The History of Societal Integration in Horror Cinema

Ari Aster’s name has quickly ascended in the horror community after his two most recent releases of Hereditary (2018) and Midsommar (2019). Both of these films look at the consequences of bringing outsiders into social circles that they do not belong in. In which, a character does not benefit nor grow and is looked at as ‘other.’ This theme of social integration has played a part in horror stories since the beginning and still it is used in movies to convey something that we have all felt before; the fear of finding a new social group or life. Many people experience this while at school, others find this predicament when they move, but horror films use this fear of this particular unknown to deconstruct and understand societal attitudes around us.

Midsommar

Horror and early cinema went together as deliciously as peanut butter and jelly. In 1920, The Golem: How He Came Into This World was released. It portrays a Jewish ghetto in the Roman Empire as the community tries to survive a decree of persecution. The Rabbi makes a Golem and conjures a spirit to breathe life into it. The Golem, an oddity in their ghetto, is treated as a servant and is portrayed as an object to the Romans in order for them not to attack the ghetto. It is an attraction and a plea for the Jewish people to survive. While the Golem was welcomed into the Jewish community, it also was quickly shunned and attacked when they learned that its inner self, or the spirit, would reawaken and leave the Rabbi’s control, which society looks down upon. Inevitably, the Golem tries to escape, having had enough of being everyone’s circus act, and manages to reach the outer edges of the ghetto before it dies. The Golem could not be itself within that community and so it tried to find someplace where it could exist as itself.

Community, niches, social circles all have unannounced rules on how to survive and what is perceived as normal. Edward Scissorhands is another example of an outsider forced and trying to integrate, but this time the outsider wants to fit in. The community around Edward showers him with love and acceptance all while ignoring his troubled hands and act as if he can do everything that they can. Edward receives confusing messages from those around him as he starts to feel the falsehood of their positivity throughout the film. He’s then forced to dress and find a job like them, and through all of his actions to be one of them, his true self that he can never hide always finds a way to slice through the truth. At the end of the day, he’s not there to improve himself, but there for them to make their lives easier and to amuse their curiosity, not truly allowing him to integrate into their close-knit society. In a way, Edward is no different than the Golem. He just experiences false acceptance that made him feel good about himself until he realized that his ‘friends’ and ‘family’ wanted to change him to fit their image.

Edward Scissorhands

Midsommar takes this thematic discussion to a whole new level as it decimates Dani’s social circle. In a way to cheer her up, Dani’s friends invite her to Sweden where they’ll be conducting research for their senior thesis. The cult they visit, unlike in The Golem, accepts her easily. They talk to her and reassure her, making their loving presence known and reliable. They then start to move Dani away from her friends and make her participate in certain ceremonies that make her feel included and assure her that it would always be her decision. What Midsommar shows is a subtle and fearfully real way that a societal circle may integrate someone. For all intents and purposes, Dani is stripped of who she was at the beginning which became the building blocks for a new social life to grow and nest inside her in a way that make her changes look of her own volition.

In every one of these films, it’s always society that bring these outsiders in. They’re the ones that invade someone’s personal space in order to change them to fit into their own views of the world. Society is trying to change their natures and control them to the point where they’re stripped from who they truly are, which this particular society will never accept and they try to make you believe the world will not accept. Individuality is scrubbed from them, and like mother nature, their true selves will always sprout out and come back which only causes problems for the society that brought them into their world.

The Golem: How He Came Into This World

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