"Suspiria" by Luca Guadagnino was released is one of the most anticipated films of the year, a free homage to the horror classics Dario Argento. Dakota Johnson plays an aspiring dancer who, due to her talent and stubbornness, ended up in Berlin, and Tilda Swinton is her mentor in an enchanted school. There is only one important male character in the plot, the rest of the story is occupied by women. Understanding how Guadagnino reworked Argento's material and what the new Suspiria says about motherhood, shame, fear and the trauma of war.
Warning, the text contains spoilers
Text: Alisa Taezhnaya
Loneliness and family search
The central theme of Guadagnino's Suspiria is a young woman's desperate search for her place in the world through human connections. Formally, the outline of the plot repeats the plot of "Suspiria" by Dario Argento: a lonely American girl arrives at a closed dance boarding house in Germany. In fact, the motives of the main characters are as different as possible. To begin with, in Argento's film, the situation is a convention: the main task of the director is to isolate the heroine from the world around her, even in communication with the friend she has acquired. Revealing the witchcraft conspiracy, Suzy Bannion, played by Jessica Harper, instantly leaves the dance school, as if she were not there, breaks the connection with the place, remaining completely intact and unchanged inside. Suzy experiences horror as an obsession and, presumably, returns to the prosaic world she understands, from which she dived into a rabbit hole at the beginning of the film. By the way, the heroine in the film by Dario Argento almost does not dance in the frame and, it seems, does not reflect at all on the topic of her talent and destiny.
Dakota Johnson's Suzy Bannion has fundamentally different motives. She comes from an American Mennonite family, where she was considered an outcast, to the distant city of Berlin, which she dreamed of since childhood, in order to realize huge dance ambitions: dance is her main language. But she also seeks human depth, contact and support, instantly integrating into the local system of female students and teachers. Very quickly, Suzy has a close friend, contact with whom gives her the long-awaited warmth: Suzy confesses to Sarah that the last time she slept in the same bed only with her own sister in distant Ohio. With the choreographer, school leader and creator of the folk dance, Madame Blanc Suzy enters into a complex maternal-daughter relationship, where patronage and upbringing are replaced by the mentor's sincere deep affection and faith in the new pupil.
Helena Marcos Dance Troupe is an alternative supernatural family that guarantees a roof over your head, safety
from the outside world
The Helena Marcos theater troupe, which Suzy joined, is built not only on a witchcraft pact. The main thing here is the feeling of a unifying family and a rigid matriarchal system: for the time being, the founder of the troupe, who is absent from the frame, is called Mother Marcos, and the witchcraft mythology of the Three Mothers (originally from Argento's films) permeates local rituals and traditions. As soon as Suzy stepped into the school and agreed to take part in the production, she became part of a complex collective body, working according to its own laws - she was never a foreigner here.
"Who do you want to be? Head? A ridge? " “I want to be the hands of the troupe,” admits Suzy in a conversation with Madame Blanc. It was the bonding gift of persuasion and family support of Madame Blanc, according to Sarah, that helped the troupe survive the war: her globally maternal instinct of care and authority guarantees the preservation of the old witchcraft traditions and the independence of women from Nazism that fettered Germany. The Helena Marcos Dance Company is an alternative supernatural family that guarantees a roof over your head, safety from the outside world and self-expression in years where everyone is required to walk in formation on both sides of the Berlin Wall.
Motherhood and matriarchy
Luca Guadagnino's Suspiria explores the entire mythology of Dario Argento's trilogy, which, in addition to Suspiria, includes the horror films Inferno and Tremors. In three films, the myth of the three witches (Darkness, Tears and Sighs) who conquered the world and settled in Germany, the States and Italy contradicts the Christian canon of the male Trinity. The closed school of Helena Marcos - the abode of the Mother of Sighs - becomes a closed women's community that does not go underground for several decades after the Second World War.
The main character travels from matriarchy to matriarchy - from a denying Mother to a loving Mother. “A mother can replace everyone, but no one can replace a mother,” a cross-stitched commandment in the Mennonite home where Susie grew up. But she never had a warm relationship with her own mother. The patriarchal religious community of Guadagnino portrays it through female obedience: the male figures in scenes from Suzy's childhood in Ohio are somewhere on the periphery, while the main subject of power for girls within the family (in the frame, again, only daughters, not sons) is the mother … A plausible and frequent situation for societies where women are pushed into the background: a woman's inability to participate in public life is compensated for by the absolute power of the house over the children and servants entrusted to her. The coldness, corporal punishment and fear of the mother's authority that Susie grew up in, overtake her in memories and nightmares in the first weeks in a new place.
All closed worlds are Protestants
in Ohio, Nazi regime, witchcraft ballet school, post-Cold War world - equally dangerous
and open to lies and abuse
The parallels between childhood and youth in the dance school, invented by the director of the new "Suspiria", do not end there. It is no coincidence that Suzy is part of a closed religious association. The Mennonites were one of the first offshoots of Christianity who declared themselves pacifists and refused the oath and military service, which entailed persecution by the state. The dance group of Helena Marcos also lives outside the space of the war that engulfed Nazi Germany and continues to torment the country after May 1945. According to one of Sarah's dancers, Madame Blanc helped the troupe to unite and survive during Hitler's time, and later went underground. When she enters the school, Suzy is bribed not only by the words of one of the founders (“We all understand how a woman can be financially independent in our times”), but also by the offer of free housing at the school. The troupe clearly understands how to live without men: only by mutual support, a common home and spells that help to endure terrible times.
