Why I Iike The Wicker Man more than Midsommar

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**Spoilers for both films. I recommend watching both if you haven't already.**

Last year, there was a lot of hype about Midsommar. While watching the trailer, I was reminded of the original Wicker Man from 1973. After watching Midsommar, I went and re-watched The Wicker Man to see if it still held up after all those years. And yeah, I found that Midsommar was very weak in some of the elements that made The Wicker Man so good. Let me explain:

1. Cultural clash.

There is no interesting cultural dynamic between the visitors and the cult in Midsommar. The visitors are weirded out because it's "different". Because the visitors hold no rigid moral code of their own, they try to go with the flow and accept that people just "do things differently". It's almost like they're at a zoo. The morality of both sides is not well-defined, partially due to the rather vague characterization we see in a lot of the main characters in Midsommar.

In the Wicker Man, we see a strong clash between the devoutly religious police officer and the paganism on the island. He is constantly shocked and bewildered by what is going on- not because the actions themselves are inherently immoral but because they are "not Christian". The character dynamic between an authority figure and submissive villagers is also much more interesting than the dynamic between tourists and weirdos. There is more conflict created because each character interaction takes place between moral opposites.

As society becomes more secular, this is one aspect of the film that changes. Back in 1973, perhaps the audience would agree whole-heartedly with the copper and see it as a black and white matter, a fight between good and evil.

But today, the rigid standards of puritanical Christianity do not have as much of a hold and the film's moral message becomes much more ambiguous to the audience. The villagers, after all, are just trying to have fun and survive. They believe they will starve if the harvest does not come back, but even so they put on a cheerful face and do the best they can.

Due to the way that the villagers are portrayed, the film invites you to ask yourself, "Are the villagers really that bad?" "Can you be considered evil even if you truly believe what you are doing is for the greater good?" I believe the director intended this all along.

None of these questions can be asked about Midsommar because the cult is just so strange and unrelatable that they don't even feel like human beings.

2. Temptation.

There is nothing in Midsommar's cult that is really all that tempting to the modern audience. They drink pubic hairs. They live in the middle of nowhere. They do strange dances. They dress in mostly white. They have sex with zero privacy. It's just strange, not really all that beguiling for a developed society. Midsommar really goes overboard with the weird **** and that's where I lose the film.

In The Wicker Man, there is genuine temptation. The island is beautiful and the town is just a normal town, so many people could actually imagine living there without changing too much of their lifestyle. The people look normal and dress normal (at least for the 70s). People don't just kill themselves when they reach a certain age- in fact it is clear that the citizens are enjoying life (and sex) well into their seventies and eighties. The temptation is real; The "Willow's Song" scene is still one of the sexiest scenes put on film. On Summerisle, they are living in a much less sexually-restricted society, which is attractive for many people. In Midsommar, sex is still very formalized and ceremonial, which is a huge turn-off.

3. Motivation.
Character motivations in Midsommar are vague. We know that the arc follows the failing relationship between Dani and Christian, and we sort of know why they make certain choices. But as to the cult themselves, it's as if they're an alien race. Why do they commit suicide? Because that's what they believe. Why do they drink pubic hairs before sex? Because that's what they believe. Why do they burn human sacrifices? In order to purge evil. But we are so distanced from the culture of this group of people that we don't even know what evil means to them.

In The Wicker Man, the motivations of the cult are quite apparent. They had a failing harvest, and they genuinely believe that a human sacrifice will bring back the bountiful vegetation. Lord Summerisle mentions "crop strains" but he is so committed to the paganism that by the end of the film, it's ambiguous as to whether he truly believes in a scientific reason for failure. You are certain that he 's a pretty "normal" guy but his actions at the end of the film muddy the waters.

Also, The people on the island love sex because...well, who doesn't love sex? They have fun and enjoy life, unlike the cult in Midsommar in which there is no semblance of a joyful society. Their cult is so rigid that it's like a hive mind.

3. Payoff.

Because the motiviations of the cult in Midsommar are never well-defined throughout the film, the payoff is weak and uninteresting. There's no moment of epiphany where the audience thinks, "Oh, so that's why this happened". At the end of the film you're just trying to put together puzzle pieces that don't really fit. And the protagonists are motivated because they want to write a research thesis- this is an incredibly bland reason for them to do what they do.

You never know what the people on Summerisle are up to until towards the end, and that's when you realize that the police officer has been trolled by killer furries for pretty much the entire film. This is both frightening and satisfying. It is a usurping of authority and a shift in perspective for the audience.

