Suspiria Analysis

Story Analysis Description 2

*Analysis based off work of Robert McKee, Joseph Campbell, John Truby and Syd Field

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CHARACTERS

Protagonist Suzy Bannion
Desire Conscious: Figure out mystery at ballet school
Unconscious:
Conflict Levels Inner: Fear of death
Personal: Witches
Extra-Personal: Anti-feminist society that won’t believe her
Character Characterization: Aspiring, young ballet student
True Character: Strong willed hero
Turn:
Antagonist Mysterious Coven
Desire Conscious: Maintain secret power
Unconscious:
Conflict Levels Inner:
Personal: Suzy, Sara, Daniel
Extra-Personal: Outside world that would take away their power
Character Characterization: Malevolent coven
True Character:
Turn:
Sara
Desire Conscious: Figure out mystery at ballet school
Unconscious:
Conflict Levels Inner: Fear of death
Personal: Witches
Extra-Personal: Anti-feminist society that won’t believe her
Character Characterization: Aspiring, young ballet student
True Character:
Turn:
Daniel
Desire Conscious: Be a pianist
Unconscious:
Conflict Levels Inner: Blindness
Personal: Witches
Extra-Personal:
Character Characterization: Bossy egotist
True Character: Scared man
Turn:
Principle of Antagonism Positive Survival Pessimistic Injury
Negative Death Negation of Negation Metaphysical death
Controlling Idea: Overcoming evil requires courage because the forces of darkness are powerful.

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PLOT

Inciting Incident Suzy arrives at ballet school
Act One Climax Suzy collapses and moves into academy
GAP Strange things keep happening, upsetting perceived norms
Progressive Complications Daniel dies and maggots spring out of the ceiling
Midpoint Suzy sees strange figure behind curtain
Act Two Climax Suzy learns about the coven rumors
Act Three Climax Suzy takes down the coven leader
Resolution Suzy emerges from the smouldering wreckage of the academy

SEQUENCES

SEQUENCE ONE – Status Quo & Inciting Incident Suzy tries to get to school and Patricia is killed.
SEQUENCE TWO – Predicament & Lock In Suzy practices at school and gets ill, keeping her stuck there.
SEQUENCE THREE – First Obstacle & Raising the Stakes Maggots rain down from the ceiling.
SEQUENCE FOUR – First Culmination/Midpoint Suzy comes face to face with the coven leader behind the curtain.
SEQUENCE FIVE – Subplot & Rising Action Daniel is murdered.
SEQUENCE SIX – Main Culmination/End of Act Two Sara is murdered and Suzy learns about the academy’s history.
SEQUENCE SEVEN – New Tension & Twist Suzy finds the headquarters of the coven and murders Markos.
SEQUENCE EIGHT – Resolution Suzy escapes the school as it burns to the ground.

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HERO’S JOURNEY

ORDINARY WORLD American world of ballet
CALL TO ADVENTURE Suzy witnesses Patricia running from school out of fear
REFUSAL OF THE CALL Suzy pretends as if strange happenings are normal
CROSSING FIRST THRESHOLD Suzy forced to stay at school as she becomes ill
TESTS, ALLIES, ENEMIES Sara becomes friend as strange happenings and murders continue
MEETING THE MENTOR Suzy meets psychiatrist and Dr. Wilius for advice
APPROACH TO INMOST CAVE Suzy navigates down hallways to coven
ORDEAL Suzy fights off Markos and the coven
REWARD Suzy realizes her strength
RESURECCTION Suzy escapes the crumbling academy
ROAD BACK Suzy leaves the academy
RETURN WITH ELIXIR Suzy realizes her strength

