Here at the Frame office, we’ve randomly decided that the cutoff date to openly discuss Midsommar spoilers is August 12 — the moment in which summer left Amsterdam and the rain, grey skies and jumper weather returned in full force, thus prematurely ending the season here in the Netherlands. And yet this generally flat and aggressively depressing environment feels safer than the blindingly sunny and chromatically pleasing Hårga, the made-to-measure Swedish village where Ari Aster’s film takes place.
Production designer Henrik Svensson cleverly subverted our ideas of aesthetic symbolism to turn spatial beauty into elements of danger hidden in plain sight — Midsommar’s childlike dorm improves upon The Shining’s Overlook Hotel as a supposedly idyllic building that is turned into an oppressive catalyst of our silenced fears. So yes: the elders and the rituals and the teas are nightmarish, but some of the story’s creepiest villains, made of wood, paint and linen, are hidden in plain sight right from the start.
We spoke with Svensson about the role of spatial design in what is certainly, judging by the amount of popular memes and professional applause, the film of the summer.
Why is the sacrificial temple triangular? I put my Illuminati tin hat on the minute I saw it on screen.
HENRIK SVENSSON: [Laughs] I’m sure you're not alone with that. In general, I started very theoretically, and then gradually became looser to eventually play it by heart — started big and zoomed in. In this case, it was determining the shape of the village and its surrounding land, both of which needed to be built in a — for this world — very strong symbol.
The triangular shape remains from an early draft on the village where the temple was located in a triangular rapeseed field — the rapeseed had, by the way, a huge impact on our choice to go yellow in the film. The look of it fit the overall aesthetic of the Hårgans and I liked it so much that it stuck. The triangle is very powerful in this scenario for a number of reasons, including sacred geometry.
I loved the idea of having traditionally beautiful aesthetics represent darkness
You speak of rapeseed, but in the Swedish coat of arms, yellow stands for generosity — voluntary human sacrifice can fall under that umbrella.
I wasn’t aware that it did — so in short, no. Yellow was already the color for this building in the script, so I can't answer for Ari [Aster], but don't believe that was his reasoning. Very interesting point, though.
All this aside, everything felt perfect with this color: from the general vibe in the movie to the specific vibe of the temple, Sweden and its summer colours, and the fact that I loved the idea of having traditionally ‘beautiful’ aesthetics represent darkness — such is the case with lush summer blossom.
We have a saying in Sweden: Gult e fult. It closely translates to ‘yellow is ugly,’ but in rhyme — kind of like ‘mellow yellow’ — and yellow can be very ugly in many ways. I love yellow, but it can be difficult to work with. Come to think of it, all of the Swedish colour-rhymes actually work… Perhaps that's my subliminal schooling in colour theory?
Everything is pumped up, fascist-architecture style