And when the sacrifice goes down, it is simply captivating. We see mounting hopelessness- a man at his wits' end, who wavers a bit in his faith but eventually goes down screaming his personal values even to his very last breath. That to me is both depressing and inspiring.
There is none of that in the end of Midsommar, where all the original protagonists are either dead or integrated. It is a good scene on its own but largely unsatisfying taken in the context of the entire film.


4. Conclusion

Perhaps it's not fair to compare the two films. Maybe Ari Aster was going for just a completely hallucinatory experience rather than an actual fleshed-out story.

There are certainly excellent elements of Midsommar. Individually, each scene is beautifully directed and shot. The soundtrack is also excellent, but The Wicker Man to me is still better in this regard since the songs in the film are actually incorporated into the plot. Acting in Midsommar is fairly strong throughout and so was the cinematography.

Regardless, I had a much better time watching The Wicker Man, as there were characters and plot elements that I could actually grab onto.

What are your thoughts?



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Though I'd obviously agree that The Wicker Man is the superior film, there are certain aspects of Midsommar that are worth considering. The protagonists' motivations mostly being to do with them being graduate students working on a thesis explains why they are more likely to "go with the flow" and study the cult as opposed to the British couple who just want to leave immediately after witnessing the ritual suicide (and are still immediately murdered for their trouble anyway). There's also shrugging off one cult's actions as just being "what they believe" while also finding detailed motivation in the other when stuff like the pubic hair ritual has a clear purpose (helped in no small way by all the hallucinogens everywhere) in that the cult is trying to trick outsiders into reproduction to diversify its gene pool due to their apparent disdain for inbreeding (which obviously clashes with how they have one extremely inbred member serving as their "oracle", indicating the flaws in their cult's rationale in a similar way to how Wicker Man subtly suggests that Lord Summerisle may not be as much of a believer in human sacrifice as his followers). Of course that gets ritualised since it is a key part of how the cult manages to stay intact (and killing the outsider in question - in this case, Christian - also helps to dispose of the evidence). It's obviously questionable as to how much of the mysticism in Midsommar is really there, a question that is arguably posed by design (and certainly makes it questionable as to how much catharsis the protagonist truly gets by the time the film ends).
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Though I'd obviously agree that The Wicker Man is the superior film, there are certain aspects of Midsommar that are worth considering. The protagonists' motivations mostly being to do with them being graduate students working on a thesis explains why they are more likely to "go with the flow" and study the cult as opposed to the British couple who just want to leave immediately after witnessing the ritual suicide (and are still immediately murdered for their trouble anyway).
Yep, and it's a bit boring this way.

In The Wicker Man, the cop stays because he believes he is doing the right thing. He is looking for a missing girl, and he eventually thinks she is murdered and/or kidnapped. That is a noble and believable cause to stay on a weird island.

In Midsommar, the characters go through so many disturbing and suspicious events and yet the reason for staying is research. That's quite banal as far as motivation goes.

There's also shrugging off one cult's actions as just being "what they believe" while also finding detailed motivation in the other when stuff like the pubic hair ritual has a clear purpose (helped in no small way by all the hallucinogens everywhere) in that the cult is trying to trick outsiders into reproduction to diversify its gene pool
This is problematic because no rational group of people would conform to so many of the things in the film. After witnessing ritualistic suicide, any thinking person would stay on their toes and certainly not ingest mind-altering substances. Half of the group is itching to get laid as well, which boggles my mind. Of course, a recurring problem with horror movies is that the protagonists are braindead.

There is no "tricking" going on in Midsommar. If they want to entice people to stay, why lead them through all the traditions when it's obviously frightening to outsiders? And I don't see why tricking is needed. Since they kill the British guy anyways they could've just as easily kidnapped and drugged everybody from the start, and then forced them to have sex, and then sacrificed them at the right time.

That's why Midsommar doesn't have good payoff to me. The cult is too powerful from the very start. The rigidness of their actions, the uniformity of dress, their emotionless faces during the traditions- they radiate dominance from start to finish. We never feel that the protagonists have any sort of upper hand.

Whereas in The Wicker Man, we think Howie has the power throughout the film. The villagers act like cheerful and innocent people for the most part, while Howie acts like a tough and capable police officer. That's why it's so great when the tables are turned. The audience suspects that the villagers are leading him on, yet we don't know just how bad he's been tricked until the very end.

Do you see where I am going with this?