The ballet school, being a closed and claustrophobic space, confronts the world of the Nazi regime and the Cold War, where the man in uniform always has the last word. Denying the historical laws and cruelty of the world around, the female community of the Helena Marcos troupe lives in its categories of Good and Evil, retribution and justice, sacrifice and discipline. The witchcraft system collapses when empathy and affection penetrate into the vertical of power and subordination: Suzy and Madame Blanc enter into a kindred intuitive connection, where faith in talent and affection awaken in the new pupil at the same time colossal creative and destructive power. This is most clearly shown in the scene of the first rehearsal of the folk dance, where the passionate and beautiful movements of the main character become physical torture, fractures and falls for another ballerina, and the score in the dance class resembles the rhythm of a military march.
Guadagnino does not paint matriarchy as a blessing and a panacea for militarism, just as the cruel order in the house of Suzy's mother does not deny violence against her own children with pacifism proclaimed outside.All closed worlds - Protestants in Ohio, the Nazi regime, the witchcraft ballet school, the post-Cold War world - are equally dangerous and open to lies and abuse. As the only male hero - psychotherapist Joseph Klemperer (he is, however, also played by the old man Tilda Swinton), “you can easily convey your delusions to others - and it will be religion or the Reich.” Sectarianism with male or female power figures, even if the latter seem to be agents of resistance, will always dominate sober criticism, peace and awareness.
Examining the body
Guadagnino's film reaffirms the possibility of writing poetry after Auschwitz - a quote from Theodor Adorno often quoted in discussions about the meaning of culture after the irreversible horrors of World War II. The ghost of the concentration camp wanders through the script of the film, revealing itself in the finale: the beloved wife of the hero Josef Klemperer was tortured in the cold in the Theresienstadt camp. Thirty-two years later, unable to come to terms with her disappearance and cope with feelings of guilt, the Jungian devoted his life to helping others through therapy, and even then he did not always achieve success. The body in the new Suspiria takes responsibility for our feelings and collective experience. Madame Blanc repeats the precepts of Martha Graham and Pina Bausch, great women choreographers and theorists of modern dance, who reject the orders and requirements of the body of classical ballet. The main function of art in the second half of the 20th century is criticism and reflection, and in dance the body becomes its strongest and most natural instrument.
The central motive of the thriller is the horror of repetition, the cyclical nature of fear, when Death can be the only merciful end of the experienced nightmare
“From now on, the dance will no longer be beautiful or fun. You are pulled to the ground, but you need to make you fly,”instructs Suzy Madame Blanc. Invented by her immediately after the war, in 1948, the folk dance is a response to the violence of the Nazi regime and suppression, just like Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony is a response to the tragedy of besieged Leningrad. "Folk" is performed only by women dressed in hand-knitted costumes of the color of blood, which in their appearance resemble long, like loose hair, shackling chains. His choreography is based on mutual attraction and repulsion: they visualize mutual violence and lack of freedom, collective bondage in a closed movement within one circle.
Dance school witches choose the body as a weapon of resistance, despite the compulsory childbirth, which all authoritarian regimes demanded from women, and the Nazi is no exception. Reproductive violence is one of the forms of patriarchal domination that the members of the Marcos troupe escaped: they replaced motherhood with sisterhood, patronage and guardianship of young girls. Their body in one form or another was returned to them through dance and witchcraft rituals - they owed them exactly, and not a militaristic ideology in need of fresh cannon fodder.
Horror and retraumatization
Mirror and reflection - one of the most frequent visual techniques in the new "Suspiria" - creates not only a looped visual composition, but also a system of connections between characters and events across generations and distances. The central motive of the thriller is the horror of repetition, the cyclical nature of fear, when Death may be the only merciful end of the experienced nightmare, a generous gift after unbearable ordeals. Guadagnino visualizes the "sweet kiss of death" - the final relief after a series of harrowing ordeals for the Helena Marcos dancers. Suspiria tells about the same facilitating death, revealing the mystery of the disappearance of the wife of the male protagonist: she was dying in a concentration camp in barbaric conditions, but not alone, but warmed by friendship and memories of great love. Death became a refuge for her.
According to Guadagnino, retraumatization and the accompanying shame and guilt are constant companions of human life and great history. The Mother of Sighs (one of the most poetic metaphors of pain experienced by people) says in the finale “We feed on guilt and shame, but not yours”, granting the suffering elderly man the long-awaited oblivion - besides death, only oblivion can free people from the vicious circle of repetitions.
The storyline of the German fall of 1977 - the story of the RAF fighters, a radical leftist group that, like the witchcraft troupe, chose an individual sacrifice for ritual retribution - also speaks of retraumatization in Guadagnino's film. The RAF found former Nazi functionaries and their sympathizers in leading German positions and loudly murdered them in front of the whole country, trying to get even for the mistakes of their parents who allowed Hitler to come to power. "Delirium turns out to be a lie that reveals the truth." Suzy's glamor and transformation, a bloody ceremony and a change of power in a dance school are accompanied by news about exploding bombs and the headlines "Terror" in the German magazine with the telling name "The Mirror". One of the exercises invented by Madame Blanc for the charges is called "wieder offnen" - "open again." History, according to Guadagnino, must repeat itself many times and bloody - with or without any witchcraft.