“It’s all a mess. The one out there. The one in here. The one that’s coming. Why is everyone so ready to think the worst is over?” Analyzing Suspiria (2018)

Although I prefer the original film, I cannot deny the bizarre, gravitational pull this remake has on me. It’s a movie that throws a lot at you, and clearly wants to say something meaningful. But it is also sort of a 2.5 hour mess that is so loose with giving you answers it’s frustrating. If spoon feeding the audience is one extreme, this is close to the opposite extreme – a movie that begs you to analyze its layers but doesn’t quite gel together in a satisfying way. Although I’ve found background on the historical context, I have yet to find a concise guide that explains key aspects of the film. So I decided to make it myself.

*****SPOILERS AHEAD*****

What is Going On in the Suspiria Remake?

Susie Bannon, an American, travels to West Berlin to join the esteemed Markos Dance Academy. Unbeknownst to most of the students, the academy is run by a coven of witches who appear to be conflicted about their leadership. Madame Blanc runs the day to day operations of the academy, and some believe she should be the head of the academy. Helena Markos is the head of of the academy, and needs a new body to transfer her essence into because her ancient body is beginning to fall apart. The coven fails to do the transfer properly with a promising young dancer named Patricia. When Susie joins the academy, they set their sights on her instead.

This all plays out against the backdrop of a divided Berlin during the German Autumn in 1977 (the release year of the original film). The dance academy is right next to the Berlin Wall, and throughout the film characters listen to and comment on news reports about the far-left Red Army Fraction (RAF) group holding hostages in hopes of getting their leaders released from prison. RAF is part of the newer, post WWII generation of Germans who are horrified by the atrocities committed during the Holocaust, and believe fascism is still lingering below the surface of German politics. They are especially upset that there are former Nazi officers and sympathizers in positions of economic power.

The Plot & Structure of Suspiria

The movie has six acts and an epilogue:

Act One: 1977

This act mainly sets up the political landscape of the film. Patricia reaches out to Doctor Klemperer, insisting the dance academy she resides at is actually a group of witches who are trying to put someone inside her. He dismisses her accusations as extreme paranoia. Susie arrives in Berlin, and Madame Blanc is immediately impressed by her talent. The academy invites Susie to stay. Susie meets a fellow student named Sara who describes some of the political turmoil in Berlin, and worries about Patricia.

Act Two: Palace of Tears

This act sets up the occult aspects of the narrative, as well as the turmoil present between and within many of the characters. We see a haphazard vote taken by the coven where members vote for either Markos (their established leader) or Blanc, with Markos winning again. Klemperer’s regrets about something in his past are hinted at, and he begins to examine Patricia’s diaries which detail the coven’s powers and attempts to decipher their power structure. A friend of Patricia’s named Olga is asked to dance the lead in Patricia’s absence, but gets upset about Patricia’s disappearance and storms out. Blanc casts a spell on Susie who takes the lead for the Volk dance. Susie, sensing the coven’s anger at Olga, inadvertently unleashes the coven’s anger on Olga in the form of a spell. Every time Susie makes a move while dancing, Olga is horrifically contorted and twisted, leaving her barely alive but utterly mangled. The act ends with Susie having a string of nightmares punctuated by rhythmic breathing which seems to indicate spell casting.

Act Three: Borrowing

The act seems to show Susie willingly becoming entranced with the coven. Susie and Sara try to find contact information for Patricia’s family. Susie witnesses the matrons teasing two seemingly hypnotized, naked detectives and smiles in amusement at what she sees. Blanc talks about creating a new piece about rebirths, the inexorable pull they exert on us, and our efforts to escape them. Blanc and Tanner bicker about how powerful Markos really is, and if she should be referred to as Mother Suspiriorum. The matrons go out for a meal together, telepathically discussing their plans for the ritual as they drink, smoke, and laugh. The students spot the matrons through the restaurant window, and Blanc thinks it is good that Susie sees they are still part of the larger world. Blanc continues to send Susie the witches’ dreams and nightmares, and Susie wakes up screaming “I know who I am!” The other girls are awakened by her screams, and they mention all having nightmares when they first arrived. Snow begins falling.