Are you gonna bark all day, little doggy?
Oh, and another reason why I thought Wicker Man was more effective: Throughout The Wicker Man, you are constantly immersed in the culture of the island. They believe in Nature, so all their names are from nature. Their songs are weirdly sexual but they always use nature-related metaphors. They wear furry masks during their nature ceremonies, and all their ceremonies take place within the forest or the meadow or the seaside- all elemental forces of nature. That all makes sense to me and gives me a sense of how deeply committed they are to their beliefs.

In Midsommar, it seems as if there is so little substance behind the cult. They appear to love nature, but the landscape is just barren grass for most of the film. Because of this, everything feels artificial whenever they don bright colors and flowers- because we see none of that in the landscape. And it's not always explained how their actions are connected to their traditions.

Because of this, I feel like Aster was more committed to portraying a certain aesthetic rather than conveying immersion or realism. This suffers in a horror film with no supernatural elements, as the "This could happen to you" message is completely lost.



Something about Midsommar that is maybe being glossed over is that it takes place during a once in 90 year festival. I never got the impression that that was everyday life for them or that was their home. In fact, they blend in with society pretty well as evidenced by the fact that the students were duped into going there in the first place by one of the members. I did think it became a bit silly and fell for the horror cliches about halfway through but still liked it. Liked The Wicker Man more but that's because Nic Cage is awesome



The Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeessssss...... Not the Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeessssssssssssssss!
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Are you gonna bark all day, little doggy?
Something about Midsommar that is maybe being glossed over is that it takes place during a once in 90 year festival. I never got the impression that that was everyday life for them or that was their home. In fact, they blend in with society pretty well as evidenced by the fact that the students were duped into going there in the first place by one of the members. I did think it became a bit silly and fell for the horror cliches about halfway through but still liked it. Liked The Wicker Man more but that's because Nic Cage is awesome

Yes, this confused me a bit. If they really are normal people then how is it that then can acclimate themselves to a festival that takes place once in 90 years? It must take a massive amount of brainwashing, regimenting, and commitment for each generation to pass on the traditions even when they themselves never see or do them in their lifetime.

None of the cult members, not even the teenagers, were uncomfortable or confused during the traditions. The way they act, it seems to me that they've been doing it all their lives, even if they had never seen the festival beforehand. That's not how human psychology works.

In The Wicker Man, it's a festival that takes place ever year so it makes sense that the villagers are used to it.

And no do not mention the Nic Cage remake here ;(



The Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeessssss...... Not the Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeessssssssssssssss!



Yes, this confused me a bit. If they really are normal people then how is it that then can acclimate themselves to a festival that takes place once in 90 years? It must take a massive amount of brainwashing, regimenting, and commitment for each generation to pass on the traditions even when they themselves never see or do them in their lifetime.

None of the cult members, not even the teenagers, were uncomfortable or confused during the traditions. The way they act, it seems to me that they've been doing it all their lives, even if they had never seen the festival beforehand. That's not how human psychology works.

In The Wicker Man, it's a festival that takes place ever year so it makes sense that the villagers are used to it.

And no do not mention the Nic Cage remake here ;(
Yeah, they never really do make clear what is yearly and what is only once every 90 years. The May Dance is definitely yearly - the past winners have pictures of themselves hanging in the dorm. They could have probably omitted the 90 year thing and had it be a yearly thing without it really affecting anything plot wise. People rehearse rituals (especially religious) all the time in preparation for the REAL thing so, sticking with the 90 year thing, they had 90 years to rehearse all their goofy stuff. It seems like there's an extended version (3.5 hours+), maybe some of the cut scenes explain more.



I can see how people would compare the two after seeing Midsommar, but does anybody really think Midsommar is superior to The Wicker Man? Are there people saying this? I like them both, but The Wicker Man is a classic.

I agree with you about Midsommar falling sort in comparison to the The Wicker Man's story. I thought Midsommar was mostly about telling its story with visuals, hence the hidden faces in the trees. You could say Midsommar is lacking the way a painting would be lacking when you compare it to a novel.

Good read.



I watched the original Wicker Man for the first time just now, and I THINK I like Midsommar better. I need some time to think about this, because I didn't expect there to be that many borrowed elements.

The Wicker Man didn't grip me in the same way that Midsommar did. Maybe it was the older era of film, or just the general directorial approach... Need to sleep on it



Reading through everyone's comments now, and one thing the Wicker Man lacked was character development.

In Midsommar, we see Pugh's character go through tragedy in the beginning and earn a kind of salvation by the end. Plus we have the gradual immersion of her into the cult because of her disconnection with Christian.

In Wicker Man, we don't really get any background on the policeman so it's hard for me to conjure any kind of emotional attachment to him. He certainly feels in control throughout until the very end, but it didnt jar me because of this void.

