FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Oct 22, 2019

SUSPIRIA Day 22: time

After the blood-red blood-soaked Sabbath, Suspiria takes an unexpected turn into modern day domesticity for an enigmatic ending (before, you know, the equally enigmatic stinger).

We have seen Klemperer make his frequent pilgrimages to his dacha, the home he once shared with Anke. It's a long, beautiful journey each time as he crosses checkpoints, takes trains, and walks and walks and walks to his lonely sanctuary. Like virtually the entirety of the film, it is grey, wet, and drab, the foliage dead with the coming of winter. It's sadness and depression made real.

These shots are essentially replicated at the end, but what a difference the years have made. A train zips by, a new family lives there, and there are cell phones. Even more jarring is that bright blue sky–the first we've seen in the 2.5 hour runtime–and the abundant greenery. The house is nearly fit to bursting with life.

In a supremely cheeky moment, a character walks by holding a textbook: The Great Mother, by psychologist/philosopher Erich Neumann.

In this 1955 work, Neumann discusses ways in which the feminine or mother archetype has been expressed throughout culture and history. He talks at length about six archetypes representing both positive and negative aspects of the feminine: Kali, Lilith, Isis, Mary, Sophia, and...the witches. Like Suspiria and its Tanzgruppe, The Great Mother explores all aspects of the maternal, from the nurturing to the diabolical.

It's no accident, either, that nearly all of the characters in this finale are women. My Gaylords of Darkness co-host Anthony and I have decreed–so it's canon now, obviously–that it's a lesbian couple and their daughters. One of them is wearing plaid, after all! And if you really want to fall down a red string-conspiracy theory-k-hole, it sure sounds like they call the younger daughter Susie as one mama passes her to the other. But! There are no subtitles, and the closed captioning just says "quiet, indistinct chatter," so it could be some "Oh, I see Jesus in this tortilla chip"-style pareidolia. I wouldn't be surprised either way. This movie has layers within layers to be sure, but also it has broken my brain a little.

The last shot is a slow zoom on the A+J that was carved into the dacha walls. It's faded now, worn away to almost nothing by all the years and all those loving touches. Josef and Anke are both long dead, their names and story likely unknown to the family who walks by those initials every day.

It is a stark reminder that the past remains. The horrors inflicted on Anke Meier and millions like her will always be there, no matter how much we'd like to forget, or how much we try to, or how much the world changes around us. It happened, and though time dulls the pain for some of us, it can't be erased.

It's also a bittersweet reminder that life goes on when we're gone.

We are all forgotten in the end. Each of us will die, and someday, someone will say our name for the last time. There will come a day when there is no one alive who knew us, who can tell someone else that they loved us or who or what we loved.

I used to get easily overwhelmed by this. The indifference that time has for each of us has always struck me as cruel. I would visit a graveyard or a cemetery and end up in tears (I am soft, yes) when confronted by stones so old and worn that the names are illegible. If the graves are old enough, many of the women weren't afforded names to begin with. They are "Mrs." and "wife" and "mother." I would get so...existentially sad for them, for all of us. For myself, mostly, I think. Don't we all matter? Don't I matter? Don't I exist?

I am not a religious lady (beyond worshiping Susie Bannion and the possessed floor lamp in Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes, of course). I am agnostic at best, and while I'd like to think that something happens to us after death beyond, you know, decomposition, I am unconvinced. So if this is all we have, this brief life, yes, it seems cruel that ultimately we are all forgotten. Life goes on.

In the last couple of years, though, I have tried to view the mundane tragedy of life and death as something of a comfort lest I simply spiral into a never-ending crisis of identity. It's sort of an equalizer, isn't it? No matter the mark we leave during our time, no matter how great or small our work is or how many loved ones we have or how large of an impact we make, we are all forgotten eventually. So scratch your initials on a wall to tell people you were there, to tell them you lived. Someday no one will know what those letters mean. But the marks will still be there. Maybe they'll fade away to nothing in time. Does it matter?

Oct 21, 2019

SUSPIRIA Day 21: no coincidences

Just a wee addendum to my earlier post about the significance of November 11th in the film: as I noted, the exacting attention to detail means that "coincidences" are likely anything but. Maybe you noticed this in the screencaps I included in that discussion, or while you were watching the movie itself:

That "Burger" spelling in the first pic isn't a subtitle, it's closed captioning. It should read "Berger." So the patient Dr. Klemperer welcomes at the beginning of the film–the one whose appointment is delayed because of Patricia's impromptu visit–has the same last name as the man responsible for Anke's death.