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22 STEPS

1. Self-revelation, need, and desire
Self-Revelation: Suzy is a strong willed hero
Psychological Need: Stand up against fears
Moral Need:
Desire: Excel as a ballerina
2. Ghost and story world
Ghost World: Normalized American schooling
Story World: Dancing academy
3. Weakness and need
Weakness: Frightened foreigner
Need: Stand up for herself
4. Inciting event
Inciting event: Suzy arrives at school
5. Desire
Desire: To excel at school
6. Ally or allies
Ally or allies: Sara
7. Opponent and/or mystery
Opponent and/or mystery: What killed Patricia and haunts the school?
8. Fake-ally opponent
Fake-ally opponent: Headmistress, Miss Tanner… pretty much everyone
9. First revelation and decision: Changed desire and motive
Revelation: Suzy gets sick
Decision: Suzy forced to live at academy
Changed desire and motive: Suzy must fight through illness because she is judged as a foreigner
10. Plan
Plan: Suzy continues practicing at school
11. Opponent’s plan and main counterattack
Plan: Witches keep anonymity and maintain power
Counterattack: Kill whoever crosses them
12. Drive
Drive: Suzy wants to do well at school and avoid mystery
13. Attack by ally
Attack by ally:
14. Apparent defeat
Apparent defeat: Witches poison Suzy to keep her compliant
15. Second revelation and decision: Obsessive drive, changed desire and motive
Second revelation: Sara is missing
Decision: Try to find out what is happening
Changed desire and motive: Find Sara because she is her friend
16. Audience revelation
Audience revelation: Mysterious force is killing people
17. Third revelation and decision
Third revelation: The academy may be a coven for witches
Decision: Suzy tries to figure out if rumors are true
18. Gate, gauntlet, visit to death
Gate: Suzy traces Sara’s steps to iris wall
Gauntlet: Suzy finds the coven
Visit to Death: Suzy comes face to face with Markos
19. Battle
Battle: Suzy fights against the re-animated corpse of Sara
20. Self-revelation
Self-revelation: Suzy is a strong individual capable of taking on evil
21. Moral decision
Moral decision: Suzy kills the witch to save herself and others
22. New equilibrium
New equilibrium: Suzy leaves the academy a stronger person

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THEMES

Modern Fable The film is clearly evocative of fairy tales, particularly Grimm and Germanic stories. The movie presents Suzy as Snow White or Little Red Riding Hood against a backdrop of magic that the world has supposedly forgotten about, but still exists beneath the surface of modern day life. The witches are elemental beings, tampering with the forces of nature against the goodness of the world. Their use of animals (maggots, bats, dogs) speaks to their abuse of the natural world. Suzy must set that right by burning them down.
Women as Strong Though not explicit in the story, the lack of male characters and masculinity itself bears investigation. The younger girls are presented as naive, unable or unwilling to take responsibility as they are controlled by older women. The headmistress and Miss Tanner are strong characters but abuse their power. For Suzy, she gains strength through ingenuity and will, not malice as the witches do. This is then a portrait of two different types of feminine strength: the kind that abuses others through a top-down hierarchy and the kind that relies on feminine bonding (Sara and Suzy) and inner strength. The film argues that Suzy survives because she has that inner strength to survive against a belief system that demands inferiority.

