Ari Aster's First Cut Of Midsommar Dwarfed The Theatrical Runtime

Ari Aster's "Midsommar" contains one of the bleakest openings in cinema history. The audience sees, in explicit detail, the tragic deaths of a young woman and her parents by murder/suicide. Dani (Florence Pugh), the young woman's sister, begins the film in a place of deep emotional aching, an ache that is exacerbated by the brash distance kept by her teetering-on-the-brink-of-being-an-ex boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor). Because he has no better ideas, Christian haphazardly drags Dani on a college research trip to a remote Midsommar festival — a days long celebration of the summer solstice — in a distant area of Sweden. Hallucinogens are consumed. Cultural misunderstandings commence. Death is witnessed. Let the bad times roll. 

"Midsommar" is very much about despair. Dani is suffering through an intense dark period in her life, and her boyfriend can only serve as an impediment to healing. It's only by entering a cultish, alien atmosphere — one that welcomes and embraces death — can Dani find dark catharsis. 

It's pretty clear from even a cursory view that Aster was in an equally dark place in his life when he wrote "Midsommar," a suspicion that he confirmed in a 2019 interview with The Atlantic. In the interview, he revealed that "Midsommar" — at the end of the day, a breakup story — was based very directly on his emotional struggles following a breakup of his own. He was drained. He felt like a complete fool. And he was finally moved to write about it. 

And, boy howdy, was it a long exploration. The final theatrical cut of "Midsommar" was already a hefty 148 minutes, but Aster's first cut was even heavier in both tone and running time.

Breaking up is hard to do

Aster appears to be an artist who believes in the inspirational power of suffering. The filmmaker hadn't merely gone through a rough time following a breakup, he was still deep in it when setting pen to page. In his own terms, crisis writing was perhaps the best — or at least most logical — form of therapy. The details of Aster's actual breakup (and who is was with) are kept tactfully secret in the Atlantic interview, but he is quite frank about delving into its darker moments. From the sound of it, Aster spent a lot of time playing back arguments in his head, a familiar habit for anyone who has experienced a bad breakup themselves. He told The Atlantic:

"I usually find that writing comes easiest to me when I'm in a crisis. It becomes a tool for digging myself out of the crisis. Or at least navigating it. Otherwise, I'm just torturing myself. You always want to write a breakup movie when you're in a breakup, and every time I'd been in one, I'd thought, 'I want to write about this, but I'm not inspired. I just wanna die.' And so, this time I just happened to find the way in. You find yourself parsing through the ruins, blaming yourself, blaming the other person, working through these things."

There is a dark logic to this kind of masochistic prodding. If one is going to pick at unhealing scabs, one may as well make art out of it. As it turns out, this breakup generated lot of art. "Midsommar" was initially cut as a whole evening's entertainment.

220 minutes of misery

Like all first drafts, Aster revealed that the earliest draft of "Midsommar" was repetitive. Following his instincts, however, Aster continued to write until he felt like he had said everything he needed to say. He would worry about the editing and polishing later. That turned out to be a lot of editing and polishing, as the original draft would have made for a 220-minute film. That, for context, is 38 minutes longer than the epic, 22-film cycle culminating "Avengers: Endgame," released the same year. Aster told The Atlantic that:

"The first version of this script was twice as long and had way more, the kind of thing you hand off to any responsible reader who says, 'You've said this already.' Then you shape it. The first cut of this movie was three hours and 40 minutes; there are plenty more little moments that weren't necessary, but I would have been very happy to include. I would say this was, for me, a way of making a breakup movie and having fun with clichés and tropes that are inherent to two different genres, doing something that's simultaneously absurdist and nakedly vulnerable."

Aster was eventually able to be more nakedly vulnerable in a later, theatrically released director's cut of "Midsommar" that ran 171 minutes (a version, he revealed in a /Film interview, that he prefers). In June of 2020, Aster revealed that his next film — another breakup movie — was likely going to fun four hours in length and will be, in his words, a "nightmare comedy." 

Say what you will about Aster as a filmmaker, he certainly has a milieu in which he prefers to work. For those who were on the wavelength of "Midsommar's" misery, his next film promises to really bum you out.