Act Four: Taking

This act shows a breakdown in negotiations usually involved with borrowing, and the characters including Susie are being led more forcefully to their fates. Dr. Klemperer tries to talk to the police about his concerns regarding the Markos Dance Academy, but he is dismissed. The witches take a dancer’s ability to do jumps, and magically transfer that ability to Susie to prepare her for dancing the lead in the Volk performance. Dr. Klemperer tries to talk to Sara about his concerns about the dance company and Patricia’s disappearance, but Sara dismisses his claims. Sara finds a secret passage in the academy, and impulsively steals a metal hook as evidence. She brings the item to Klemperer and seems convinced something sinister is happening at the academy. Later Sara hears Susie speaking French to Blanc even though Susie didn’t understand French when she first arrived in Berlin. She accuses Susie of making a deal with “them” indicating the matrons. News reports indicated the RAF hostage situation has come to a violent end. The dancers prepare for the Volk performance.

Act Five: In the Mütterhaus (All the Floors are Darkness)

This act reinforces the occult elements of the narrative, and introduces us to the dark secrets lurking beneath the main floors of the academy. Sara sneaks into the secret passages of the building again, finding Patricia and Olga, both are whom are horribly mangled and decrepit. Sara runs away in panic, but the floor opens up under her and cracks her leg open. The matrons heal Sara and enchant her to get her to participate in the performance, but Susie fails at the jumps so Sara collapses. The performance ends. Later, Blanc comforts Susie and tells her she will make sure there are no dreams tonight.

Act Six: Suspiriorum

This act translates to “sighs”, and shows the bittersweet transition from one coven leader to another as Susie usurps Markos. The matrons take the young dancers out and purposely get them intoxicated. Klemperer throws out all the evidence he gathered about the academy. He encounters what appears to be his long-lost wife, but in reality is a trick to lure him back to the academy to witness the ritual. The ritual is about to be performed, but Blanc hesitates when she realizes something isn’t right and Markos kills her. Susie reveals she is in fact the true Mother Suspiriorum, and a literal embodiment of death comes and murders Markos and most of those who voted her back into power. Susie grants quick deaths to Patricia, Olga, and Sara. She asks the entranced dancers to keep dancing amidst the gore and carnage because she likes the dancing. The next morning a traumatized Klemperer is led out of the academy.

Epilogue: A Sliced-Up Pear

The epilogue seems to hint at the cyclical nature of human tragedy as memories are sliced up and fade into meaninglessness. The dancers wake up thinking they just partied very hard the night before. Susie visits Klemperer and reveals what happened to his wife during the Holocaust before wiping his memories of everything. Decades later, we see a fading etching Klemperer did of him and his wife’s initials on their vacation cottage.

Analysis of Suspiria

So that was a summary of the parts of the film, but what exactly is going on? This is my best crack at some of the different aspects of the film:

Why is the Coven Posing as a Dance Academy?

The dancing also serves as a method of performing rituals. It makes it easy for a large group of women to live and work together without raising suspicion, and to do their occult rituals in plain sight.

Why is the film so different from the original?

In the original Suspiria, we are meant to feel trapped in a surrealistic nightmare with brief glimmers of the outside world, such as when the pianist goes out to the bar or when Susie talks to the psychologist. The film is otherwise fairytale-like, with bright technicolor and dreamlike dialogue and sequences. The music is loud and insane, coming in and fading out at distracting times.

In contrast, this film focuses on grounding the supernatural firmly and seamlessly into a very realistic setting. You feel like this is all happening in 70s Berlin right under everyone’s noses. The colors are muted and the characters are shown going out to restaurants, practicing dances, and in Klemperer’s case waddling around a lot. The music is understated compared to the film.

I’m sure these changes were made in part to create an exciting artistic challenge, but they also make the supernatural feel like a part of every day reality. This reinforces the comparisons the film makes between the coven and the political climate of the day.

Although most analysis of the film discusses what a stark contrast it is to the original, at the end of this essay I added some really neat side by side visual cues in both films. It is impressive how many of scenes and images this cover pays homage to.

Characters:

Why Does Tilda Swinton Play Three Characters?

Tilda Swinton plays Madame Blanc, Helena Markos, and Dr. Klemperer in this film. Why? Apparently because it was a fun challenge. Director Luca Guadagnino also mentions not wanting the male gaze to intrude with the character of Dr. Klemperer. Perhaps most importantly, Guadagnino brings up the idea of the id, superego, and ego. The id in this case would obviously be Helena Markos in her drooling, cackling delight at a new young body to inhabit, as well as her disregard for morality by promoting the lie she herself is Mother Suspiriorum. The superego would likely be Dr. Klemperer given his desire to live his quiet life tending to the needs of others while managing his guilt over his inaction during the war. That would leave Madame Blanc as the ego – someone who vacillates between serving her leader, and feeling skeptical and wrong about their plot.

