“Movement is never mute” is a quote from the 2018 film Suspiria, a “reimagining” of the 1977 film of the same name. Many are quick to associate the film with the iconic shot of Dakota Johnson with a gaping hole in her chest. However, the film’s subtext also provides a visceral experience as it touches on the subject matter of balance and power dynamics between the women in the film. To kick off the month of October and all things spellbinding, let’s take a closer look at Suspiria’s perspective on an individual’s relationships with others, themselves, and a state of equilibrium between the two.
Suspiria follows young woman Susanna “Susie” Bannion determined to become a dancer for the renowned Berlin Markos Dance Company. Despite being from Ohio and having no professional dance experience, Susie finds herself selected to join the company. It turns out she has gotten involved in the workings of a coven and now has the attention of all the matrons who wish to use her in a ceremony in order to keep their head witch Markos (Tilda Swinton) alive.
Though the gore and disturbing imagery are stunning and are carved into your brain, one element of the film that really stands out is the theme of balance, and more specifically, the ground versus the air as discussed by Tilda Swinton’s Madame Blanc (Swinton plays multiple characters in the film) and Susie. At one point, when Susie is practicing the Volk dance solo, Madame Blanc urges her to jump higher, casually uttering what is now one of my favorite movie quotes:
“are you so happy to be stuck to the earth?”
The scene then follows Susie disagreeing with Madame Blanc about when and how she should jump during the dance. Susie claims her groundwork is more emphatic, stating that she wants to be on the floor anyway. Madame Blanc dismisses her interpretation as mere ‘physical weakness’, elaborating that the jumps are crucial to the dance, utilizing the metaphor of an arrow:
“Every arrow that flies feels the pull of the earth. But, we must aim upwards. We need to get you in the air.”
When Madame Blanc coaches Susie in private on the jumps, it is a pivotal scene. It is through Madame Blanc’s continuous demand of the single word “higher” that Susie is finally able to achieve the move. The next time we see Susie dancing is the actual performance of Volk, the most captivating sequence in the entire film. When the time comes for Susie to jump, she does so magnificently, but at the same time Sara (Mia Goth), another dancer in the company who has discovered the secret of the coven, falls to the floor in pain as a result of the witches. Once again we see this contrast between the ground and the air: a battle of sorts, reinforcing the idea that in the witch’s perspective, being on the floor equals physical weakness and being in the air equals power. It is an obvious parallel, but one that Susie challenges, nonetheless. When it is revealed that Susie was Mother Suspiriorum all along, we wonder why someone so powerful would insist on clinging to the floor, a position synonymous with weakness. Mother Suspiriorum understood that power was not in the body but in the mind, and this is why she is able to defeat Markos – not simply because Markos is a grotesque lump of flesh, but because Susie is spiritually superior to her. Markos manipulated her way into being considered a “Mother”, when in reality she was submissive to the true mother, Susie.
This is where the film’s incorporation of dance proves significant. Dance itself is not simply about physical skill or capability, but mental preparation and dominance. Dance is about allowing oneself to transcend the ideals of power on a literal, somatic sense, and have an impact on the audience through ardent understanding. We see this when Susie approaches the three victims of the ceremony, asking them what it is that they want, granting them death with a kiss, and letting them fall peacefully as the rest of the girls in the company dance.
So why does any of this matter? Well, it is October and the spooky season is upon us. Though Suspiria is an obvious film choice to relish in this month for purposes of horror, on a more symbolic level it reinforces the notions of autumn, such as change and balance. Madame Blanc, when discussing the importance of the dance with Susie, says that Volk comes from a period in which people learned “the value of the balance of things.” This can be said about multiple aspects of the film: the balance between good and evil, between mother and child, ground and air, etc. The season of autumn, too, supports the idea of balance: the autumn equinox has day and night at the same length and is thus associated with the concept of balance itself (not to mention the beginning of Libra season, the sign symbolized by a balanced scale.)
This autumn, consider taking the time to watch Suspiria and reflect on the concept of what balance means to you at this point in your life. Does it mean taking Madame Blanc’s words to heart and aiming upwards with confidence? Or maybe identifying with Susie and believing that staying grounded and personal is what you need. Perhaps it is a balance of both.