If you love horror movies, a trip to a “sinister, dread-soaked nightmare” pagan commune in a faraway land may be the terrifying escape you need. For many viewers, however, the real horror of the film “Midsommar” was how it portrayed bipolar disorder.

Written and directed by Ari Aster, “Midsommar” follows Dani (Florence Pugh), a psychology graduate student, and her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor). While Christian wanted to use his anthropology research trip to Sweden as an excuse to dump Dani, he ends up bringing her along to study a remote Swedish village and pagan commune.

Christian’s change of heart comes in the first 10 minutes of the film after Dani’s sister, who has bipolar disorder, murders their parents and then dies by suicide. “Midsommar” was quickly criticized by viewers on social media for its stigmatizing, dangerous and problematic portrayal of bipolar disorder in the film.

“Really disappointed that @MidsommarMovie decided to use my same bipolar disorder diagnosis as a lazy story writing plot device,” Alice Elizabeth Boyd tweeted. “Bipolar is severely misunderstood and already struggles with immense stigmatisation.”

Others added their thoughts on Twitter as well:

As viewers pointed out online, portraying people with mental illness as violent perpetuates stigma with real-world consequences. In a 2006 study, for example, researchers found viewers exposed to mental illness stereotypes were more likely to support criminalizing people with mental illness. About a third of people with mental illness included in the study said loved ones acted differently around them following negative media coverage.

People with mental illness rarely commit violent crimes but are 10 times more likely to be a crime victim compared to the general population. Those living with bipolar disorder also have a higher risk of dying by suicide as opposed to hurting others. Negative portrayals of mental illness in film and TV can prevent people from seeking help, which The Mighty’s Mental Health Editor Juliette Virizi discussed in her article, “How ‘American Horror Story’ Profits Off Mental Health Stereotypes“:

The way horror films depict psychiatry is such a big deal because these stereotypes don’t stay confined to the film genre. People carry these stereotypes with them — whether they realize it or not — and it can have an effect on help-seeking behavior.

“Midsommar” director Aster focused on mental illness in his previous horror film “Hereditary,” which was released in 2018 and stars Toni Collette, best known for her role in “United States of Tara,” a TV series about living with dissociative identity disorder (DID). The plot of “Hereditary” centered around a family with inherited mental health conditions, and some fans questioned its portrayal of mental illness as well.

Advocates work to bring more accurate information about people living with mental health issues, but as Twitter users pointed out, “Midsommar” is evidence that mental health stereotypes are still alive and well in the horror genre.

“Mental illnesses like bipolar, psychosis, and personality disorders are CONSTANTLY being used as validation for dangerous characters in horror films,” Ana tweeted, adding:

Not only is this factually incorrect, but it really doesn’t help with the stigmatization of these issues. People with these types of disorders are way more likely to hurt themselves than the people around them. Also speaking from personal experience, I have never once felt unsafe around my friends with bipolar. To portray someone who is ill as a murderer was fucked up in Midsommar.

The Mighty has reached out to Ari Aster for comment and has yet to hear back.

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Author: Renee Fabian