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Ari Aster explains how that 'humiliating' Midsommar sex scene came together
At two hours and 20 minutes, Ari Aster's Midsommar takes audiences through a wide and wild variety of experiences - including religious ceremonies, culture clashes, drug trips, violent interludes, and sexual rituals. According to Jack Reynor, who plays Christian, it was that climactic "mating" scene that convinced him he had to be a part of Aster's convention-flouting follow-up to Hereditary.
**Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers for Midsommar below.**
"That scene was the reason I wanted to do the film," he told SYFY WIRE. "Historically humiliating scenes and scenes of explicit nudity in a sexual context at a point where a character is meeting their fate has been reserved for females. This was an opportunity to flip that on its head and to experience something of the humiliation of it and the intensity of it and the vulnerability of it."
Aster, who had never shot a sex scene before, saved the sequence for the end of the shoot.
"It's kind of an intense one to begin with, so finding the way to do that in the most efficient way possible was a challenge," he told SYFY WIRE. "I'm somebody who does a lot of takes because I don't get a lot of coverage. But I had made an agreement with myself to not do any more than three takes for anything in the sex scene."
Reynor, who previously worked on Transformers: Age of Extinction with Michael Bay, a filmmaker noted for his use of multiple cameras to capture the action, indicated it was a tremendously arduous scene not just emotionally but logistically. "We had I think 31 or 32 different camera setups on the shot list," he said, "and some of them were very exposing. The sex is one thing and your own nudity is one thing, but when you're shooting it and the camera is coming right into your face in the middle of it, and you know the context of the scene, that is very difficult."
Luckily, Reynor was in good company.
"I was in a room with another 12 or 14 people who were very exposed and who were also feeling very vulnerable," Reynor said. "Isabelle [Grill], who plays Maja, had never shot a scene with any kind of sexual context before; this was her first feature film. And as her scene partner, that was nerve-wracking — I felt more vulnerable than I'd expected to feel and I felt more on edge and it definitely stayed with me after I left."
Aster echoed Reynor's assessment of the process, which required him to strike the right atmosphere not just in the scene itself but during shooting in order to maximize his cast members' comfort given the fact that it featured a group of naked women standing in a semicircle as Reynor and Grill simulated intercourse.
"That was a huge challenge, just finding the way to be sensitive to everybody who's being exposed on that set while not being so sensitive that you're making them uncomfortable. It's something that is totally alien to everybody and everybody was extremely nervous, and so it's just about intuiting your way through that."
The scene remains a standout even among the film's many memorable moments for the strange and often discordant tone it strikes between horror and sometimes humorous discomfort as Reynor's character Christian occasionally seems as if he's watching the events occur from outside himself. But the actor suggested that the resulting jumble of feelings audiences may have during the scene speaks to its unique place among other horror moments involving sexuality — albeit where a man becomes the objectified focus of its victimization instead of a woman.
Speaking of his experience shooting the scene, he said, "The scene for me compared to some of the stuff in other movies that I've seen female actors go through is tame. But it's interesting to watch it with an audience and to see some people laughing and other people going, 'this is horrifying. What are you laughing at?' Because I think that if it was a female character in a room with 12 men at that moment, I don't think anybody in the audience would laugh."
Midsommar is in theaters this week.