Suspiria: Mothers, Murder, and an Unusually Modern Magic

Oct 17, 2019 by Contributing Writer on The Nickelodeon Blog

By Charlotte Pollack. 

Guadagnino’s Suspiria (2018) is both dark and hopeful, a gruesome horror film full of beautiful details about magic, history, and rebirth. Set in a divided Berlin, the film embraces the grim and uncanny, using themes of modern dance and witchcraft to weave a story about guilt, redemption, and transformation. Suspiria comments on sisterhood and sorcery, having us see the world through the eyes of women we call witches, a group that has inspired fear, misunderstanding, and intrigue for centuries, a group that may dwindle at times, but never seems to die out.

To contemporary practicing witches, seeing our craft displayed on major screens is always exciting, though not always realistic. Most film sources link pagan tradition with only satanic or barbaric rituals, not delving into the complex and multi-faceted nature of the practice, which has varying levels of yin and yang depending on the witch. And while Suspiria, likewise, may not seem to present witchcraft in a positive light (I mean, I don’t normally consider murderous sorceresses who carry undead students around on hooks to be “good guys” either), it does incorporate some true aspects of the practice and shows these rituals to be empowering and purposeful, ancient and connective. The movie highlights how witchcraft embraces femininity, chaos, inner power, and the potential for both sin and salvation, both mercy and vengeance.

The majority of the movie takes place in the fall and winter, which—in many pagan cultures—is often associated with the gifts of vision and prophecy, the knowledge of life and death, and the shift from the archetypal “mother” to “crone.” These spiritual connections contribute to the themes and seemingly-alien plot twists in the movie, showcasing a very witchy perspective. On the more modern side of things, the compelling and emotional modern dance that dominates many of the ritualistic scenes in the film draws elements from butoh, a Japanese spiritual dance that has been adopted by contemporary witches worldwide since the 1950s. This dance form—with its white-painted dancers and slow, agonizingly precise movements—has its roots in classical religions, archetypes, and movements. Just as the founder of butoh, Kazuo Ohno, was inspired by the horrors of war to bring back old art forms into contemporary dance, Madame Blanc of Suspiria uses the dancers of her studio to retell a history of violence and tragedy. Ohno, Suspiria’s dancers, and many of today’s witches alike use this conscientious movement to cleanse and explore the spirit, using styles like butoh to aid in meditation and focus for spells and rituals.

Bewitchingly, this film uses magic and dance to stitch together a patchwork quilt of original cinematography and ancient tradition, displaying female power in all its raw and terrifying glory. Suspiria is haunting and unapologetic, but more than this, it leaves you thinking, holds you captive in your seat.

Almost as if by magic.