and mind alike.

Madness, we’re reminded, can look like wisdom through the right eyes, or like liberation in the wrong (blinding day) light.

—A. A. Dowd


Ari Aster’s 2019 film Midsommar, though highly psychological in its horror, contains matters of bodily affect that go beyond the occasional jump scare and gore. This paper engages with the establishment of a sense of belonging by focusing on the affective dimensions of the Hårga cult as depicted in the film. Cults are commonly associated with strategies of “brainwashing” (Collins), that is, “mind control” or “thought-stopping techniques” (Dittmann). However, the cult depicted in Midsommar lures the protagonist with physical affection rather than purely cognitive invasion by providing a space for physical belonging akin to a family setting.

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