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Session Sixteen: Midsummer’s Gothic


Join Gothica’s very own Katrina Jan on the eve of Midsummer’s Day as she takes the Gothica Ghouls on a tour of Ari Aster’s sinister film Midsommar (2019), sharing her insights on paganism, cults, and the origins of Midsummer. Find us on Twitter @Gothica_UOB and see below for some optional pre-readings and clips curated by Katrina.

Midsommar (2019) – Ari Aster

Watch on Netflix: https://www.netflix.com/gb/title/81071055

They (1977) – Kay Dick

Chapter 1 – SOME DANGER AHEAD

‘Seen through the early September light Karr’s house looked magnificent. In fact, it was rather splendid. From his roof there was a full sight of the sea. Karr took me up to give me some bearings. The prospect was that of a narrowing triangle. It could be imagined that Karr lived on an island; a jutting piece of land between two thin rivers, one of which widened as it flowed into the sea, the other a canal, on which some swans floated. Part meadowland, part marshland, with here and there thickets of tall reeds and pockets of sand. A natural bird sanctuary; one was conscious of flight as part of the landscape. Karr’s house was banked up high, walled off, a precaution against flood. Giant hydrangeas, small trees rather than shrubs, were strategically rooted among the oval paving-stones of the terrace; blooms of varying shades of pink sparkled in the autumnal sun, an insolent abundance of flourish, facingsouth. When we went down to look at them, I could tell that Karr tended them each day. They expressed ritual and care. ‘I like the contrast,’ I said. Karr understood. He had been standing at the open door at the front of the house as I came up the drive, through the small wood, an oasis in the surrounding estuary.  ‘That wood was planted long ago,’ he said. ‘Did you find it difficult to get here?’ ‘To begin with, yes, but as soon as I reached the old sailors’ chapel, I knew I wasn’t far off.’ ‘Did you go in?’ I told him what I had done inside the chapel: opened the Bible at random, closed my eyes and put my finger on one of the pages. The augury game one played in childhood. ‘What did you pick?’ Karr asked. ‘The Revelations of course!’ I laughed self-consciously. ‘Behold, I come as a thief.’ ‘You missed the lodge behind the chapel,’ Karr said. ‘We’ll go over later on.’ The servants were unobtrusive; I hardly noticed their comings and gogoings. The boy, Jake, introduced his puppy, a black labrador, which reached his chin. ‘He’s called Omar, after the poet you know.’ We sat at the bottom of the austere staircase and told each other stories, until Jake said it was time for Omar’s walk. I joined Karr in the library. The windows opened onto the terrace. ‘You can come here as often as you like,’ Karr said. He stood at the open window and looked up at the sky. ‘Shall we go and see Claire?’ he asked. The ground floor of the lodge had been converted into a studio. I looked at the painting Claire had just finished. It was yellow, all yellow, every variation and depth of yellow. I could hardly bear it. I went outside and rolled on the grass. ‘It’s beautiful, isn’t it?’ Karr said. ‘Insupportably so.’ I went back and looked at it again. ‘I’ll give it to you if you like,’ Claire said.  ‘Not yet.’ I was anxious. ‘Not yet.’ ‘Should I come back with you?’ Karr asked. ‘I think I shall be quite safe. I’ll go across the canal bridge.’Jake and Omar were waiting for me at the bridge. They waved me off as I veered towards the coast road. The sun was roughing the skyline over the sea with burnt siena as I reached my cottage. I opened my windows and looked down at the rocks below the cliff. The tide was on the turn. Seagulls were hovering, ready for their last evening catch, as the waves rolled into land again. I wrote two letters, one to Karr and one to Claire. I went down the sloping track to the beach, and collected some more holed pebbles in the green pools between the rocks. Small crabs ran through my fingers. I made a parcel of three of the stones and addressed them to Jake. These are sea sculptures and you must name them, I wrote on a sheet of blue paper. I decided to go to the village. There was only one stranger sitting on the bench facing the dilapidated jetty. I walked past him twice, but he did not look in my direction. Such news as was, I collected in the shop. ‘It’s the books at Oxford now.’ I nodded as though I was uninterested. The next day, early, I set out along the beach, walking into the sun. I testedmy memory of Keats’s poetry. Just after noon, I reached the estuary. I disturbed a colony of butterflies as I clambered up the river bank. Jake and Omar were waiting for me at the top. As we walked towards Karr’s house, I told Jake another story, a longer one this time. ‘Garth has arrived,’ Karr said. ‘He’s brought his piano.’ ‘To the chapel?’ I asked. 6 ‘Yes, he’s settled in to remember.’ Karr stopped suddenly, and looked through his Zeiss Telita at the river. ‘You had better stay overnight,’ he said. After lunch I opened the chapel door. Garth sat at the piano staring at the keys. ‘It must be possible to remember it all,’ he said. ‘Given time, yes,’ I said, and went out again. I stopped Jake going in to Garth. ‘He is remembering,’ I said. ‘Later.’ Hand in hand we walked to the lodge. Omar bounded after some creature he scented in the wood. ‘You don’t mind at all do you?’ I asked Claire. ‘I haven’t time to mind,’ she said, as she went on painting. Jake watched her carefully. ‘Will you come to Karr’s tonight?’ I asked.‘I think I might.’ She looked at me and kissed me. The canvas she was painting was blue, all blue, every variation and depth of blue. Jake went outside and cried. Omar licked his tears. ‘Let’s go and look at the moorhens,’ I said to him. We returned to Karr’s house up the steps in the wall onto the terrace. The servants were bringing out tea. ‘We’ll play chess after dinner,’ Karr said, ‘until they go to bed.’ ‘Is Claire in love with Garth?’ I asked. ‘Aren’t we all in love?’ Karr smiled at Jake. ‘It must be possible …’ I began.’

Midsommar reviews

Cults, human sacrifice and pagan sex: how folk horror is flowering again in Brexit Britain | Horror films | The Guardian

Midsommar movie review & film summary (2019) | Roger Ebert

Midsommar’s Nordic Nationalism and Neo-Confederate Nostalgia | Film Quarterly

In ‘Midsommar,’ Silent White Supremacy Shrieks Volumes – Truthdig

‘Midsommar’ and The Big White Cult – Flip Screen (flipscreened.com)

Monstrous Womanhood and the Unapologetic Feminism of ‘Midsommar’ – Screen Queens (screen-queens.com)

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