Is Your Quarantine Experience More Like 'Midsommar' or 'The Lighthouse’?
Let’s do a quick vibe check.
How is your tension manifesting? Drunken delirium? Bleary-eyed rage? Does it feel like your world is always in black-and-white or, unnervingly, constant daylight?
Fortunately, we live in a time of unprecedented distraction, and if your answer hovers in the realm of any of the above, maybe you’ve already turned to watching an A24 film to cope.
This month, the production company is auctioning off some choice memorabilia to benefit COVID-19 relief. In the A24 Auctions, you’ll find merch that you probably won’t find on Grailed anytime soon, including key costumes and props from the studio’s biggest hits.
Florence Pugh’s abundantly floral May Queen dress from Midsommar? Check—though Ariana Grande already has plans to bid (she says Midsommar is her “favorite bedtime movie”). The mermaid figurine that Robert Pattinson intimately acquaints himself with in The Lighthouse? Also check. Is it just me, or do these two films weirdly align with the long arc of quarantine, as their characters find themselves in their own unique purgatories, eventually descending into madness? Do I sense a continuity among the memorabilia in the films that, oddly enough, mirrors the collective emotional stages of social distancing?
Let’s go through the stages together, with some trivia and guidance from Midsommar costume designer Andrea Flesch and The Lighthouse production designer Craig Lathrop. We caught up with them to discuss the clothes and objects in the films, which may or may not inspire you to A. watch (or rewatch) them or B. ponder the origins and/or object permanence of everything in your home.
FYI, some thematic spoilers for Midsommar and The Lighthouse follow.
Midsommar is, in many ways, an ode to mourning. When watching Midsommar now, one may find themselves fixated on Dani (played by Pugh) and her rotating travelware wardrobe of sweatpants and soft, drab knits—a not-unfamiliar uniform for quarantine times. “The thought was that everybody, including Dani, should be very neutral,” Flesch said, dressing Dani and her fellow Americans in simple shapes and subtle colors like dusky blues and grays. “We wanted to make her sexy, but not really sexy. We [still] wanted to feel her femininity,” despite her grief. Her only foray with color, notably, happens at the very end.
Yet a similarly somber color palette appears in another notable scene: the first ceremony, in which the elder Attastupans wear blue-and-gold tunics while the Hårga wear blue-embroidered white linen. This makes sense given the, uh, spectre of death that hovers over the entire film, that scene in particular.
A friend of Flesch’s hand-crafted the tunics’ custom blue fabric, which was interwoven with thread made of real gold—a color that marks death throughout the film. When envisioning the look, Flesch said, she thought of the scene as a whole: “It will be blue sky, sun shining—so when they stand on the cliff in the sunshine, the sun will [light up] the gold in their blue fabric.”
While none of the griefwear (a term it brings me no joy to coin?) from the movie is up for sale in the A24 Auction, you can bid on the upsettingly titled “Finishing Mallet” from the same scene. Like I said… grief!
Somewhere in our era of social distancing, grief must give way to a specific sort of loneliness. Big quarantine hours.
In The Lighthouse, Pattinson’s Winslow finds himself on an isolated New England island with only Willem Dafoe’s Wake to keep him company. Soon after he arrives in his new quarters, however, Winslow discovers a clandestine mermaid figurine burrowed inside his cot’s mattress. The mermaid becomes, as you can imagine, his siren in the night.
The figurine—modeled after a scrimshaw, which was typically crafted by whalers out of ivory, though Lathrop ensures this version “is not really ivory, you'll be happy to know”—was carved by artist Claude Roussel. Despite doing lots of research on historical scrimshaws, Lathrop says director Robert Egger eventually did a rough sketch of how he envisioned the mermaid figurine. “We developed that sketch, because I just thought it was perfect.”
“I love [the figurine]. I think she’s incredible,” Lathrop said. “I mean, I don’t love her as much as Rob loved her, but I think she’s pretty cool.”
(P.S. If you can’t get yer grubby mitts on the official mermaid during the auction, it looks like A24 is offering up a soap version on their website.)
What comes after unrequited lust? Sounds like anguish, baby!
The most famous ensemble from Midsommar is, certainly, the massive flower crown-and-gown combo Dani wears at the end of the film. The dress, made of 10,000 silk flowers imported from the Netherlands, was understandably a heavy-lift labor of love.
“At first, [the] idea was, ‘Oh, it would be so nice to make it from real flowers,’ but we knew that if you take one, two months to make it, real flowers you cannot do because they would die,” Flesch said.
Director “Ari [Aster]’s idea was that [with] the flower dress, she should struggle under it,” so Flesch’s team built a hoop skirt-like framework that Pugh had to lug around with her in the movie’s final scenes. They even had to make two iterations of the humongous flower crown, because the first version was too heavy to sit atop Pugh’s head.
Despite the anguish, Flesch is thrilled at how the world has embraced the dress, mentioning Janelle Monae’s shoutout during this year’s Oscars opener to Katy Perry’s lookalike outfit in her latest music video. So, how does she feel about the dress going up for auction? “Oh, I can’t tell you how happy I am. Now, it has a second life—I think it’s the biggest thing that could happen to me.”
“I really hope that somebody will give a lot of money for it,” Flesch said, “and that we can help a little bit.”
Your move, Ariana!
Like many of its literary and cinematic predecessors, the object of fixation at the center of The Lighthouse is, naturally, a light—if one of absolutely massive proportions. Wake guards the light with his life, while Winslow obsesses over its unattainability.
Not only did Lathrop construct the entire titular lighthouse from the ground up, he also designed a gigantic custom plexiglass replica of a Fresnel lens to sit inside. He went to great lengths to find the right design for the film, even going so far as to join the U.S. Lighthouse Society (!).
He researched numerous historical Fresnel lenses before happening upon one that stuck out: “I just thought it looked like a squid to be honest with you, and so I was enamored with that. So I revised the design to be more squid-like, [with] this sort of squid-like silhouette, which I felt was good in the movie.” He worked with Fresnel lens designer and preservationist Dan Spinella to complete the final design.
“It's already sort of a beautiful alien, and I guess strangely Deco as well,” Lathrop said. In the A24 Auction, the custom light has a whopping starting bid of $80,000. “Hopefully some [historical] society or some lighthouse will get a hold of it, or somebody who’s a huge fan.”
Can’t wait to see the light someday soon.