A picture of the plaque Susie first sees when entering the academy; interestingly enough this does not correlate with the voting sequence in Act 2. It does setup the conflict between Markos and Blanc.

The witches are split between following Markos and Blanc, and although most of the ones who follow Markos are killed at the end, it is still interesting both these leaders are played by the same person. Blanc definitely seems more level-headed and fit to lead, but the implication of them being played by the same actress seems to indicate the differences between them are not as extreme as one may initially believe.

What’s up with Mother Suspiriorum & The Three Mothers Mythology?

The three mothers are supposed to be very powerful and wealthy, which is another reason members of the coven doubt Markos is one of the mothers. As Blanc points out, they wouldn’t be “in this situation” (e.g. they would have more wealth and security and Markos wouldn’t need to transfer herself) if Markos truly had that power.

Mother Suspiriorum means the Mother of Sighs. At the end of the movie, Susie doesn’t seem completely evil, she seems supernaturally detached from human affairs. I think the sighs are referencing her frustrated, sad acknowledgement that humans are doomed to repeat horrific cycles of abuse and destruction and that she can only do so much to affect the cycle. Mother Suspiriorum is the oldest and wisest of the three mothers, so it seems that wisdom will benefit the coven now that their rightful leader is in place.

Has Susie always been Mother Suspiriorum?

I believe Mother Suspiriorum has been lying dormant in Susie for Susie’s entire life. This is why Susie’s birth mother saying she is my sin on the world. This is also indicated by Susie’s preoccupation with Berlin as a young girl, the sign that indicates she is traveling to Suspiria when she enters an underground train station in Berlin:

Image result for susie berlin train station

As soon as she gets to the academy she begins to grab at the center of her chest, the same place that will open later in the film during the ritual, when stretching before her audition:

Image result for susie chest suspiria"

Although the transformation doesn’t happen completely till the sabbath at the end of the film, I think the last time we see “the real Susie” is when she accepts the offer to stay at the academy:

Here is how she appears in the next scene, with a mirror image of herself in the shot to indicate her dual nature:

It’s like the coven is breathing fresh life into her, but in reality it is pulling Mother Suspiriorum out of her. Susie says during her first practice, “I feel like I’m not even here yet. I don’t know…” indicating her true form is Mother Suspiriorum. It is also indicated by her reaction to seeing the witches use magic to hypnotize the detectives sent to investigate Patricia’s disappearance. Instead of being confused or horrified, she smiles as the matrons laugh at the naked detectives and pretend like they are going to cut their genitals off. She is also dressed in black in this scene, in contrast to Sara being dressed in white.

Madame Blanc puts a lot of focus on the need for Susie to empty herself and let Markos in during the final ritual, but what we really she is Susie ripping open her chest and letting Mother Suspiriorum out during the finale.

What’s up with Susie’s Family & Religion?

Susie was raised Mennonite, and mentions the Amish splintered from them because the Amish believed they were too liberal. This is another example of the film’s theme of dysfunction within groups. When Madame Blanc questions Susie talking about her religious upbringing in the past tense, she says she doesn’t really identify with a religion anymore. It is also hinting at Susie’s transition from a seemingly sheltered, religious upbringing to her taking her rightful place as Mother Suspiriorum.

The film shows Susie leaving as the rest of her family gathers around her mother’s deathbed which shows how detached she is from that former life. When she denounces her birth mother for the ritual, her mother dies. This has to happen in order to leave no room for false mothers besides Mother Suspiriorum.

What’s up with Patricia? Why does she act so erratically?

Patricia is the first person they try the Markos transfer with,  but it fails because she is resistant to their machinations. Her awareness stems from her involvement with RAF group. Her political leanings make her paranoid about former Nazis hiding just under the surface of German society, which in turn makes her turn a critical eye onto the academy and discovery the occult underpinnings hiding just below the surface. She acts erratically because she is so paranoid about the coven and is afraid they can hear and see her, so she is trying to throw them off by creating nonsensical white noise (singing, humming, talking about cute boys) while she voices her concerns to Klemperer. She is also unstable because Markos is partially inside of her, which is later seen by her body looking incredibly diseased and grayish blue in color – they just managed to transfer some of many diseases infecting Markos but not her full spirit.