Sure, maybe they're not close relatives. Maybe it's just the same last name. But the audience is free to make of the connection (or lack thereof, if they so choose) what they will. I like to think it's perhaps the grandson of the Nazi Kommandant, who's in therapy to try to cope with the horrors inflicted by a member of his family. There's a fascinating documentary, Hitler's Children (2011) that deals with this very idea. How do you reconcile the loving father or mother you knew with the atrocities they committed during the war? What's the solution?

"We need guilt, Doctor. And shame. But not yours."

Suspiriorum is talking about needing the shame and guilt of the powerful, the people who inflicted untold brutality on millions and continue on unchecked. It's possible that this Mr. Berger is attempting to deal with that in his small way, that both he and Klemperer are trying to heal the damage neither one of them caused. It's all conjecture, of course, but it's too coincidental to, you know, be a coincidence.

Oct 20, 2019

SUSPIRIA Day 20: patricia's notebook

I love how much we see of Patricia's journal as Dr. Klemperer flips through it–it's not just a page or two of obvious, obviously fake "clues," as you get in most horror movies that have a bit of a mystery to solve. (I'm thinking specifically of that stupid, stupid whiteboard in A Quiet Place. Rather than allowing the audience to put together pieces of the puzzle on their own, or–GASP–only hinting at puzzles that are solved elsewhere in the film or–GASP GASP–maybe they won't be solved at all, the characters scribble things that no real person would actually scribble, like "What is the weakness?" and "SOUND" with arrows and the like. I have a litany of issues with that movie, and that ridiculous whiteboard that treats us all like dumb babies is near the top.)

Anyway. Patricia's notebook. It feels authentic. It comprises diary entries, complete with notes about her day–meeting for drinks, going to concerts, that sort of thing–dance notes/instruction, and artistic theories. There are newspaper clippings, flyers, and ticket stubs marking her time in Berlin. We see her posting more and more about the RAF (Red Army Faction) as she becomes involved with them. And, of course, her revelations and theories about the coven. I love the evolution of it, as she learns more and more, the way her diagrams expand. It takes her time to figure it out, to understand the hierarchy and how all of the matrons are involved.

Of course, that final diagram echoes the reflective tape laid out on the floor for Volk.

What is really remarkable is how much she knew; not only what she and Olga figured out, but what the matrons told her. That knowledge, of course, is what put her in danger. When she realized the cost for her "perfect balance" and "perfect sleep," it was too high and it was also too late. The revelations about the Tanzgruppe's plans for her ("They're going to try to keep [Mother Markos] alive after all.") and who they really are ("I was right. Sie sind Hexen.") terrified her and drove her mad.

Patricia's notebook also emphasizes how different it is with Susie, even though the grooming process is much the same. Patricia was ultimately frightened by all of the things that Susie takes in stride–the taking of her hair, her urine, her eyes. Of course, Susie had her reasons for being, let's say. But the matrons, in particular Madame Blanc, were much more forthcoming about their plans with Patricia. We know that Blanc doesn't inform Markos about Susie's preternatural abilities and potential.

We also know that Blanc doesn't tell Susie about what's to come, the way she likely told Patricia: "I could explain everything to you," she tells Susie the night of the Sabbath. "I think it would be wrong, though."

What's different about Susie? Is it that Blanc senses the latent Suspiriorum inside the dancer from Ohio? Is it those preternatural abilities? Is it Susie's willingness to be molded and guided? Sure, it's all of that. But it's also as Susie says: "You don't want to make me choose. Because you love me."

Ah yes, another thread leads to the Susie/Blanc love story. I'll get to it yet!

Oct 19, 2019

SUSPIRIA Day 19: november 11

As Klemperer slowly walks into Volk at the end of the film, the camera pans to a promotional poster for that night's performance. We see that it's November 11th.

During the epilogue, Suspiriorum visits Klemperer to let him know the truth about what happened to his wife, Anke. She was apprehended by Nazis at the border and taken to Theresienstadt concentration camp.

Anke was one of hundreds who died of exposure. November 11th.

Josef is abducted and forced to witness the Sabbath 34 years to the day of his long-lost wife's death at the hand of the Nazis. A mere coincidence? Always possible! But given the amount of depth and detail that is evident in every frame of this film, I don't think so. Surely it's deliberate and there's some significance?

"Volk" is a loaded term in German vernacular. Simply, it means "people," but in the years after World War I it became increasingly enmeshed with ideals of German nationalism. The term embodied the "national soul" of the country–if you weren't Volk, you were Other. By World War II it was a favorite term of Nazi propagandists, who promoted the "Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer" ideal.

This is the era in which Veva Blanc's Volk was created. While the witches kept to themselves, hidden and low, throughout the war, they were still making art. Or at least some of them were–we don't know much about Helena Markos's role in the day-to-day business of the Tanzgruppe, but we can be sure she wasn't choreographing dance numbers that push back against Nazi jingoism. After all, "this isn't art."

