Suspiria

Suspiria ★★★★½

"This is a waltz / Thinking about our bodies
What they mean / For our salvation
With only the clothes / That we stand up in
Just the ground / On which we stand
Is the darkness / Ours to take?
Bathed in lightness / Bathed in heat
All is well / As long as we keep spinning..."

***

Regardless of my eventual overall opinion of its quality as both a remake of Dario Argento's esteemed source material, and as a film in and of itself, there were a few things about Suspiria (2018) that I knew for certain I was going to feel about it.

Six things, in fact (which feels bewitchingly on-brand, considering both the film's hellish subject matter, and its six-act-(plus-epilogue) structure).

These are the things that I knew were assured:

1) Luca Guadagnino's technical direction - of the camera, of the actors, of basically the whole thing - was going to be meticulous, inventive, immersive, and fascinating.

2) Tilda Swinton would pretty much be the MVP of the entire enterprise.

3) With absolutely zero competition to be made, nor with a single doubt in my mind, the new Suspiria's post-production sound design would be several bajillion times better than the original's less-than-stellar sound mixing (that all us fans of the original film wilfully accept and look past, in a compromisory exchange that chooses to focus instead on the gorgeously garish cinematography, the gaudily gratuitous gore, and the gargantuanly grand Goblin soundtrack).

4) 2018 Suspiria was going to be unbelievably divisive and polarising, with many who'd love it, loooooads who'd hate it, and plenty who'd have absolutely no idea what the hell they just watched; and because of that, the film would inevitably flop at the box office, because it was simply too singularly weird and off-putting for the majority of theatre-going audiences.

5) Because of that very reason aforementioned up above, Suspiria (2018) would be precisely my (and exactly zero other-people-I-know's) kind of movie, and I knew that I'd forever kick myself if I missed out on seeing it on the big screen, and doubly especially so if I were to prioritise seeing something like Venom or Fantastic Beasts 2 before it.

And 6) Thom Yorke's first ever gig as feature film soundtrack composer, coupled with this particular project's story and style, was altogether going to be a match made in heaven (by sounding like it was made in the deepest, darkest bowels of hell).

So, at long last, just a week before it left cinemas for good, I finally saw Suspiria (2018).

It was...
...a lot to take in.

I've had no option but to sit for a number of days with the film's contents percolating around in my brain, parsing out what I liked, what I didn't like... what I understood, what I didn't understand... trying to comprehend the parallels the film allegorically drew between the supernatural evils, and the real-world evils depicted and explored therein... looking back over the events of the film by rewinding from the ending, and seeing how it recontextualised everything that had come before... retroactively putting plot strands together that had previously seemed unrelated, and failing to assemble other stray stands...

Like I said, there is a lot to unpack about Guadagnino's monumentally ambitious take on Suspiria.

Tonally, Guadagnino's reimagining is dramastically different from the feverish prog-rock operatic insanity of the original.

Argento once said:
"Fear is a 370 degree centigrade body temperature. With Suspiria, I wanted 400 degrees."

Putting aside the dubiousness of the science Argento presented with that statement, let's run with it, and say that if the original film is fear at 400 degrees, the 2018 version is fear at approximately 102 degrees, slowly simmering with unnerving unease persistently bubbling away, steadily escalating in macabre tension, before being brought to boil for a final scalding explosion of red red red everywhere red!!

Or, to put it in less metaphor-laden purple-coloured prose:

Suspiria (2018) forgoes the simple, relentless, blood-curdling feeling of unbearable intensity its strictly mystery-horror predecessor conjured so memorably, and instead forges its own identity by leaning more towards a feeling of marrow-deep melancholia, inescapable claustrophobia, and roiling undercurrents of deep disorienting disorder and discomfort, caused by the horrific things we see and know, but caused especially by the horrible uncertainty wrought by the things withheld from our view and our knowledge.

We know the witches are terrifyingly powerful, but we don't know just how powerful they truly are.
We know they've committed unholy atrocities in the name of their craft, but we don't know just how many bodies they've left in their wake, or how much blood they've spilled in the process.
We hear the cascade of disembodied whispers and sighs hauntingly echoing through the halls of the witches' labyrinthine home, but we don't know who those voices belong to, who can definitely hear them when they seep through the walls, nor who is creating, controlling, and harnessing the voices to herald their unseen presence.

The other big thing that distinguishes the two Suspirias from one another is how this latest incarnation opens itself up beyond the dance academy coven, and explores the world of its late-70's Berlin setting, with all of its chilly snow-capped isolation, unstable political fractioning, the riots and bombings, and the tense Baader/Meinhoff/RAF situation of the moment. All of this it does while simultaneously comparing and contrasting the outside world's maelstrom of spiralling unrest and chaos, with the inner world of the witches' hierarchy as it too begins to fall apart.
(Not to mention that the political upheaval consuming the city (combined with the witches' darkly magic abilities) helps provide a handy plot mechanic to remove the police from the equation as a force anyone could turn to for help from the supernatural horror that's causing a ton of terrible death, which in turn only amps up the inescapability and dread of the situation even more so.)