What’s up with Olga?

Olga is done with this scene pretty much as soon as the movie starts. She seems partially complicit (shouting witches at the teachers when she storms out indicates her knowledge of their occult ways), but she is frustrated by her inability to perform as well as she wants. The coven didn’t necessarily want her to meet the demise she did (Tanner states Susie sensed their anger towards Olga and inadvertently channeled it). They just wanted her out and not talking nonsense. She in turn is pissed with them, so leverages her ability to expose them once they aren’t serving her. We all see how this turns out for her, literally pulled apart and left twisted into a heaping mess by her replacement (Susie).

What’s up with Caroline?

One of the young dancers reads as a transwoman, but this is never explicitly stated in any way. To me this symbolizes the progressiveness in some regards of the coven. Caroline, like Olga, seems to know there is something dark at work in the academy. When Blanc tells Susie “we need to get you in the air”, and looks directly at Caroline, Caroline seems to know they are going to do something to her in order to transfer her jumping abilities to Susie. She looks nervous. If I’m correct to read Caroline as trans, this seems to reinforce the idea that the young dancers are typically at the mercy of the academy because they aren’t supported or accepted elsewhere.

This is also alluded to when Klemperer warns Sara she should leave the academy, but the next time we see her she is practicing for the Volk dance. She doesn’t have anywhere else to go, and the coven knows that. In a way, they are like a cult that preys on young, impressionable girls who have to put up with their machinations in order to practice their own craft and survive. This is flipped on the coven when Susie reveals herself to be there true leader, and not just another young woman who is at their mercy.

Why Does the One Matron Kill Herself?

Throughout the first few acts, we see a bespectacled matron who looks visibly removed and upset from the others most of the time. She wears large glasses to indicate her observant nature, which is further amplified by the fact she is never shown speaking – just watching what is happening around her. In the scene when she kills herself, she does so while the other matrons talk about the importance of the ritual working this time. Her costume design and behavior seem to indicate she has a gift of premonition, and knows things are not going to end well for people like herself who have blindly supported Markos. When the matrons have their vote, she responds “we’re at the end” before voting for “Mother Markos”, again indicating her newfound knowledge that she was following the incorrect leader.

Why is Miss Tanner spared at the end?

Image result for miss tanner suspiria 2018

Miss Tanner appears to be the most senior matron next to Madame Blanc, and she supports Markos. I believe she is kept alive because she has a lot of organizational knowledge Mother Suspiriorum doesn’t want to lose, and she is a rule follower that will blindly follow Susie just as she followed Markos. She comes across as ambivalent towards Markos, but she does seem like someone who is set on preserving the status quo, whatever that may be.

Historical Context:

How Does Germany’s Past Play Into The Film?

“There’s more in that building [the dance academy] then you can see – they’ve been underground since the war.”

Patricia

“People can organize themselves to commit crimes and call it magic.”

“She describes something like a revolutionary organization in a crisis of leadership.”

“Love and manipulation they share houses very often. They are frequent bedfellows”

“You can give someone your delusion. That is religion. That was what the Reich did.”

Doctor Klemperer describing the Markos Dance Academy

The coven represents underground fascism – they are a danger lurking just under the surface of Germany. Although they too resent the Reich,  they have developed their own methods of obtaining and keeping power, and so they unwittingly function like the Reich.

Although their power dynamics seemingly rely on free will, in reality they rely on fear and cruelty against any dissenters. They continue to vote Markos back into power because even if they doubt her, she is the only leader they have ever known. This is why the voting sequence is so haphazard and apathetic.

At the same time, the coven bucked the ridged rules of the Reich, and found power through alternative means. The female coven is free of the misogyny of the Reich which reinforced strict patriarchal roles for men and women. As the matrons tell Susie when she first arrives, “we believe in the importance of a woman’s financial autonomy.” Susie also learns that Blanc kept the company going during the war against the desires of the Reich. Klemperer’s assistant says, “before the war Germany had the strongest women,” and the coven are a group of strong women who lasted through the war thanks to their powers.

