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 8, 2019

SUSPIRIA Day 8: griffith

It's pretty remarkable that in a film with crumpled bodies, exploding heads, and Helena "The Hutt" Markos, one of the standouts is a mousy l'il lady with oversized eyeglasses and a bowl cut. But that's our Miss Griffith (Sylvie Testud), ain't it? She only speaks offscreen and gives us but six words but oh boy is she memorable, a character who prompts plenty of "What's her deal, anyway?" discussions.

So. What's her deal, anyway?

Griffith first appears as Susie learns from Miss Tanner that she's been accepted into the Company. She watches–looms–from the upper floor, quickly scuttling away when she's noticed. Nearly everyone senses Susie's energy or essence when she arrives–Sara pauses in her tracks when she spots her, Blanc reacts as Susie dances in another room–but Griffith's reaction is different. Is she simply a weirdo? Maybe, but she seems afraid. Of what?

A terrific scene follows–Thom Yorke's impossibly cool "Has Ended" plays as the coven sets about having breakfast. In voiceover, we hear an earlier session where the women voted for either Madame Blanc or Mother Markos to lead the Company into a new era. They each cast their votes in turn, until it gets to Griffith. She seems to try to abstain. But the more you realize about her and what she does and what she knows, it seems to be less an abstention than it is a warning:

"We're at the end."

She knows. She realized the moment she laid eyes on Susie that while Helena Markos has always claimed the title, it's the new dancer who is the true Mother Suspiriorum. She knows that Markos is a false prophet, but she votes for her anyway. And in a perfectly timed shot, you can see her terror, despite what Tanner says:

She knows that everyone's vote will be held against her, and Mother Suspiriorum will not have mercy for the Markosites.

But she doesn't say anything. She doesn't say anything when Olga leaves the studio, only to enter another studio where she will be utterly destroyed. Again Griffith knows what's coming, but all she does cry, her eyes closed to the truth and the ugly reality she doesn't want to see.

I found myself wondering how she fit in the rest of Markos Tanzgruppe. Compared to all of her fellow matrons and the dancers, she is dreadfully uncool. She doesn't tag along with the witchy gals' night out dinners. She doesn't have the effortless sex appeal of Millius or Huller. She's not as essential or active as Tanner. She doesn't have Vendegast's delightful joie de vivre. She seems soft-hearted, emotionally affected by the pain the dancers endure as she cries and mopes.

But is that really true? Is she crying for the pain inflicted on these young women? Maybe in part, but I think she's crying mostly for herself.

She's a member of the coven, after all. She's a witch. I love them all dearly, don't get me wrong. I'd like to be...well, let's be real, any of them. Because of this, I sometimes find myself shocked at their cruelty. I forget: Sie sind Hexen. And as harmless as she seems, Griffith is one of them.

Much later in the film, plans are nearly in place. The witches eat dinner around their massive table, discussing why Patricia didn't work as a vessel for Markos but Susie surely will. Susie and Blanc are alone in the studio, the same where Olga met her end, rehearsing Susie's jumps. As Blanc yells "Higher! Higher!" faster and faster and Susie jumps higher and higher (it's all very sexual, isn't it?), Griffith is lost in her own thoughts.

What is she thinking? It'll be obvious in a moment. But less obvious: As Griffith sits there zoning out, we cut to Sara alone in her room. She drops her head very suddenly, almost violently. It almost looks like she's nodded off, but that's not the case. Look at the angle of the windowsill behind her, how it changes. This is not a peaceful sleep. Griffith has put her under a spell.

The scene cuts back to the dining room, and we see Part Two of Griffith's plan. She stands, plunges a knife into her neck, and falls across the table. The other women rush to save her as blood pulses from the wound, spraying everywhere. It's a hardcore way to take yourself out, completely unexpected from the least assuming person in the film.

She dies, and Sara immediately wakes up, but she looks like she's in a trance.

With that spell before her suicide, Griffith gave her a nudge in the right direction. From this moment, Sara counts her steps, knocks on mirrors, and finds the creepy displays in the Mutterhaus.

It seems like a Hail Mary from Griffith, some last-ditch attempt to stop the storm that's approaching, to save everyone from Suspiriorum's save the Company as an artistic endeavor, even. Markos has them all terrified that they simply cannot continue without her. "We're at an end."