Potentially Weird, But Perhaps Pertinent Tangent Time:
There is maybe(?) something to be said about how Argento's conception of the Three Mothers as beings of darkness was inspired by Thomas De Quincey's Suspiria de Profundis, which was itself (according to Argento) inspired by "the same myth in the Jewish kabbalah", referring to that text's notion of the elements of air, water and fire, altogether being known also as "the Three Mothers".
So, if we follow this train of thought, the original Three Mothers were a source of life, and creation, right?
But the Three Mothers of Suspiria are the complete inverse of that, these Three being a source of death, and sorrow.
And now bear in mind, I'm sure that this wasn't an intentional part of the reasoning behind the new film's inclusion of the political context of the country at the time, because it's surely too esoteric and tangential a link to make; so consider this me having just found a way to read way too much into the film's subtext...
...BUT...
... isn't it kind of interesting, and thematically appropriate, how the Three Mothers were once known as the givers of light in a Jewish religious text, and then in the world of Suspiria (2018), the Three Mothers are instead twisted givers of darkness, as localised in the centre of a post-war German city still recovering from the trauma and guilt of the Nazism that tore it, and the world, apart?
I dunno.
It's a tenuous sort of idea I can't even entirely elucidate properly into a coherent thought, but once I found out about the kabbalah thing, I couldn't stop thinking about its ramifications for the new Suspiria's subtextual obsessions.

Point of fact, even Argento himself wasn't blind to these echoes of the past that haunted the city he set his devilish dance academy within.
In the 1977 original, he included a scene with the blind pianist that was intentionally set in a particular brewery Argento specifically chose, because (quoth the Dario):
"This was the brewery where Hitler, in 1923... gave his famous speech, the Beer Hall Putsch. With Ludendorff, they decided to take the power. They started, and then they were all arrested. That was the place Nazism was born. I was thinking about the evil things that were born in that brewery. I've set there a scene of the movie in order to give a sense of real evil, not simply imaginary."
Now, in the interview where he said that, he said the brewery where they filmed this was at the Hofbräuhaus; and according to my research, while it is true that Hitler held Nazi meetings there during the party's infancy, the place where he gave the Beer Hall Putsch speech was actually at the Bürgerbräukeller, which is a completely different beer hall, as far as I can tell. Even so, in spite of Argento seemingly having gotten the facts kind of muddled, what remains is his intention of mirroring real-world evil with the film's supernatural evil... something that Nü-spiria (as Nathan Zuckerman recently ingeniously referred to it (even if it was disparagingly)) followed suit in so doing.

There's also this delightfully meta-textual little idea that I've been pondering, which is the notion that this is a scripted/directed/choreographed work of art that uses the medium of film to control the uncontrollable, by depicting themes of chaos and rebirth...
...by telling a story involving a teacher who directs, and choreographs a work of art that uses the medium of dance to control the uncontrollable, by depicting themes of chaos and rebirth... both of which threaten the very foundations of the coven's existence.

Again, another slightly intangible idea I can barely translate from my brain, but still... I think it's kind of neat, no matter whether it was intentional or not.

Speaking of subjective opinions:
Should you view Suspiria (2018) - due to its predominantly female cast, and female-driven story - as a kind of cinematic feminist statement?
Ehhhhhh... it depends on what kind of feminism you're drawn to, I guess?
For me, I'd say that you shouldn't go looking into this particular film for readings about, like, female empowerment, or any overtly feminism-tinged political message you may want from it.
That's not to say you can't find any such message contained within, nor that you shouldn't go looking. Art being as subjective as it so inherently is, there's no singular right answer, or one single correct interpretation, because such things vary from viewer to viewer, from one individual to the next.
My feeling coming out of the movie was that this wasn't a story of women conquering men, and/or a story of whether such a thing is the right course of action or not.
This is (as I saw it) a story about the evils people do to one another, between classes, countries, races, genders-- any fault-lines of potential division one could choose to exploit.
It's about the different forms that those evils take, the repercussions that arise from the aftermath of those evil actions, and how those who've had evil done to them may in turn choose to inflict new kinds of evil on whoever resembles those that had hurt them previously, thus keeping the wheels of the cycles of violence turning and turning, never stopping, forever grinding up and spitting out anyone who gets caught in its wake.

To cut a very very very long review short, allow me to wrap this up by revisiting my original six predictions from the start of this essay, the answers to all of them being as follows:

1) They were.

2) She was (but so too was "Lutz Ebersdorf").

3) It was.

4) It really was.

5) It REALLY really was.

And 6) You're goddamn right it was.

In fact, my favourite songs from Yorke's soundtrack are "Suspirium", "Has Ended", "Volk", "The Conjuring of Anke", and oh my fucking god, more than anything else, the jaw-dropping, magnificent, career-highlighting, achingly beautiful "Unmade".

However, I must admit that the album itself is sequenced in a manner that is just... bizarre.
(Not the first time a Thom Yorke-related album's sequencing decisions have been rather odd; it's like Amnesiac not including "Cuttooth" or "Fog" or "The Amazing Sounds of Orgy", or The King of Limbs not including "Supercollider" or "Staircase", or Radiohead withholding "I Promise" and "Lift" from OK Computer for 20 bleedin' years.)

Because of this, I took it upon myself to re-sequence/re-arrange the Suspiria soundtrack's song order, so that all the cues more closely hew to the order in which they appeared in the film (to the best of my recollection), and so that the album listening experience is more cohesive and satisfying overall.
So, without further ado, I present to you my alternative tracklist order for Thom Yorke's Suspiria soundtrack:

1) A Storm That Took Everything
2) Suspirium
3) An Audition
4) The Balance of Things
5) Has Ended
6) Klemperer Walks
7) Open Again
8) The Inevitable Pull
9) Olga’s Destruction (Volk Tape)
10) The Hooks
11) Synthesizer Speaks
12) The Jumps
13) A Light Green
14) The Room of Compartments
15) Volk
16) Belongings Thrown In A River
17) The Universe is Indifferent
18) The Conjuring of Anke
19) A Choir of One
20) Sabbath Incantation
21) Voiceless Terror
22) The Epilogue
23) Unmade
24) A Soft Hand Across Your Face
25) Suspirium Finale

(I also took the liberty of making this as a Spotify playlist, if that would be more helpful. You can find that here. 'Kay, thanks, bye...)

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