Ultimately, the coven is still evil in sometimes sinister and other times incredibly banal ways. It is admirable that they buck the misogyny of the Reich, but it is disappointing they have a created their own patriarchal structure that simply substitutes a Mother for a Father. It’s like Daenerys in Game of Thrones – there’s a sense of “YASS QUEEN!” but also a sense of “OKAY MAYBE A LITTLE TOO FAR QUEEN!” with how the coven is presented. And when Madame Blanc does express something akin to maternal feelings towards Susie after the failed Volk ritual, she is quickly dispatched by Markos by being too soft and nearly destroying her chance to transfer to a new body.

We also see characters who are purposely ambiguous with their political beliefs, in part because they are still processing a huge amount of national trauma, and want so badly to believe the worst is over. They also don’t know who to trust. When Sara hints to Susie that she finds it terrible that former Nazis are still in positions of power, she is quick to correct herself and say she is just worried about Patricia.

We also meet characters like Doctor Klemperer, who are still terribly affected by the Holocaust. In the Holocaust, Klemperer only took action when it was much too late. As one of the matrons notes, “You had years to get your wife out of Germany. When women tell you the truth you say they’re delusional.” In the film, he ignores Patricia’s fears until it is too late for her. He is forced to witness the Volk ritual as he cries out that he remembers [the Holocaust] and he is innocent unlike many other men walking around Berlin.

Susie Bannon is now the new generation in this film. She has quite literally absorbed all the nightmares and desires of the coven, and is now their leader. Is she truly going to be a fresh start for the coven, with the wisdom of her elders combined with her vision for the coven? Or is she the newest leader of the machine? It is too hard to tell based on the purposely ambiguous ending.

Why does the film keep mentioning the ongoing situation with the German Autumn/Red Army Fraction (RAF)?

The film is using the events of the German Autumn to reinforce its themes of conflict within groups. The film is deliberately set the same year the original film released, but unlike the original film it incorporates the politics of that time period, namely the German Autumn to fit its themes. Writer David Kajganich was quoted in Los Angeles Times on this subject:

It was a fascinating moment in history because you had a generation of students and young people who were sick in their souls about how much denial there was in their parents and grandparents’ generations about German culpability in World War II. The city was immersed in that struggle, and in the middle of all that – or rather, behind all of that – there is this dance company, where an American is getting her education in a way in how a modern kind of fascism might work

David Kajganich

Throughout the film, we see RAF protesters in the street. They hijack a plane and take hostages in order to demand that their imprisoned leaders be released. The RAF hijackers kill a pilot (possibly their version of the innocent witness; we learn of the pilot being killed as Klemperer begins to seriously investigate the academy). The German authorities lie to RAF and tell them they are going to release their leaders; but eventually kill 4 of the 5 RAF members holding the hostages, and announce 3 out of 5 of the RAF prisoners have committed suicide. Like the coven, the RAF group is messy and has multiple leaders, causing friction within the group.

The characters in the film are also conflicted about RAF. We get hints at how each character feels about the events and their tumultuous past. We are told Patricia is involved in RAF, and that she has disappeared to join them. Fellow dancer Sara seems sympathetic to the RAF group as she comments to Susie that “a former Nazi SS Officer is the head of the German Employee Association, and how she must not know what that means” i.e. how distressing that is. In contrast, Doctor Klemperer’s housekeeper calls the RAF group terrorists, and comments about how strong German women were before the war. The coven seems to look down on RAF, or at the very least think they are ineffective. So the characters in the film are divided about how they feel about RAF and its actions, much like the coven is divided about their leadership. The RAF group is also desperate to release their leaders like the coven is desperate to release Markos from her no longer viable body. The coven, like RAF, goes through a bloody rebirth when their original leaders die.

The trajectory of RAF news stories in the movie reflects the failure for anyone in the film to successfully detect and expose members of the coven. RAF suspected there are still fascist sentiments lingering under the surface of everyday life in Berlin, and they were correct to say people who once held high-ranking Nazi positions were now in high ranking places in the workforce. But their violent, polarizing methods backfired against them, and they failed in their mission. Similarly, none of the characters (Patricia, Olga, Sara, Klemperer) who know the truth about the coven are able to successfully expose them, so the coven continues to survive under the surface of everyday life. Looking at the rise in Nazism and white supremacy/nationalism in our current time, Luca Guadagnino seems to allude there is a pervasive evil working under the surface of our everyday lives.

