Ari Aster Digs into His Extended Director’s Cut of ‘Midsommar’ [Q+A]August 21, 2019
“This is a different film- there are things that bolster other things in this cut that I always did miss.”
In a Q&A session after the premiere of his intended director’s cut of Midsommar in New York this weekend (read my review), Ari Aster admitted to feeling “self-indulgent” by releasing this version so soon after the theatrical cut’s original July 3 release to the masses. However, Aster quickly realized how necessary it was for him to show a fuller story of his initial vision.
“The movie was fucking long, and we had a three hour and 45-minute long assembly cut, but that was an assembly cut that I saw, so this is not the whole movie. But we got it down to a certain point.”
He continued, “I’m happy with (the theatrical release) but there were things that were very painful to cut…I had spent so long in the editing room, repeating over and over again, ‘There’s going to be a Director’s Cut’ that I just realized I had to see it through.”
The most painful edit for Aster seems to be a pivotal argument scene by the lake between Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor) that he describes as the “centerpiece” of this version, similar to the Attestupan scene in the original theatrical cut. And when you see this cut of the film, you’ll understand why Aster had a difficult time letting it go.
When an audience member inquired about the lack of a levitating man scene you may have noticed in one of the film’s trailers, (to which he has no control over, as he reiterated) Aster explained that this was actually Christian in the sex temple, tripping, and starting to imagine himself floating across the room towards Maya’s open legs before their encounter, to which Aster describes as a “scandalous image,” and that he loved the way it turned out. However, he changed his mind in the editing room: “I could just hear all the confused people complaining, and I just didn’t want to do it.”
Aster admits to having an affinity for long films, which he realizes alienates wider audiences. Even as far back as his short film days, noting how difficult it was for The Strange Thing About the Johnsons to get picked up for film festivals because of its lengthy runtime, he explained, “(Editing Midsommar) was a real lesson for me, so was Hereditary, which was also a longer film, to understand that, I write these screenplays that are pretty chunky, and this is how I pace certain scenes and this is how I like to live in these things, and it results in a length that doesn’t make sense for a wide, theatrical release, which I was lucky to have twice.”
Indeed, he has read some of the criticism about the pacing within his films, but he preferred to create a fully lived-in experience for the audience’s time spent in Halsingland:
“I really like to just live in worlds and live in movies. If a movie is good, I want to stay in it.
“So the attention here was to always make something that viewers can live in, and I feel closer to this version because it feels a little bit closer to what I originally intended, which was basically to make a film that you have to give yourself to and just lie in.”
In terms of what genres he would use to describe either version of Midsommar, he looks at it from four different lenses: a dark comedy, a “feel-good movie for dissatisfied partners,” a fairytale, and a less-overt horror movie about codependency:
“(In the Director’s Cut) Christian is even more of a disappointment. If it is a horror film, I don’t think it’s an overt one. I love the horror genre. I think Hereditary is a horror movie- no question about it. I see this more as a fairytale, but I see it as a horror movie about codependency.” And he’s glad that you had a wide grin on your face during the film’s final 10 minutes, as he explained, “I absolutely wanted it to feel cathartic…But, I hope the catharsis you feel when you’re watching is unmuddied, but then as you walk away, it becomes more complicated. That’s the hope.”
In response to an inquisition about final girl tropes, his empathy towards his female characters, and how they’re represented in his films, Aster explained that he attempts to incorporate himself into them: “Well, for every character, I figure I can just put myself in their shoes, and put myself into those characters as much as I can, and hopefully they’ll be believable and as (contextually) rich as I am. There’s a lot of me in Dani. I see a lot of myself in her. There’s also a lot of me in Annie (from Hereditary). A lot of parts of myself that I feel very close to, and other parts of myself that I’m not thrilled with. It’s up to you guys to politicize or decide if it works- it is a question that I ask as well.”
He seems to have no problem with getting his leading ladies to immerse themselves in their stellar performances either, especially with Florence Pugh, whose natural abilities Aster praised. “I try to make things very, very clear in the script, so when we get to those (extreme) scenes, the actor knows that something is coming that they have to prepare for. If you’re working with great actors, you don’t really have to push them, provoke them, or manipulate them- they know what their job is. Florence is a really remarkable actress. She’s a natural. I could just sit behind a monitor and enjoy what she was doing.”
When Aster says he loves the horror genre, he sincerely means it. One audience member inquired about his interest in making a creature feature (he would “love to.”) And, of all the random franchises to associate Aster with, another asked if he’d ever remake a Gremlins movie, to which, he says: Maybe? “I can improve upon the New Batch. I wouldn’t dare fuck with (the original) Gremlins,” he joked.
Midsommar arrives on DVD and Blu-ray this October with no word on when we’ll see the Director’s Cut released.