This past Saturday, New York’s Lincoln Center screened the director’s cut of Midsommar, Ari Aster’s folk horror film about a group of graduate students who travel to a midsummer festival in rural Sweden. When the film came out in June, it made a big scary splash and I drank it down twice. Then I found myself yelling about it on a podcast. So, when I heard a director’s cut was coming to Lincoln Center, I immediately set a calendar reminder for tickets.
For the director’s cut, Aster added back 22 minutes of footage, a mixture of extended scenes and subplots that don’t really change the meaning of the film but do highlight the characters, their motivations, and their relationships more deeply. (The longer cut is not included in the forthcoming video release and no further screenings have been announced, but it may still turn up again down the road.)
The central dynamic in the film is between Dani (Florence Pugh) and her distant boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor). Their relationship is already strained before the trip, but after Dani’s sister kills their parents and then herself, Jack knows it’s not a good time to follow through with his plan to break up with her. He feels trapped, and Dani can tell he’s pulling away and longing to end things. But she’s so desperate to feel held by anybody that she will lie to herself and others in order to not completely fall apart. Throughout the theatrical release, it’s clear that tensions between the two are building and will bubble over, but with the director’s cut we get a previously unseen new fight between the two, where they say out loud all the things they’ve kept inside.
Following the ritual cliff suicides of the ättestupa, we shift to a nighttime scene—one of the only moments of darkness in a film covered in daylight. Two men throw a fir tree decorated with wooden carvings and crafts into a lake as an offering to the goddess. Then a young boy steps forward, wearing fir branches and decorations, offering himself to the goddess as well. The adults go through the motions of sacrifice, tying weights to his ankles and hefting a large rock on top of him to weigh his body down, but just as they’re about to heave him into the water, Dani cries out for them to stop, only to be joined by other members of the village, and the ritual ends without death. She was terrified of witnessing a child drown, but it turns out she was just stepping on a ritual that never would have ended this boy’s life anyway. It was theater, a way for the children of the village to acclimate to the willing sacrifice for when their own ättestupas come along.
Rushing away from the gathering, Dani and Christian start fighting. She can tell this place is messed up, but Christian, an anthropology grad student, insists they “need to acclimate” rather than, say, get the hell out. As they trade barbs back-and-forth, Dani cuts to the heart of their deteriorating relationship and leaves Christian gutted. All he can think to do in response is to try to make her feel bad that she picked flowers for him. For him, their relationship is some sort of quid pro quo, and every time she does something nice for him, he sees it as a mark against himself. He can never catch up.
Unlike the theatrical release, we no longer have to infer the characters’ growing recognition of their relationship’s toxicity, which makes the scene where Dani says she thinks Christian would abandon her the way Simon (Archie Madekwe) did Connie (Ellora Torchia) even more painful. The wounds are still fresh for her; they’re not some long-festering feeling bubbling over in that moment.
Most of the director’s cut’s other additions are cosmetic, coloring in the background of this world rather than augmenting it. We get a bit more detail about the community itself: the ritual fire the ättestupa’d bodies are burned over is a sort of eternal flame that’s been burning since before Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) was born, and a welcome meal with a singalong component gives thanks to the Earth when the travelers arrive. The fight between Christian and his fellow grad student Josh (William Jackson Harper) over whether they should share credit on their thesis starts earlier, during the car ride through Sweden, and their competition for information plays out in multiple cut scenes. The final fight between them inside the sleeping quarters has a bit more meat to it, but it only serves as a vehicle for a few jokes. We all love a good burn about JSTOR. But we already got the point that Christian is a lazy leach—no need to belabor it.
The pacing of Aster’s longer cut makes things for the British tourists a bit wonky too. In the theatrical release, they are so horrified by the ättestupa that they immediately try to flee, but in this new version, it’s not until the following day—after the nighttime lake ritual—that they gather their things and attempt to depart. There’s no reason for them to linger longer this second go-round.
Thankfully, the final sequence remains untouched. From the moment a paralyzed Christian’s eyes are opened for him to the shot of Dani smiling at the burning wreckage, the film remains intact. At least now we do understand the bizarre costume Connie’s body is in, the same as the outfit the young boy at the lake wore when he offered up his life to the goddess. It’s one of those little details that doesn’t quite qualify as an Easter egg but provides a fuller sense of understanding.
It seems worthwhile to want to respect the vision of a director and appreciate all the small details he wished were included. I savored every new minute of footage, and the film never felt any longer than it did in theaters. But as someone who edits podcasts for a living, I can’t help but feel that every single cut made in the theatrical release was smart and made the film better for it. Sometimes an untethered creator releases an unquestionable masterpiece, but more often those creations need a few notes.