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SCENE BREAKDOWN

Scene #1 Getting to Ballet School
Protagonist Suzy
Desire Get to ballet school
Antagonist Weather
TP Suzy turned away
Value Advancement
Role Introduction to Suzy, Patricia Inciting Incident offscreen: Witches frighten her
Analysis The audience is introduced to Suzy: young, American, out of her element, naive. She is thrust into a strange land of fairy tale, similar to little red riding hood skipping along to Grandma’s house. The moody rain, dark trees and haunting music elevate her journey into a foreign world. Turned away at the gate, she sees a girl, Patricia, running from the school and into the woods.
Scene #2 Patricia Murdered
Protagonist Patricia
Desire Escape
Antagonist Mystery force
TP Patricia murdered
Value Survival
Role Patricia Act One Climax: Patricia murdered
Analysis Patricia as a character sets up the mysterious force that will plague Suzy and the other dancers. Her fear and questions notify us that something is out of balance at the academy, but we don’t know what it is or who is behind it. Her gruesome death informs us that the mysterious force is dangerous and violent.
Scene #3 Introduction to School
Protagonist Suzy
Desire Make a good impression
Antagonist Miss Tanner, Madame Blanc
TP
Value Impression
Role Introduction to School
Analysis The audience is introduced to the dynamics of the school, its hierarchy. Miss Tanner and Madame Blanc are strange characters, different than how we would think them to behave. From this, we get the sense that everyone knows something that Suzy doesn’t, setting up her character as our point of investigation; As Suzy discovers the secrets of the Academy, we will as well.
Scene #4 Other Girls
Protagonist Suzy
Desire Meet other girls
Antagonist Other Girls
TP Suzy watches as the girls fight amongst themselves
Value Impression
Role Introduce cohort of girls and show Suzy as an outsider
Analysis Suzy is highlighted as an outsider, not fitting in with the other girls at the academy. Their petty squabbles and ego keep them from connecting, keeping Suzy out of their loop of confidence. As the story develops, Suzy being a solitary individual outside of an eventual friend will keep our empathies aligned with her.
Scene #5 Suzy Talks with Olga
Protagonist Suzy
Desire Fit in
Antagonist Olga (roommate)
TP Suzy thinks dead girl was hiding a secret
Value Mystery
Role Awaken mystery
Analysis The camera moves in towards Suzy as she remembers that night with Patricia. Why did the girl run away? How did she die? What was she saying as she left? The answers to these questions will aid Suzy at the film’s conclusion. For now, they pose issues that Suzy must overcome to succeed.
Scene #6 Ballet Practice
Protagonist Suzy
Desire Do well
Antagonist Headmistress
TP Suzy turns down room in school
Value Strength
Role Show Suzy standing up for herself
Analysis Up to this point, the audience thinks little of Suzy. She is Snow White: innocent, naive, seemingly easily manipulated. By refusing a room in the academy, Suzy demonstrates a strength hidden beneath the surface.
Scene #7 Vision
Protagonist Suzy
Desire Escape vision
Antagonist Witch presence
TP Suzy makes it out of hallway
Value Survival
Role Deepen mystery at the academy
Analysis The rows and rows of red portend to the unease of the scene. Suzy feels something frightening, but she can’t understand what. Red, the color of blood, is a visual metaphor for the evil of the coven.
Scene #8 Suzy Collapses
Protagonist Suzy
Desire Fight through ache
Antagonist Mysterious force
TP Suzy collapses
Value Impression
Role Act One Climax: Suzy is commited to the academy as the mysterious force poisons her and forces her to stay.
Analysis The repetitive motion of dancing drives Suzy to collapse. Although Suzy may not realize it yet, we know that she has been poisoned by the coven to keep her under their thumb. This is her unwilling commitment to the story.
Scene #9 Sick In Bed
Protagonist Suzy
Desire Get well
Antagonist Ilness
TP Suzy agrees to take medicine
Value Advancement
Role Deepening mystery
Analysis Suzy is given a strange medicine to overcome her illness. This will keep her at the academy after her initial refusal of a room. She is being sedated to gain her compliance.
Scene #10 Maggots
Protagonist Suzy
Desire Escape maggots
Antagonist Maggots
TP Find source of maggots
Value Survival
Role More tension building
Analysis There’s a buildup leading to the maggot realization. There’s something in her hair. What is it? There’s a maggot. Why? Then there’s more. She rips them out of her hair. Then she looks up. They’re falling out of the ceiling. Then screams from other girls. They’re everywhere. The buildup brings out the horror of the moment. What is happening in this house?
Scene #11 Contingency Plan
Protagonist Headmistress
Desire Fix maggot problem
Antagonist Maggots
TP Decides everyone will sleep in dancing hall
Value Propriety
Role Headmistress Act One: Keep school under control. Her Inciting Incident occurs offscreen, which is Patricia running away.
Analysis Sleeping in the studio will provide more clues for Suzy to unravel the mystery.
Scene #12 Sleeping in Studio
Protagonist Sara
Desire Figure out cause of strange snoring
Antagonist Mystery
TP Sara concludes strange woman is behind sheet
Value Mystery
Role Sara Inciting Incident: Find cause of mysteries at school. Midpoint: Face to face with malevolent force.