The Volk Dance

“When you dance the dance of another you make yourself in the image of its creator”

Madame Blanc

Volk means people in German, but its colloquial use is not that simple. It is typically used to indicate a national ethnic identity by far right extremists in Germany. Its colloquial use began to shift during the Nazi era of Germany, who typically used it in nationalistic propaganda.

Its meaning and use has continued to shift:

The term was neutral enough to remain in general use following the war, and its appearance in Suspiria shouldn’t be taken as an indication that the choreographers of the Markos Dance Academy harbor latent Nazi sympathies. (Indeed, the violence of the dance could be considered a commentary on the brutality the idea of Volk unleashed.) It’s worth noting, too, that the term got something of a reappropriation in the late ’80s, as activists in East Germany used the phrase “Wir sind das Volk” (we are the people) to protest the communist regime, and then “Wir sind ein Volk” (we are one people) to urge reunification. But its use has recently began to shift back toward the sinister, as right-wing parties have seized on the slogan as a way of protesting immigration.

Nate Jones, “A German History Primer for the Confused Suspiria Viewer

I’m interested in the shifting use of Volk and how it relates to the coven’s use of dance to cast spells. As Jones indicates, Blanc naming the dance such a politically-loaded name does not indicate an affinity for the Nazi regime. Indeed, her use of it was probably meant to look like it was glorifying nationalism in order to pass Nazi censors, while secretly critiquing them. Like the audience who believes they are just watching a dance while they are really watching an occult ritual, the term’s power lies in the eye of the beholder. Its shifting use also indicates the shifting of power and meaning during such a politically tumultuous time.

The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon

Otherwise known as frequency illusion or recency illusion. This phenomenon occurs when the thing you’ve just noticed, experienced or been told about suddenly crops up constantly. It gives you the feeling that out of nowhere, pretty much everyone and their cousin are talking about the subject — or that it is swiftly surrounding you. And you’re not crazy; you are totally seeing it more. But the thing is, of course, that’s because you’re noticing it more 

How Stuff Works

The leaders of RAF (the very Baader and Meinhof this phenomenon is named after) are a hint at the film’s themes. Patricia approaches Doctor saying “there’s more in that building [the dance academy] then you can see – they’ve been underground since the war.” Because she is affiliated with RAF, the Doctor and her fellow students dismiss her claims as looking for conspiracies where there are none. Instead, she has been awoken to the power within plain sight – both the former Nazis who now hold leadership positions, and the evil machinations of the dance academy. Therefore, she sees the coven everywhere. But she is right to see the conspiracy everywhere because it is pervasive and surrounding her.

Klemperer and Sara also seem to play into this phenomena. Klemperer initially dismisses Patricia’s claims about the academy, but later becomes suspicious and reaches out to Sara. Sara is quick to anger at Klemperer’s insinuations about the sinister nature of the academy, but begins to notice strange things about the matrons and the academy after talking to Klemperer.

The Berlin Wall

Division is a huge theme in this movie, and the visual of the Berlin Wall right in front of the academy reinforces this theme. Almost all the characters have an internal struggle (e.g. Susie’s push and pull towards her rebirth; Klemperer’s struggle to overcome his doubt and trauma from the Holocaust; Blanc’s struggle with supporting Markos), as well as the groups (RAF’s messy protesting turned political terrorism; the coven as a whole), and the nation (struggles with reconciling the past; generational conflict that is reflected by the students and matrons at the academy).

Miscellaneous:

Twistedness

A lot of the visuals in this movie reinforce the convoluted, complex machinations of the plot. The interior of the academy looks like an M.C. Escher painting in certain places, particularly the lobby. The mirrors in the smaller dancer studio are wavy. The dancers are constantly contorting themselves (to a horrifying degree during Olga’s torture sequence).

What’s with all the wheezing and heavy breathing?

Wheezing is usually associated with the presence of Helena Markos in both this film and the original, but Susie’s birth mother is also depicted as wheezing on her death bed in this version. Wheezing seems to be associated with the “false” mothers who are on their way out (physically and metaphorically) while Susie ascends to her proper place. In comparison, heavy, rhythmic breathing is often heard when Susie and the other young dancers are exerting their physicality and thus their vivaciousness in comparison to the older, weaker generation. The rhythmic breathing and grunting is also associated with spells and rituals.

What’s with all the talk of jumps in the Volk dance?

