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 1, 2019

SUSPIRIA Day 1: title talk

While I don't intend Suspiritober to be an ordered look at the film, I did want to open the month with...well, the opening. Well, not the opening opening, but the opening credits. Well well opening opening well opening she can see me opening–

Sorry! Boy that actual opening scene, though, right? With Patricia's visit to Dr. Klemperer. It sure sets a discomfiting tone from the get go, with shouts and running and violence as protestors whirl around Patricia. In Klemperer's dim, quiet office/home, she is subtly frenzied, wet with rain, singing to herself, all twitchy nerves. Before long, we're drawn into her seeming madness; there are eyes everywhere that can see her, and we, too, can hear the whispers. We don't know whether Patricia is simply a damaged young woman or there's actual evil afoot. But hey, this is a horror movie so, you know. It's probably the latter.

From this chaos, we cut to near silence, an expansive farm laid out before us.

It's dismal. Brown fields under grey skies. The bare trees of winter. No signs of civilization beyond the farmhouse and tractor–all that land and all that sky are isolating.

Thom Yorke's "Suspirium" kicks in and you know, if there were any justice in the world it would have at least been nominated for an Oscar but I suppose it's not bombastic enough for that and no I'm not bitter why do you ask?

Anyway. As that most gorgeous and perfect song plays we move into the farmhouse, where the first thing we see is a cross-stitch that OH I DON'T KNOW just might have some significance.

Perhaps if you'd never seen the 1977 Suspiria you might read that and think "Hmm, how quaint." But if you know the mythology of the Three Mothers, if you're waiting to see how the original story from Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi is going to unfold under the care of Luca Guadagnino, chances are that shot made your heart beat a little faster. Have I ever been so excited by a handicraft? I don't think so. Oh wait! That Ziggy latch hook rug I made in 4th grade was cool as fuck.

As a series of exquisitely framed shots unfolds, we see that the inside of the farmhouse is as dismal as its outside.

Everything is worn out, run down, muted, dull. Quiet. But there's a beauty to it all as well, isn't there? There is no money in this home, but there is care. Everything is neatly arranged, hung, stacked, folded. The paint is chipped, the fabrics are coarse, and the wallpaper buckles and sags, but the tidiness speaks to cleanliness (and thus, of course, godliness). The house is run down and falling apart with life. How many hands have opened and closed that Bible, how many times over how many years? How many children were born there? How many people touched that molding, wearing down the paint, as someone passed through the doorway? It brings to mind part of a favorite quote of mine, by playwright Eugene O'Neill:
I love life. But I don't love life because it is pretty. Prettiness is only clothes-deep. I am a truer lover than that. I love it naked. There is beauty to me even in its ugliness. In fact, I deny the ugliness entirely, for its vices are often nobler than its virtues, and nearly always closer to a revelation. To me, the tragic alone has that significant beauty which is truth. It is the meaning of life–and the hope.
It's not simply the objects and the house itself that are worn out, however. So, too, are the people inside.

We see glimpses of silent young women tenderly taking care of another woman, sick in bed. Mother.

Notice how one shot is essentially repeated several times–a seated woman takes up the left side of the frame, her hands clasped. The women, all but interchangeable. And the hands! We'll get to hands at some point this month, oh yes indeed.

The people had might as well be objects in this space, as often they're nearly unmoving. The air is heavy and somber, for Death is nearby. Mind you, by the end of the film we know that's a quite literal notion. But for now, it simply lingers in the air, maybe just outside, waiting to come in.

One of these women, though, does move about the house. Though she's as silent as the others, her focus isn't singularly on the woman in the bed. She does not touch or take care of the Mother directly, as the others do.

This is Susie's twin sister. According to an interview with Guadagnino, her character was going to be expanded and included, but she didn't much make it into the final cut of the film. So we're not supposed to know who she is, not really, but if you know, you know. Her face is often obscured, but again, if you know, then you can see clearly that it's Dakota Johnson, who also plays Susie Bannion.