Analysis The color red is used again to mark a transition into the evil witch world, this time the outline of the matron witch. We are also introduced to her strange snoring which will be used in terrifying effect later on in the film. This is the midpoint of the film as Suzy comes face to face with the source of the mystery though she doesn’t realize it yet.
Scene #13 Dog Argument
Protagonist Miss Tanner
Desire Get rid of dog
Antagonist Blind pianist Daniel
TP Pianist storms out
Value Propriety
Role Daniel Inciting Incident
Analysis This scene sets up the second confrontation with the coven. Daniel’s dog bites the headmistress’ son. Miss Tanner, defending her coven, fires the man after he is rude about it. This confrontation sets up another investigation into the witches by Suzy and the audience.
Scene #14 Charting Steps
Protagonist Sara
Desire Chart steps
Antagonist Mystery
TP Successfully charts steps
Value Mystery
Role Setup
Analysis Sara, intrigued by the mystery surrounding the academy, counts the steps walking down the hallway. This will prove useful to Suzy at the film’s conclusion.
Scene #15 Daniel Murdered
Protagonist Daniel
Desire Find attacker
Antagonist Mysterious force
TP Daniel mauled
Value Survival
Role Daniel Act One Climax
Analysis The force that hunted Patricia in the film’s opening reveals itself again as Daniel is mauled by his own seeing eye dog. This further illustrates the power of the coven and its far reach.
Scene #16 Suzy Remembers Words
Protagonist Suzy
Desire Figure out cause of murders
Antagonist Headmistress
TP Headmistress can’t help
Value Mystery
Role Setup for Conclusion
Analysis Suzy remembers Patricia uttering the words “secret iris” that fateful night. This is a setup for Suzy’s actions during the conclusion.
Scene #17 Sara’s Demise
Protagonist Sara
Desire Survive
Antagonist Witches
TP Murdered
Value Survival
Role Sara Act One Climax
Analysis As Sara realizes she is in imminent danger, the lights change around her. She is physically and mentally ensnared in the web of the witches, her murder the catalyst for Suzy’s further actions.
Scene #18 Suzy Learns about Sara
Protagonist Suzy
Desire Find Sara
Antagonist Witches
TP Suzy learns Sara disappeared
Value Mystery
Role Deeper stakes
Analysis The stakes for Suzy deepen as her one friend, Sara, has disappeared. This casts her off in a way, her alone against the coven.
Scene #19 Suzy Tries to Find Sara
Protagonist Suzy
Desire Find Sara
Antagonist Coven
TP Suzy can’t find Sara
Value Mystery
Role Deeper stakes
Analysis Suzy realizes she is on her own and must solve the mystery herself.
Scene #20 Suzy Learns about Witches
Protagonist Suzy
Desire Find Sara
Antagonist Witches
TP Suzy learns about Sara’s theories of witches
Value Mystery
Role Act Two Climax
Analysis Through Sara’s friend psychiatrist Frank, Suzy learns that the school was established by a woman named Helena Markos whom locals believed to be a witch. She also learns about her status as a Black Queen and that a coven can only survive with its leader. This information will prove vital for Suzy at the film’s conclusion. She now knows how the coven was started, who she is up against and how to destroy it if she can believe in the fantastical. This catapults her into the last act of the film.
Scene #21 Bat Attack
Protagonist Suzy
Desire Beat back bat
Antagonist Bat
TP Suzy kills bat
Value Survival
Role Approach to Suzy’s test
Analysis The bat is a threshold guardian, preparing Suzy for her journey into the world of the witches. Killing it again reveals her inner strength, a courage that will be tested.
Scene #22 The Coven
Protagonist Suzy
Desire Beat back Coven
Antagonist Witches
TP Suzy stabs Markos
Value Survival
Role A3 Climax
Analysis Suzy uses everything she has learned over the course of the story to survive; Sara’s research (counting footsteps), Patricia’s mumbles (turning the blue iris to open the secret door) and Dr. Milius’ knowledge (killing the head of the coven). Suzy wanders down a hallway, disappearing into the maze of the witches. She peers behind a curtain to glance at their world, seeing their evil coming after her. The light again is used to show the power of the witches and Suzy realizes that everyone is in on it, against her. As Suzy hides from the coven, she hears the labored breathing, taking our memories back to Sara’s theories about the woman behind the sheet. We then realize as Suzy does that it is Helena Markos. Suzy must summon her strength and fight against the evil witch who remains hidden from her until she stabs her in the neck, revealing her haggard, ugly appearance. Sara’s body being used a surrogate killing machine against Suzy highlights how Suzy and the other girls are viewed as just a means to an end, their youth and beauty manipulations of the coven. The crumbling coven after the death of Markos highlights the power they held once again, that power dissipating out of them.
Scene #23 Escape
Protagonist Suzy
Desire Escape
Antagonist Crumbling witch world
TP Suzy leaves school
Value Survival
Role Conclusion
Analysis The world of the coven falls apart. The entire academy is revealed as a facade for their evil ways. Suzy leaves not quite unlike Patricia at the start of the film, but with a smile on her face. She has conquered the evil that destroyed Patricia and Sara and feels realized.

