1. “Modern Romance” (1981)
When Aster said he was working through “his own stuff,” he was referring to a breakup. The kind that just flattens you out; the kind that a great horror film can let people sample for a couple of hours if the right director doesn’t pass on it first. Aster, who’d never worked for hire before, was ready to reject “Midsommar” when the idea came his way. He wanted to make a breakup movie while he was going through a breakup, and not a seedy gorefest that was one step removed from “Hostel.”
But it was easier said than done. “When you’re crushed, you’re usually not feeling inspired,” he said. And then, inspiration arrived: He’d graft a breakup movie onto a folk horror trajectory, and use it to arrive at the kind of fucked up catharsis he needed to move forward. He’d pour all of himself — all the stuff that he loves, and all the stuff that he’s lost — into the most inflexible story format he could find, and revitalize them both in the process.
“Breakup movies were my biggest point of reference,” Aster said, “And I really wanted to model the arc here on a high school romantic comedy. I love ‘Clueless’ so much. That doesn’t work as a reference for ‘Midsommar’ at all, but ‘Clueless’ is a fucking masterpiece. But for me, the breakup movie that I thought about first is just my favorite of those, and that’s Albert Brooks’ ‘Modern Romance,’ because it’s my favorite breakup movie ever.”
Aster continued: “But back to those high school rom-coms. There’s always a girl who’s stuck on the wrong guy, and the right guy (Josh, played by “The Good Place” star William Jackson Harper), is right under her nose, and at the end she’s going to finally learn to self-advocate and take the shoe box full of all the memories of the bad relationship and throw them into the fire in her backyard. For me, ‘Midsommar’ is me taking that idea and doing it in my own way. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking John Hughes or ‘Can’t Hardly Wait’ and the films that were in theaters when I was in high school in the ’90s — they’re in my bones, so I didn’t have to return to them. I was just thinking about them.”