Her name is Naomi. While ultimately we're not supposed to realize who she is and this is the entire extent of her appearance, I'm completely fascinated by her. There are so many questions we'll never have answers to! What is she thinking? I mean, obviously she's concerned with the here and now and Mother laying there dying. But is she thinking about Susie? Is she worried about her? Excited for her? Does she know where she is, and does she hate her for it? What was their relationship like? What can she sense, what does she feel? How much did she know? How much does she know?

The camera slowly zooms in on the face of the Mother, Susie's Mother, as we'll come to know. She is pallid, nearly as grey as the skies outside. Her breathing is heavy, like the air, and labored and sickly. (Oh shit, I thought the first time I saw this. Is she the Mother of Sighs? In a sense, I suppose she is, right?) She's clearly dying. Her eyes don't seem to register anything or anyone in the room. But again: Is she thinking about Susie?

The scene dissolves into another, halfway around the world, as we see motherfucking Susie Bannion heading down into the Metro. And that in-scene title text is just...I give it a thousand chef kisses UP.

It draws us in. We're in this film now, and oh, what a ride it's going to be.

Without a word of dialogue, we get some answers in this Metro station.

The envelope–Ohio Mennonite Church. Okay, the family we just saw, that dying woman, they must be related to Susie. Oh! There's money in the envelope! How nice, the Church raised money for her, to get her to Berlin. Of course, that theory will be later dispelled, but for now, Susie is just a wide-eyed, naive country girl all alone in the Big City. I mean, she even clutches her money tighter as she warily eyes the troublesome punks nearby.

You may have noticed earlier that Naomi is pregnant. So are other women in that farmhouse. It's expected of them, after all, these good, pious women in their nearly-identical clothes. Get married. Get pregnant. Hold that Bible, open it, close it, open it, close it. Fold the cloth into neat stacks, sew it, wash it, fold it again. A place for everything, and you in your place.

In this brief opening, we learn that for better or worse, Susie has left all of that–all that is expected of her–behind. At this point in the film, we only know that she's a dancer from Ohio...but her rejection of the Church and all the demands of a life within it has already branded her a witch.

She drops her Berlin travel guide and it's immediately apparent that she didn't buy it at the airport gift shop on arrival. It is worn and dogeared and peeling, its spine broken from the opening and closing and opening and closing. This, this is Susie's Bible. Her in her place.


colincake said...

omg the travel guide being worn, naomi being pregnant, how did i now notice these on my first 15 viewings?? im so excited for what's more to come this month

Stacie Ponder said...

I know what you mean! One of these entries is going to be about a *line of dialogue* that apparently just zipped right over my head the first 96848 times I saw the movie

Matt said...

That Suspiria title sign in the metro station was just so...jarring, the first time I saw it. That whole sequence is so great, now I have to go watch it again.

I didn't expect a Ziggy reference this early into SHOCKtober, but here we are, I guess.

Stacie Ponder said...

I know, if I'm already busting out a Ziggy reference...who knows where we'll end up by holiday's end!

Anthony Hudson said...

I’m crying, thank you

CashBailey said...

I think it's fair to say that this one movie did more with the 'Three Mothers' mythology than Argento managed with three movies.

Come at me, Argent-bros!

Stacie Ponder said...

I 100% agree, Cash. But let's be real–Daria Nicolodi was the real voice/genesis behind the whole mythology and working with de Quincey's source material. Her role was minimalized so much that by INFERNO she was like SCREW IT and didn't get any writing credit. And the less said about MOTHER OF TEARS, the better.

SUSPIRIA 77 is a stone cold masterpiece but yikes, that trilogy quickly dips in quality, partially because of a maestro left to his own devices, with no one keeping him from indulging himself too much.

I'm just eternally bummed that SUSPIRIA 18 performed so poorly, because Luca Guadagnino had so much he wanted explore, at the *least* a prequel. And heck, this was originally SUSPIRIA PART ONE. Sigh.

Sebastian Hale said...

Hi Stacie,
I'm wondering which interview (you mention it in this post) has Guadagnino talking about Naomi. I know of her from the screenplay, but it'd be good to hear him talk about her. Thank you, and thanks for the blog! I'm not a regular commenter but I have read all of these Sus posts; it's my favourite film.