OVERALL

Setting the story up as a fable allows Argento to deal with elemental forces to create complexity around an otherwise simple narrative. In effect, the film can be seen as an exploration into the human psyche in similarity to myths.

Suzy delves into the realm of the unconscious at the academy, developing from naive youth to strong individual. The entire film feels like a dream in many ways. Many shots and sequences are set up as mazes, highlighting this exploration into deeper realms of consciousness. The empty landscapes of most of the film allow the characters and sets to stand out as canvases, seemingly painted on the screen. As the story unfolds, Suzy is seen constantly peering through windows and curtains, symbolically delving deeper and deeper into the psyche. What she finds is a true horror, a perversion of nature, the result of the ego turning against its better nature. Faced with the repercussions of the power of the ego gone amuck, Suzy is able to beat back the current of its force and complete herself.

This is of course just one possible interpretation of “Suspiria.” Given the wide open nature of the narrative, there are many others. Perhaps the world, so antifeminist as it is, has morphed a group of women into a hyperfeminist cult, their need for power twisting into evil. Or the power of age, how the coven finds the need to lure young women to them, the need to stay young metastasized in their dogma.

Suzy is not given a lot of characterization. We know little about her past, her motivations. In one sense, this allows us to put our own interpretation of her character on the screen. In another, it prevents us from being more fully invested in the story. And given that the film is a mere 22 scenes long, not knowing more about any of the characters keeps us at arm’s length away from investing in the narrative.

The true star of the film, of course, is the cinematography. DP Luciano Tovoli utilizes a broad array of colors to create a beautiful film, using Technicolor to its full effect as it borrows from Italian Giallo and German Expressionism. Combined with the score by the Italian band Goblin, this creates a distinct, surreal atmosphere that’s beyond reality. We clearly enter into the witches’ world and these elements, designed by Argento, transport us.

It is the greatest ability of the film, something totally original and defining. There’s a reason why we think of Argento, we think of these moments instantly. In a way, the plot is secondary to the creative transportation Argento creates. His film canvas is a representation of our mind and dreams and nightmares.

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