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 7, 2019

SUSPIRIA Day 7: sweet girl

Suspiria is a film full of tragedies both great and small, the personal and the expansive alike. Its love stories–and there are several–are no less heartbreaking than the violence. Whether it's Josef and Anke, Susie and Blanc, or Markos and her sunglasses, death and the Holocaust are specters haunting all of them and the globe from Ohio to Berlin and back again. Nothing good can remain in this world for long so long as we keep destroying ourselves. We can only hope that Mother Suspiriorum will bring about a new way, that the small wave of her hand in the post-end credits stinger will absolve us of our sins.

But the love story I return to time and time again, the one that wrecks me and breaks my heart into pieces, the one I keep hoping will turn out differently on every viewing, is the one between Susie and Sara.

And make no mistake, this is a love story from the very start to its sad, beautiful end.

Glances from afar are de rigueur in queer cinema, particularly in lesbian cinema. Historically, gays have not been allowed the freedom of the rom-com meet-cute on-screen. The closest to the 'two souls meet' of straight romance is the momentary, meaningful gaze, the one that communicates so much in only a second or two. The one that says, unspoken, I see you. Do you see me? It's a private moment in a crowd of people, undeniably romantic. Often, it's also a necessity, forced by society's mores and laws. No one can know, but I know.

This is how Sara and Susie meet before they meet. Susie stands in the lobby after her audition. She overhears some dancers in another room talking about Patricia's absence. And then:

No one else looks in Susie's direction or notices her. Only Sara does. Their eyes meet, Sara slows her gait just a bit, and the moment lingers for a second. Tanner calls for Susie. She turns away to go to her, to the judgment that awaits...but first she turns back for one more look.

Susie has not even been accepted to the Company yet, but her life has already changed.

That night, Sara goes to Susie's hotel to help her move into the Tanz building. There are many ways her arrival could have been filmed–from inside the taxi, from the street outside–but we stay inside with Susie, who gazes out the window, waiting for (or perhaps sensing) Sara's imminent appearance.

The matrons were very deliberate in their choice to have Sara be Susie's guide. Surely Susie could have brought herself and her very meager belongings to the Tanz building. But Sara, more than anyone else in this film, is kind. A sweet girl. She will make Susie feel welcome, at home, and at ease as the coven assesses the new dancer's abilities. None of them could have predicted, however, that their bond would be so instant and would become so deep. On this first face-to-face...well, the first face-to-face where they actually speak, Susie pulls Sara into her room as she confides in her about her happiness and nervousness now that she is someone in Berlin. This emphasizes their immediate connection, but it also makes me wonder about Susie's life in Ohio, what it was like for her. Did she have anyone to confide in, to talk to–to really talk to, to share everything with? Maybe Naomi. Probably no one.

They become inseparable and often separate from everyone else, sharing their own private moments in rooms full of people. At the start of Susie's first rehearsal, the dancers swarm around Madame Blanc, each receiving her kisses and good mornings in turn. Sara is undoubtedly accustomed to this daily ritual by now, but she doesn't partake. She stays with Susie, lingering apart from the group.

When Blanc calls upon Susie to introduce herself to everyone, Susie looks to Sara, who is basically shooting giant hearts out of her eyes at her and could you just die?

These handshakes and Hi, I'm Susies she gives out to everyone mark the only time we see Susie speak to or interact with any of her fellow dancers besides Sara, who is the only one who matters. For a long while, they are the only ones who matter. They're repeatedly shown stealing moments, off by themselves, and constantly in physical contact as the relationship grows.

Sara becomes increasingly worried about Patricia's disappearance, that perhaps the matrons are not telling the truth and her friend did not leave voluntarily. She talks about it one night in Susie's room and it's here you can see just how smitten Susie is, how much she's fallen for Sara. She is in deep, no matter what. A caress of the hair, all their hands intertwined, a pinky swear. "If I asked you for a favor tomorrow, would you do it?"

"Yes," Susie agrees, almost before Sara finishes asking. It is a whisper, a promise, barely a breath, but it is so heavy with everything she doesn't say. Yes, I will do this, whatever it is. Whatever you ask of me. Anything.

We cut to the next day as they sneak into the matrons' offices in search of answers, and it's as if they still haven't let go of one another.

Later, it's not the first time Susie has had a night of disturbing dreams, but it's the one that has her screaming "I know who I am!" A few of the dancers come down the hall to see if she's okay, but they're not particularly alarmed. Nightmares are the Markos Company special, after all. But Sara stays with Susie, calms her down, talks to her and soothes her. Then she turns off the light and gets into bed with her.

As they face one another, Susie says "I've only ever slept in bed with my sister." It's all but an explicit invitation, for this to be the time, their time. Susie is not as forthright with Sara as she is with Madame Blanc; One gets the feeling–or, at least, I do–that if she were, this night would have gone differently for them.

But Sara only says, "We're sisters now." Susie doesn't verbally respond. Instead, she rolls over–perhaps disappointed–and Sara puts an arm around her. Susie doesn't immediately settle into sleep, though. She lies there, eyes open, and if you can't imagine some of the thoughts going through her head, well, then you've never been unsure about someone even as you're in bed with them. Susie's look and all the questioning that goes with it, all the wondering about what to do, about what you're feeling, about what the other person is feeling, is, I'd wager, very very familiar to anyone in the queer community.