But much like Suspiria itself, Volk reflects the political era in which is was made. It tells us where we've been, and it warns us about where we're headed. This dance is a violent thing, echoing the brutality inflicted upon the bodies of anyone who was Other.

Bedrich Fritta, Sleeping Quarters, Theresienstadt, 1943

We see it performed three decades after it originally premiered not only because it's a part of the Sabbath ritual, but because it's still a relevant, timely piece of art. The monsters who perpetrated horrors upon Anke Meier and millions of others feel no shame. By 1977, they'd simply assimilated into society again, working in positions of authority over a country that just wanted to forget. But as Volk and Suspiria and Susie Bannion remind us–as November 11th reminds us–there is no forgetting.
It's all a mess, isn't it? The one out there. The one in here. The one that's coming. Why is everyone so ready to think the worst is over?

Oct 18, 2019

SUSPIRIA Day 18: just susie things

Susie wearing Sara's robe after the latter's been dragged off to the Mutterhaus to be tortured is achingly sweet and absolutely horrifying in equal measure. God, I love this movie. 

Oct 17, 2019

SUSPIRIA Day 17: hands

There are hands everywhere in Suspiria. No matter how they are engaged, they are often shot in reverential close-ups, affording even the most mundane of tasks a kind of beauty. The gentle care given a dying mother, the cold efficiency of bureaucracy, a moment's pause at the start of a new life–there is a reverence for the everyday throughout this film full of the fantastic.

Again and again we see hands imparting tenderness. Words can be inadequate, sometimes, when we try to convey love. Instead we might offer a soft touch that carries the world. Caressing her name as if it were her sweet face years ago, a ritual to let her know she is not forgotten, that he is still here, that they are still here.

A jumble of fingers, grasping tightly, promise made and secrets kept.

Conduits for spells, spells given, spells taken, all the violence and power they cast. Art is beautiful, art is monstrous, the savior and the destroyer. Supplication and worship before the terrible judgments.

Susie's dreams are full of hands. Hands upon hands, hands within hands, echoes of the Sabbath and the Mother.

"You're in a company now. You have to find your right place. You have to decide–what is it you want to be for this company? Is it the head? The spine? The sex? The heart?"

"The hands. I want to be this company's hands."

Of course Susie wants to be the hands. Of course her dreams are full of them.

It is always difficult to navigate attraction, but it is infinitely more so for queer women. The guessing, the second-guessing, the doubling back and the doubting. The rules of straight courtship and romance don't apply. For a boy and a girl, holding hands is literally child's play. Before you do anything else, before you know there's anything else to do, you can walk hand-in-hand anywhere you please, saying "this one is mine." For queers, this simple thing carries enormous risk. A risk to personal safety. A risk of losing everything and everyone you have, because you said "this one is mine."

Hands are held in secret. A caress, a grasp, an intertwining...touching is done only when there's no one else around to see. You are mine, but only we know.

There is a parallel to be made, once again, to Carol. Hands figure prominently into the film and the novel, The Price of Salt.

"She thought of people she has seen holding hands in movies, and why shouldn't she and Carol?"

Todd Haynes, like Luca Guadagnino, is a queer filmmaker who understands the significance and weight of the barest hint of contact between two women trying to impart romantic intent in the private way they must. Every lingering touch, every hair tucked behind an ear, every line traced...even the brush of fingertips carries the hint of the erotic. For queer women, hands often double as sex organs; her hand on yours is sometimes more than just that. It's a suggestion, a hint of what could be, of what might come next. A hint of where else those fingers might go. What else these hands can do.

Susie knows this. She learned at a young age what hands can do, and once again, as ever, she was punished. The hands that caress can also bring unimaginable violence.

"I want to be this company's hands."

Susie takes back every bit of power her mother tried to take from her, turning abuse into motivation. Her hands bring pleasure. Why should she be punished for that?

As she has proven time and time again, Susie motherfucking Bannion is a brave one. She is not willing to keep her desires secret, no matter the risk, no matter the cost. Not satisfied with hints and guessing and doubt, she tells Blanc exactly what she wants, exactly what she is. She grabs Blanc's hands, takes them, brings them to her cheek.

This one is mine.

Again, it is an invitation. It is a question. What else can these hands do?

And again, it goes unanswered, and Susie is left alone with her thoughts.

But she knows who she is. Later, she uses those hands, those hands her mother punished her for so long ago, those hands no longer held by Sara or Blanc, to rip herself open, to make herself free.

Susie Bannion knows what hands mean, what hands can do. And she is not afraid to show you.