Blanc tells Susie that jumps are important to dance, but Susie pushes back because she is struggling with them and because she is being pulled towards the ground where Markos is being kept.* Blanc tells her in the times they lived through 40 years ago, when they made the Volk, they learned the importance of balance and how one must always aim upwards. The matrons realize they need Caroline’s jumping abilities for Susie, and bewitch her to steal her abilities for Susie.

This is all to prep Susie for the soul transfer. Blanc tells her when she jumps to focus on creating space, and Markos later says they are emptying Susie to create space for her. It is also to represent that Susie will soon be the mother above all others to them. At the time, they think this is because she will become Markos, but it is in reality because Susie is the true Mother Suspiriorum.

*With the knowledge Susie is really Mother Suspiriorum, this resistance to jumping and playing along with the “pull” towards her rebirth with Markos could be Susie testing how Blanc responds to her reversing the flow of power between them. After all, if Susie is the true Mother she has to make sure Blanc will be comfortable letting her have total control.

Why does Susie rip a vaginal-like hole open on her chest?

Image result for suspiria 2018 gif"

Like I don’t even know how else to describe this moment. But it represents her rebirth, and letting her humanity flow out and the supernatural Mother to completely assume control. The whole ritual at the end is very focused on imagery of vaginas and rebirth, with some of the dancers forming a v-shape, and the singer holding someone’s arms open in a v while singing in between – his mouth forming and opening and closing hole between the v (yeah it’s really like that).

Why is the frame rate different during the ritual?

To really highlight the most unnatural part of the film (which is later firmly grounded in reality again when we see an exasperated Miss Vendegast working with others to try and clean up the gore).

Why does Susie say she wants to be the hands of the academy?

Hands only do what you command them to do. Therefore, it sounds like Susie embraces enacting the will of the coven, much like she inadvertently does to Olga. And if she is merely enacting the will of the volk, how can her actions be seen as good or evil? This also brings up the fear of trusting the majority will of the people, which does indeed lead to the current coven’s downfall when Markos is usurped.

Of course, the twist is Susie is far more than the hands of the cult – her hands are the ones that will wield the power but the decisions and power come from her as their leader.

Why do the matrons collect urine samples?

It is likely part of the rituals they do. It might also be tied directly into controlling the students’ dreams and nightmares.

What’s up with the light Susie keeps seeing at night?

The light tends to appear when the coven is sending Susie their dreams and nightmares. It appears to represent the collective memories of the coven in this way. It also leads Susie down to the final ritual, indicating it represents the hive mind of the coven.

The Ending Explained:

The entire film has portrayed messy political groups struggling with generational trauma. Susie is now the leader of the Markos Academy and one of the most powerful beings on the planet. Her first act is one of punishment – invoking the figure of death to brutally kill those who voted for Markos. She then grants Sara, Patricia, and Olga merciful deaths they ask for after being severely disfigured. She then tells the hypnotized students to keep dancing for her because she likes it. When everyone wakes up and classes resume, the matrons and many of the students can be heard speaking in French. This seemingly honors Blanc and Susie’s relationship since they started to speak French to one another towards the end of the film. This also seems to indicate a different approach Susie is taking to leading the coven.

During the epilogue, Susie visits Klemperer as he is trying to recover from the trauma of witnessing the Volk ritual. Susie tells him the truth of his wife and wipes his memory of everything, saying “We need guilt. And shame. But not yours.” He then has a seizure, and seems to lose all this memories.

This moment is purposely ambiguous and could mean a number of things depending on how you interpret it.

It could mean the coven doesn’t need Klemperer’s guilt and shame because it is replete with a nation’s guilt and shame. It could also mean it mostly relies on creating guilt and shame in its dancers (the unbeknownst assistants in its dark machinations). In this interpretation, it is truly an act of mercy on Susie’s part to indicate she is a merciful Mother unlike Helena.

But erasing Klemperer’s memory seems ominous. If people cannot remember the past,  they are doomed to repeat it. Erasing his mind negates his ability to act on what he knows about his wife,  the Holocaust,  and the coven. Thus, it also hints at the flawed assumption that innocence is always inherently good – if Klemperer is innocent like he proclaimed, he is no longer able to be a force of good, and instead acts as a force of ignorant indifference which often aides and abets evil. He screamed he were innocent during the ritual. Well now he is truly innocent, but maybe that isn’t a good thing in and of itself. In this interpretation, the mind wipe is a pragmatic way of ensuring there are no witnesses who could out the coven for what they truly are.