I still would rate Wicker Man highly



Welcome to the human race...
Yep, and it's a bit boring this way.

In The Wicker Man, the cop stays because he believes he is doing the right thing. He is looking for a missing girl, and he eventually thinks she is murdered and/or kidnapped. That is a noble and believable cause to stay on a weird island.

In Midsommar, the characters go through so many disturbing and suspicious events and yet the reason for staying is research. That's quite banal as far as motivation goes.
Doesn't matter, it's a functional motivation that makes enough sense to justify their sticking around.

This is problematic because no rational group of people would conform to so many of the things in the film. After witnessing ritualistic suicide, any thinking person would stay on their toes and certainly not ingest mind-altering substances. Half of the group is itching to get laid as well, which boggles my mind. Of course, a recurring problem with horror movies is that the protagonists are braindead.
Which is why I can only care so much about what "rational" people would do in a movie. Human beings aren't as quote-unquote rational as you may think and there's all manner of ways in which a person might process witnessing a completely unexpected ritual suicide. Maybe their idea of "rational" is to rationalise what they just saw by concentrating on putting it into their thesis, which is what Josh does (and, by extension, Christian). Also, I'm pretty sure none of them deliberate take mind-altering substances following that anyway, but that doesn't stop the cult from slipping them in where necessary. Besides, I think you can argue that it would be a braindead horror protagonist move to to be a devoutly Christian police officer who goes to an island full of pagans and keeps calling them all heathens to their face, but you can see I don't hold that against The Wicker Man.

There is no "tricking" going on in Midsommar. If they want to entice people to stay, why lead them through all the traditions when it's obviously frightening to outsiders? And I don't see why tricking is needed. Since they kill the British guy anyways they could've just as easily kidnapped and drugged everybody from the start, and then forced them to have sex, and then sacrificed them at the right time.
I think that might be why Pelle singles out a group of anthropology students to bring back with him - he exploits their need to write a graduate thesis by offering them the chance to write about an obscure festival that hasn't been written about before and that not only lures them there in the first place but guarantees they'll stick around just to see what happens next. You might as well ask why the townsfolk don't just lead Sgt. Howie to the missing girl the minute he sets foot on the island if all they needed was for him to show up instead of dicking him around for days on end.

That's why Midsommar doesn't have good payoff to me. The cult is too powerful from the very start. The rigidness of their actions, the uniformity of dress, their emotionless faces during the traditions- they radiate dominance from start to finish. We never feel that the protagonists have any sort of upper hand.

Whereas in The Wicker Man, we think Howie has the power throughout the film. The villagers act like cheerful and innocent people for the most part, while Howie acts like a tough and capable police officer. That's why it's so great when the tables are turned. The audience suspects that the villagers are leading him on, yet we don't know just how bad he's been tricked until the very end.

Do you see where I am going with this?
Do we really think that Howie has any kind of power or upper hand or do we just assume that because he's a police officer? Right from the start, he's being stymied at every possible turn by townsfolk who ridicule and stonewall him and his investigation. As such, I seriously doubt how tough and capable he really is and that much is made abundantly clear by the time the penny drops.

Reading through everyone's comments now, and one thing the Wicker Man lacked was character development.

In Midsommar, we see Pugh's character go through tragedy in the beginning and earn a kind of salvation by the end. Plus we have the gradual immersion of her into the cult because of her disconnection with Christian.

In Wicker Man, we don't really get any background on the policeman so it's hard for me to conjure any kind of emotional attachment to him. He certainly feels in control throughout until the very end, but it didnt jar me because of this void.

I still would rate Wicker Man highly
I think it's more to do with conservation of detail, especially since The Wicker Man knows its story only needs about 80-90 minutes to unfold. Besides, I don't think we're meant to get that attached to Howie in the first place - we can find his goal noble and sympathetic, but he himself is considerably flawed as the Christianity he constantly touts as a virtue to the annoyance of everyone else can make him hard to like as a person. I think this is for the better as it weighs Christianity against the island's pagan religion and how they share more in common than he would like to admit. Midsommar, on the other hand, just feels like it drags that particular arc for Dani out across its excessive runtime, arguably goes overboard in trying to make her the one truly sympathetic character in the cast, and it's hard to see that ending as "a kind of salvation" anyway.



I think the fact that Midsommar kept dropping breadcrumbs foretelling how bad it could get was enthralling as well. As soon as the first couple disappears, I get a chilling feeling. You hear screams in the distance off screen. And then the others are grabbed and disappear one by one. I didn't get any kind of build up in suspense like that from Wicker Man.