Suspiria

Suspiria

I, uh, hated it


edit (11/01/18):
This is quickly becoming my most liked review ever and I’m not thrilled with the thought of that distinction going to a review made up of four words and two punctuation marks (give my Cameraperson review a like instead!). I want to expand on why Suspiria not only did not click with me, but why the script misses the mark for its character development and its thematic, political commentary. The latter is the objectively offensive component of Kajganich's effort.

I'll start with what I enjoyed because that's worth noting, even if I felt any positive aspects were drowned by the end. Tilda’s compelling as always. I still love Guadagnino because his direction is so tactile and bold. There are moments that are shot through with electricity-- when we get to the first scene of violence, it's completely shocking and disgusting, but it's also riveting. I remember thinking, "I hope there ends up being a point to being subjected to that scene." Even though it's a traumatizing scene, I appreciated the craft. I was considering stepping out to breathe afterwards; it's that effective and nauseating. I admire that, but I don't think the script backs up that punishing experience with a worthwhile idea or argument. But I'll get to that.

There are also elements which I didn't like, but that I can see others appreciating. I felt that the core performance of Dakota Johnson didn't give me much to go on and left me feeling abandoned at certain turning points. The editing is jumpy in places, which is meant to make for a subjectively antsy experience, but was distracting. The dance sequences are sort of stiff, and I hoped the camerawork could help me understand the allure of dance for the performers. We're getting closer and closer into script territory here.

So my first big qualm with the script is that the character development feels lacking. I realize that most of it has to do with payoff in the end, so I'll talk vaguely about it to avoid putting a "contains spoilers" block. I'm just not really sure why or how the big turn happens on any level other than one of metaphysics. The story logic isn't there, and I don’t think I’m being overly literal to ask for some help understanding this moment. On the whole, for a two-and-a-half hour movie, there is very little expository information. I repeat: how is this movie both two-and-a-half hours and so empty of information? Why are we left grasping on exactly how the coven works and how Susie's progression happens? Who is the employee who cries all the time? I don't need everything spelled out, but more clarity means that this movie could get to a place of greater intrigue, which it tried to do on the shallowest level possible. It kept me wondering "what's happening?" rather than "what's the subtext of why this is happening?"

To the question of subtext, my number one problem with the movie is what it wants to say about Germany and guilt. Allow me a brief detour.

I've just finished reading Primo Levi's final collection of essays, The Drowned and the Saved. Levi survived Auschwitz; his most famous book is his account of the time he spent there. 41 years after the end of World War 2, Levi embarks on a deep exploration into the moral effects of the Holocaust on himself, other survivors, and complicit Germans of the old and new generations. The last chapter of the collection I read is called "Letters from Germans," which are transcriptions of letters he received in response to Survival in Auschwitz and Levi's thoughts in response to them. The letters express to Levi everything from condescension, self-flagellation, dismissal, anger, and in some cases, real self-examination and transformation. The guilt of complicity does not wash off, but that does not mean it cannot be grappled with productively. Perhaps the only right thing to do with guilt is to grapple with it.

Suspiria is not interested in such subtleties. Josef Klemperer is a character designed to be punished as far as possible in retribution for his passivity during the war and then completely absolved by having his memory erased. Let me be clear in saying that this narrative pisses me the fuck off. I'm furious that a narrative having to do with the lingering guilt of the Third Reich should first delve only shallowly into Klemperer’s involvement in his country's history, then vacillate from the extreme of visceral punishment to that of complete absolution, make an American outsider the overseer of this judgement, and then casually toss in references to the Holocaust to tie it all up. I am insulted and made angry by what this movie wants to say about the legacy of one of the darkest events of the 20th century, which seems to be something along the lines of ‘acceptable resolution comes if the perpetrators are forced to go through hellish torment as punishment and then forced to go away’. It is my stance that we all must grapple with the legacy of the Shoah and similar atrocities forever and never come to a conclusion, for there is none to be reached.

That I should have an upsetting experience during a movie without a thoughtful point is something I don't like, but can ultimately get past. That Kajganich's script should come to so tidy and glib a resolution on the effects of Germany's past is abhorrent to me.

So when I say that "I, uh, hated it," that's what I mean.


You can read my more detailed analysis here.

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