I would be inclined to think this both an act of mercy and pragmatism on Susie’s part. Moreover, this is to indicate Susie will yield her power, but she will not be needlessly cruel as some of the coven members seem to be. She reflects her mentor, Madame Blanc, in this regard. The reason I believe in Susie’s mercy is due to two key moments in Act Six.

During the ritual, she grants quick release to Olga, Patricia, and Sara after they consent to death. She even holds Sara in her arms for a few moments while she dies. When Susie first enter’s Klemperer’s room she apologizes for the way he was treated by her daughters, and states she was not in a position to stop them from making him the witness. It also seems Susie will reshape how the matrons behave to reflect this newfound pragmatism. Miss Huller attacks and slaps Klemperer around when she lures him in to the be the witness while Markos is in power. She even uses a mirage of his wife to lure him to the ritual, cruelly giving him hope that Anke really did survive and that he wasn’t to blame for keeping her in Berlin.

Yet Miss Vendegast is bizarrely tender to him as she helps him exit the academy after the ritual. She even tells him repeatedly to watch his step and sings a soothing song to him, as if she knows her new leader (Susie) would not stand for her previously callous behavior.

The final moment of the epilogue is set decades later (as indicated by the modern train that goes past and a person seen briefly talking on a smartphone). The camera slowly pulls close to a wall where we can see the faded etching of J (Josef) + A (Anke) with a heart around the letters.

This etching has slowly become meaningless to the strangers who see it, leaving a story in plain sight, but no one with the wherewithal or interest to put the story together. Like the coven, this etching hides in plain sight, which speaks to the larger theme of the cyclical nature of human tragedy. Haunted by the past, we try to forget it, but in doing so doom ourselves to repeat it. As Susie states earlier in the film, “why is everyone so ready to think the worst is over?”

There is a post-credits scene where we see Susie making a gesture towards the front of screen, which is interpreted as her casting a spell on us, or gazing out to the future to hint at the possibility of a trilogy exploring the other two mothers.

Visual Comparisons

One thing this cinematic cover does brilliantly is how it recreates the visuals from the original film while looking, sounding, and acting so different in many other regards. Here are some of my favorite side by side visuals:

Rain-soaked encounter with a frantic Pat on the left (1977), rain-soaked Patricia on the right (2018)
The iconic stained-glass ceiling in the 1977 film vs. the similarly patterned carpet Susie sees in her dreams in the 2018 film.
Patricia is paranoid she’s being watched and looks out a window (1977) vs. Sara and Susie looking out a window (2018)
Suzy’s first entrance at the academy (1977) vs. Susie’s first entrance (2018). Note the reception glass booth that’s too high in 2018 version to honor the giant doors and misplaced sizes of the original
Talking to the police about Patricia’s disappearance. In both scenes one matron is flanked by police, implying the police have the power when in reality it’s the matrons controlling the situation.
The main staircase. Note the snake-like design in both.
Suzy vs. Susie collapsing at practice
Sara and Suzy vs. Sara and Susie talking with Suzy/Susie reflected in a mirror
Sara and Suzie vs. Sara and Susie talking in bed
Sara and Suzie vs. Sara and Susie talking
The pianist is thrown out, and he yells about how he is blind but not deaf (implying he knows about the witchcraft) in the 1977 film vs. Olga screaming about the academy being a box of rabies and screaming that the matrons are witches in the 2018 film
The pianist’s service dog barks while he gets the sense he’s being watched in an open square on the left (1977) vs. Sara thinking she sees Tanner watching her while a dog barks in the distance (2018)
Suzie and Blanc talk with flowers between them (1977) vs. Sara and Klemperer talking with a flower in between them. The wall in the background of the original is M.C. Escher like – similar to the architectural structure of the academy in the 2018 version.
Sara begins to realize the matrons are not leaving each night.
Barbed wire in the original 1977 film vs. the twig like threads in the lower levels of the school in the 2018 film.
The cooks goofing around and laughing while dangling a piece of meat (1977) vs. the matrons goofing around and laughing at the spellbound detective’s “piece of meat” (2018)
Suzie exploring the bowels of the academy and seeing the treasures the matrons have amassed vs. Sara exploring the bowels of the academy and seeing the treasures the matrons have amassed.

One thought on ““It’s all a mess. The one out there. The one in here. The one that’s coming. Why is everyone so ready to think the worst is over?” Analyzing Suspiria (2018)

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