But it's not heroic. Griffith is one of the most despicable people in the film, too much of a coward to stand up, to do the right thing no matter the personal cost. She knows what's coming and she votes for Markos anyway. She doesn't utter a single word of protest or warning, opting instead to have Sara do the work for her–sending the dancer into the Mutterhaus seals her doom, and it doesn't change a damn thing. Griffith is completely willing to sacrifice the kindest person in the company  while she kills herself before she can be killed.

I think she feels genuine regret over siding with Markos, but only because it will ultimately affect her and her interests directly. If Suspiria is an allegory for the current political situation in the United States (it is), Griffith is the ultimate image of the white woman who voted for Tr*mp. In other words, in a film with crumpled bodies, exploding heads, and Helena "The Hutt" Markos, one of the standouts is an absolute villain.


CashBailey said...

Brilliant. Stacie, you should write a book about this movie.

L. Rob Hubb said...

Seconded. Actually, it may be time for THE FINAL GIRL COMPENDIUM.

CashBailey said...

Stacie, have you watched the French horror series MARIANNE on Netflix yet?

It's a show that definitely follows the Blumhouse model of shamelessly throwing every single horror trope at you as often as it possibly can; but the female lead characters are so fun to watch and the storyline is intriguing that all those gimmicks actually work very well.

And Lucie Boujenah as 'Camile' the assistant is just adorable.

Stacie Ponder said...

Thanks, guys! I'm definitely thinking about doing...something with all this when it's over. And I've been ruminating on a Final Girl book of some sort forEVERRRR. I just can't figure out exactly what I want it to be!

And yep, I really loved Marianne. Ultimately I had some wee issues with it, but I dug it a ton overall. Every episode I tried to keep my expectations low, figuring it'd go off the rails at some point, but it never did. And there are a LOT of genuinely great scares in it. Loved it.

Marion T. Johnson said...

I just watched the movie and found this essay looking for answers about Griffith. What a wonderful and insightful writer you are. Thank you!

Hanna said...

ah, I missed the trance, that makes sense! Also, right before the stabbing while Susie and Blanc are together, Blanc tells Susie she needs to determine what part she is in the company. Head, heart, sex, ..etc and Susie says she is the hands.
It then cuts to a closeup of Griffith. I think Griffith is supposed to be the EYES! The big glasses, the fact that she "sees" the truth right away, and the scene with Olga where they cry together. Just a moment I caught in my third rewatching. I swear I see something new each time. Great film.

Yan Ness said...

I don't agree with this in its entirety.
To say that all these witches are just evil, and that's all they are, is too reductive for a film like Suspiria, with all of its wonderful nuance.
If one of the central themes of the film is that our basic psychological states inform our drive towards ideologies, and how those ideologies become fanaticism, then making these creatures that basic and homogenous doesn't really fit, for me. They are a fractured group, and have their own political positions.
I think that Griffith is the 'eyes' of the troupe, as opined by Hanna above.
I think she's seen the decline of the coven over the, what, centuries? Has quietly watched it slowly change from what it was, into what it is now. I think she can't stand it for a moment longer, and that her devotion and subsequent vote (her final betrayal of herself) to Markos is the last straw. I don't think she implicitly knows that Susie is Mother Suspiriorum, but she does see her and sense that change is coming.
That's where the author and myself come back into line with our views: indeed she is like the white woman that voted for Trump...but most importantly continues to support him after her own rights to abortion are taken away from her, and who hates herself for her weakness and rigidity, but has been this way for so long now that she doesn't know how to be anything new.
The author might be on to something about her giving a psychic heads up to Sarah too. One final, insufficient act of attempted atonement?

Unknown said...

I believe she was the empath of the group, aware of the wrong doings of the coven and was not happy about what those girls had been through.

She did not understand what Sussie was, she just felt what the other witches felt: a strange and unusual energy oozing through Sussie's body.

The election confirmed that Markos will remain as the head of the group. And she was sick of sacrificing young girls for nothing. The devastating pain she felt through Olga's body was the last drop. Here they were, discussing the next vassel being Sussie. Depressed Miss Griffith felt this vicious cycle will never end. She couldn't take it any more and took her own life.

raki said...

yan ness i love ur words.. as a person that see miss grifith in myself i feel validated

Yan Ness said...

@raki - sorry, I've only just seen your comment to me. Thank you, I appreciate that. Also, I think there's aspects of all of us scattered amongst the characters in Suspiria - it's a fantastic examination of the human condition, the places inside of us where our ideologies spring from, how they become corrupted. This film makes me feel validated too. It's dark...but beautiful.


So when Sara was in the secret rooms and she opens the door and then closes it, what does she see?