Suspiria ★★★★★

"Bad luck isn't brought by broken mirrors, but by broken minds."

35mm at the Brattle. A little dirty & scratched, and a bit of a weird cut of the film missing a few scenes, but incredible color and I couldn't be happier to see it on the big screen.

There's a shot in Suspiria that always fascinates me for the way it unlocks Argento's perspective on psychological trauma and the nature of evil. After Suzy moves into the dormitory with Olga, there's a shot that opens on a sink drain and pulls out to reveal Suzy getting ready for dinner, after which maggots begin raining from the ceiling. This is a structural and thematic reversal of one of the most famous shots from Hitchcock's Psycho: instead of pulling into the shower drain, it pushes away from a sink drain. In Psycho, evil is internal, localized to these few specific focal points (the drain, the eye, Norman Bates); in Suspiria, evil is external, literally seeping in through the walls, and our internal defenses are the only connection we have to what little remains of our sanity.

This also clarifies a visual motif that can be found throughout Argento's filmography, but which is perhaps never on the same scale as it is in Suspiria. Argento seems to love filming sequences in which characters have their head smashed through a pane of glass. Suspiria opens with the murder of Pat Hingle, who first has her head smashed through a window and then has her entire body thrown through an ornate stained-glass skylight—head first, of course. Here we get the ultimate symbol of our internal life (the head; symbolically, the mind) breaking through a barrier between internal and external (pulled through windows out of the privacy of her bedroom). As her head forcibly moves from inside to outside, she experiences a psychological break which is almost as literal as it is metaphorical.

This link between the internal and the external and between the real and the symbolic is clarified further by the psychologist Dr. Frank Mandel and his colleague Professor Millus. Although these two characters are played as slightly comedic, they nonetheless provide insight into the film's view of the world. They explain that while witches and their magic are certainly "real" phenomena as much as any normal human is real, they are also not merely supernatural but psychological as well. "Bad luck isn't brought by broken mirrors, but by broken minds"—or, perhaps, by broken glass. This provides a direct link between the supernatural and the psychological: a witch is never simply just a witch, it's a deeper representation of psychic trauma. Witches are born every time someone experiences a mental breakdown.

So what is Suspiria about, then? A young girl who visits a strange and scary new place and succeeds in not having her head put through a pane of glass.

Retro Theatrical Screenings | Italy
100 Favorites | Favorites from My Favorite Directors

ScreeningNotes liked these reviews