But hey, it's entirely possible that that night did end up going differently for them. After all, this isn't the first time horror fans have seen the word "sisters" tossed around by someone with ulterior motives and feelings. Isn't that right, Theo?

And at rehearsal the day after their night together, they're all but giddy as they dance. A stolen kiss, a hand on a heart.

That rehearsal is the last time Sara and Susie will share any kind of intimacy. After, Sara finds the Mutterhaus and confides in Klemperer. Susie becomes increasingly emboldened by the power she's given and taken. She is falling deeper under Madame Blanc's spell (who, in turn, is falling deeper under Susie's) and at the next rehearsal, Sara is out. She dances alone now, watching Blanc and Susie share the kind of moment that she and Susie used to share. And now, out of nowhere, Susie speaks fluent French? Sara is (rightfully) wary of the supernatural fuckery afoot, but this scene is also like watching someone realize they've lost their girl to someone they can't possibly hope to compete with. Blanc is older, more worldly, more sophisticated, more everything. She's been Susie's everything since she was a child in a farmhouse in Ohio. And now they're acting like that, right there in front of everyone, and Sara is alone. Susie has suddenly outgrown her first love, who has to watch her flaunt her new, better love. You can almost hear Sara's heart breaking with the realization that it's all different now.

The rift between them is emphasized right after, as Sara confronts and warns Susie about her dealings with the matrons. At first, it looks as if the two of them are as close as they've ever been, sharing another one of their private moments:

But then the angle changes and we see how much space there is between them now, so much that it seems insurmountable. Their image is reflected in a metal surface and it's distorted beyond recognition, vastly unlike the reflection in the mirror in Susie's hotel room the night they met.

Susie could have fixed this right here, but instead she denies everything and essentially gaslights Sara. There's nothing to worry about. You're wrong about everything. She's cold to her, and Sara physically recoils from Susie's attempted touch. It's all gone now: the hand-holding, the kisses, the pinky swears and late nights and breathless, ready yeses. Susie offers only a condescending smirk before walking away.

Even so, on the night of the Volk performance Susie is focused solely on Sara's absence. She asks Vendegast about her and then crushes my soul by leaving a space for Sara in line until they all walk on stage, unwilling to let her go.

You know where it goes from here, what happens to Sara in that hallway. What is done to her, what she must endure. What Susie does to all of them.

And so we get to their ending, their sad sad ending. Susie has mercifully released Olga and Patricia from their tortured lives with a kiss on the cheek. Then she comes to Sara.

"Sweet girl...what do you ask?"

Sweet girl.

There is no going back. We don't know how much of "Susie Bannion" remains in Mother Suspiriorum, but even if there's nothing left, she knows what Sara meant to her, what Sara still means to her somehow, somewhere.

Sweet girl.

Like the others, Sara asks to die, for an end to this unlife. Like the others, she is granted release.

Unlike the others, Susie cradles Sara as she dies, comforting her as they have comforted each other throughout terrible nights. It's reminiscent of Michelangelo's Pietà, a lamentation.

As I mentioned, it's one of many tragedies in the film, but I find it's the one that truly stings. Susie and Sara are not meant to be, not in this timeline, not in this lifetime, not with Susie's destiny waiting. But there, amongst the blood and destruction in the Sabbath chamber, as dancers spin wildly around them, they have one final quiet moment together, separate from the others, as if they're the only people in the world.


Zombie Cupcake said...

This is beautiful.

AE said...

I'm tearing up, this is so good. Thank you. "Sweet girl" got me from the very first viewing. I'm so glad you're doing these posts.

Stacie Ponder said...

Thank you <3

That "sweet girl," right? This movie has a million moments of sad beauty that send me every time!

Olive said...

I’m working late tonight and trying not to think about how the conservative fucks on the Supreme Court are preparing to dismantle LGBTQA+ rights, so I’m grateful to be sitting here, crying at my desk reading your perfect words about Susie and Sara. Thank you.

CashBailey said...

Slightly off-topic, but Rooney Mara is sooooo pretty. I've been besotted with her since THE SOCIAL NETWORK and almost wept with joy when I heard she was playing Lisbeth Salander.

And she also does a lot of amazing charity work. The fact that shes also one of the heirs to a multi-billion dollar fortune is just the icing on the cake.

Stacie Ponder said...

I think Rooney Mara is a bit like Kristen Stewart (and, on-topic, Dakota Johnson) in that when she's paired with a director who gets her she will really shine. I think Carol is her best work–she's positively brilliant in it–but I'll check out pretty much anything she's in because she's in it. Except that Mary Magdalene business though, who needs it.

Yan Ness said...

It's the hottest day of the year; the temperature is all but unbearable...yet I literally got goosebumps and shivers reading this.

Stacie Ponder said...

Thank you so much...glad I could help mitigate the melting! Stay safe!

G.Versão said...

Ok so what about the part where she rats Sara out to Blanc... apparently telepathically?... and Sara has a violent siezure... am I mixing this up? Just saw this for the 1st time last night. Instead of sleeping I've been reading these so first off thank you and second good morning lol