"The Flagship Film Podcast"

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"Suspiria" Excerpt

Josh: Why do we do this to ourselves, Adam?

Adam: It's late, and that was a long movie.

Josh: An after-screening review of "Suspiria." We got out of the film maybe 20 minutes ago and my head is still spinning, as yours likely is. Probably not the best movie to choose for this review scenario. It's always difficult to come right out of the screening. Sometimes I prefer it just throw those fresh thoughts out there, but I have maybe more questions than I do thoughts at this point.

Adam: That might work.

Josh: We'll start there. I do think it's worth beginning by making a distinction between Dario Argento's "Suspiria," and this one from Luca Guadagnino, because a lot is added. There's an extensive running time, compared to the original.

Adam: It's basically two "Suspirias."

Josh: Yeah, pretty much. It almost gets to that point. The bones are the same. The story essentially is the same. We do have another American dancer who travels to a prestigious German dance academy, also named Susie Bannion, in this case played by Dakota Johnson. She gets there and fairly early on realizes that, yes, coh-ven, coven – whichever one you want to say it – this thing's run by witches. Those are the same plot points that both films follow. Here's some of the stuff that is added in 2018's "Suspiria." I won't give it all because there are some revelations we should probably leave unmentioned. It is set in Berlin in 1977. So one thing that is new is the hijacking of Lufthansa Flight 181 by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Yes, I had to look all this up.

Adam: I going to say you've had enough time to Google...

Josh: Yes, because it is referenced throughout this film, that this crisis is undergoing while the events of the story proper are unfolding. There is also a character, a Dr. Klemperer. We will leave it to you to discover who plays Dr. Klemperer, but he is a psychiatrist [who] interviews Chloe Grace Moretz's dancer in the very beginning of the film. She has escaped. She's a patient of his, let's say, and she's been visiting him from the academy, sharing these theories – that he thinks are delusions – about what's going on there. He becomes a very prominent character throughout the film. That's added. There are doctors in the original, but this is much more of a different take on that. Susie's past, the Dakota Johnson character's past... We go back to her childhood living on a Mennonite farm particularly the deathbed of her mother, and then get some flashbacks that indicate the tension – possible abuse – going on there. Another throughline that is added in this film! And then I would say... I watched the original "Suspiria," a couple weeks ago now, but I don't recall that there was turmoil among the witches, [or] something of a power-struggle-disagreements, especially when it comes to how they should handle Susie in particular.

So, as I said, there are other things that are added here. I'm wondering if any of this added something to you for the experience of "Suspiria." What here was was worthwhile, or proved fruitful, or maybe answered the question of why would Guadagnino want to make this now? What did he want to do with this? Any answers in some of those elements?

Adam: Well, I did not listen to the orders of our esteemed producer, Sam Van Hallgren, the one who, back in 2005 when we talked about the original "Suspiria," as part of our horror movie marathon... derided the film as basically written by a 12- or 13-year-old. He hated "Suspiria."

Josh: Not a fan.

Adam: And I don't remember where it fell in the marathon but actually at the time of its review it was my favorite movie in the marathon. We were both seeing it for the first time – that's why we use those marathons. And I was a little bit wishy-washy on some of these details. I was recognizing all of these new aspects in the 2018 version – what seemed like new aspects to me – but [I] couldn't be completely sure as I haven't seen the Argento "Suspiria," since 2005. It sounds like my recollection was correct. Like so many horror films, that original "Suspiria," may have had real world issues and anxieties on its mind. But if it did they were predominantly allegorical. It's truly the tale of a young American dancer who comes to this academy and she finds out it's actually run by a couple of witches. Spooky things happen. People die in gruesome and elaborately staged ways. You get bright colors, that pseudo-prog-rock score. That's "Suspiria." Here, we've got the young American dancer, we've got the coven of witches, and we definitely have some gruesome deaths. I'm not sure that we get the elaborately staged ones – and maybe we can talk about that. But the real world anxieties are all made literal.

And you touched on a lot of them! Berlin, as a character, this divided city is such a major aspect of this film in a way I don't remember from the original, [both] politically and geographically, obviously with the wall. Baader Meinhof and the terrorists crisis that constantly being in the background – you mentioned that! Dr. Klemperer – his history! The way the Holocaust actually does come up a few different times. We have this sense of his own personal guilt and shame and the collective national guilt and shame, 30 years removed from World War II, being something that is omnipresent and still very much weighing on these characters and this city. Trauma in general is a major aspect of this film. You mentioned the other one I latched onto – Susie Bannion's past. And we get some flashbacks to her childhood and the way she was raised.

Another part here is the feminist angle. You go back to that opening scene you touched on. Chloe Grace Moretz is this young dancer. Basically, Susie Bannion comes in and takes her place. She's going to this Dr. Klemperer to get help. She believes that there are witches at the academy that they are out to get her. And he is just sure that she's completely delusional. He's taking notes, he observes. He never actually tries to help her, at least in that opening scene. And the phrase in my head the whole time was, "believe women." That's what I wrote down in my notes. Then later in the film, much later in the film, one character at least verbalize it completely. But tied to that, what did resonate with me this time, Josh, was this sense of history and survival. I'm not going to say that I was rooting for the coven of witches or Tilda Swinton's Madame Blanc, who is the main instructor there, but I certainly did admire the strength and the resolve of this collective, making this quite political subversive art and doing it for 30 years, and the implications of that – of the art being rooted in a struggle. There's a suggestion that they have been oppressed, probably as women, and they've had to survive through all this turmoil. And they're still standing.

So the English major and the literalist in me loved having all of these ideas to latch onto. I think I'm naturally inclined to want to intellectualize material like this, or maybe I mean to say I want to believe I spent 152 minutes on a movie that actually had some depth to it. But I can't wait to hear from you, Josh. I can't help but wonder if in elevating the material, Guadagnino, you know, actually robbed it of most of its fun.


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