“Orphaning your main character is the oldest fairy tale move in the book,” Ari Aster explained, “and that was important for where the film goes.” Even when fairy tales don’t kill off the protagonists’ parents, the main character is still typically separated from them before the main story begins. The lack of parental figures in these types of stories is often both terrifying and freeing; the character may feel lost and scared without parental figures to keep them safe, but now they have their own agency. They have to make their own choices in life whether they want to or not.
And of course, despite what so many of those Disney happy endings would have you believe, most fairytales go in some fairly dark directions. There are plenty of versions of “The Little Red Riding Hood” where the girl gets eaten by the wolf, just as there are versions of “Cinderella” where the stepsisters mutilate their feet in their vain attempts to woo the prince. Cinderella still gets a happy ending in most versions of her story, but plenty of them take place in a world where horrible acts of violence are casually doled out to the characters around her.
In many of these, it almost feels like the suffering of others is a requirement for the main character’s happy ending. It’s not enough for Cinderella to leave her evil stepmother and sisters; we also need to hear about how the step-sisters got their eyes pecked out by birds or how they ended up boiled alive. Some versions of the tale end with the sisters being forgiven, but we know those aren’t the ones “Midsommar” takes inspiration from.