Category Archives: Films

“Christopher Robin” as touching and sappy as Pooh’s honey- but that’s okay

Written by Alex Ross Perry and Tom McCarthy and directed by Marc Forster, “Christopher Robin” tells the story of the titular character (Ewan McGregor) who went on so many adventures in the Hundred Acre Woods. Now a husband, father and businessman, Christopher has forgotten the frivolity and joy of his childhood. As the company he works for looks to downsize and tasks him with cutting employees, a friend from his past, Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings), appears to him and realizes he’s become a Woozle.

Much like “Hook”, the film follows an adult character from a classic story to see that he has lost his youth and innocence. It’s a very predictable story from disillusioned adult to joyful parent, but a heartfelt one nonetheless.

In fact, perhaps a little too heartfelt. Images of Robin fighting in World War II, screaming at Pooh and ultimately embracing his old friends against a brilliant sun push the film perilously close towards schmaltz. But with a narrative of this type, with characters as beloved as these, some schmaltz is not the worst thing. It is, after all, a story about a man being reunited with his teddy bear.

Perhaps the film’s greatest sin is in its casting with 47 year-old Ewan McGregor paired with 36 year-old Hayley Atwell as his wife, Evelyn. It’s another example of Hollywood casting substantially older males with younger female co-stars.

But the film is a low-key, sweet tale of regaining perspective amidst an adult world of cynicism. Kids will like it. Adults might like it more.

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“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” criminally overstuffed

While the first “Fantastic Beasts” film set up the world of Newt Scamander, “The Crimes of Grindelwald” delves into the deeper plot of the new tale J.K. Rowling is telling in her Wizarding World. It’s a double-edged sword however as “Grindelwald” is certainly more dramatic than its lighthearted predecessor, but there is so much going on that it muddles the emotional impact of its narrative.

The film follows Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as he tries to not get involved in the burgeoning conflict between Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) and Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law). His friends Queenie (Alison Sudol), Jacob (Dan Fogler) and love interest Tina (Katherine Waterston) are back as well as newcomes like his brother, Theseus (Callum Turner), and old flame, Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz). Grindelwald moves to create an army of followers in Paris, leading Newt into danger.

The casting in all of the Potter films has always been great and that streak continues with “Grindelwald.” Jude Law glides into the role of Dumbledore with a twinkle in his eye that ties him to Michael Gambon and Richard Harris. And Johnny Depp refrains from being a caricature of himself and becomes an enticing, malicious dark wizard. In contrast with Voldemort who basically looks and sounds evil, Depp as Grindelwald is a charismatic leader with legitimate grievances that make sense. How such monsters gain power is an interesting parallel to the world of the past and present.

The world is still brilliant and magical. Wands, spells, beasts, riddles. A circus in Paris, the Lestrange cemetery, Nicholas Flamel’s house and, of course, Hogwarts. It’s always a treat to be back in the Wizarding World.

The problem is that “Grindelwald” is so cluttered. There are so many characters and so much going on that the whole plot feels muddled. You have Grindelwald gathering followers and tracking Creedence, Dumbledore fighting with the Ministry and battling his inner demons, Jacob and Queenie working on their relationship, Creedence trying to find his mother with Nagini, Leta Lestrange confronting her feelings and her past, Theseus Scamander trying to control his brother and Tina trying to find Creedence and prove herself as an Auror. Whew.

Oh, yeah, and there’s Newt Scamander, the supposed protagonist of this saga. He’s often on the sidelines however, much like poor Bilbo Baggins in “The Hobbit” trilogy. Your central character needs to drive the action. To tie him into the plot, it would make sense for him to be in direct conflict with Grindelwald. Perhaps Grindelwald is searching for a creature in Newt’s case that would aid him in his war, and Newt is on the run. He’s hiding in Paris, and we are introduced to the magical world in France. He becomes involved in a sideplot that shows how the wizarding governments are failing the magical community, illustrating the power of Grindelwald’s argument. As it is, Newt is just kind of there, leaving us wanting.

The story feels most like a Potter film at the climax, a dramatic moment of choice that tests the characters and elevates an otherwise disjointed film. Perhaps that’s portending to a more involving story soon to come, with a motivated Newt working to stop Grindelwald. After kind of sleep walking through two films, it’s what the series truly needs.


“Can You Ever Forgive Me?” a character study of a rotten individual

What are the lengths of your forgiveness? What if the person who betrayed you knew that what they were doing was wrong and did it anyway? What if they’re not even sorry? These are some of the questions “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” asks as it weaves a character study of an ornery curmudgeon who hurts everyone around her.

Written by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty and directed by Marielle Heller, the film tells the story of Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy), a down on her luck writer. She can’t get an advance from her publisher, her biographies aren’t making money anymore and it’s difficult for her to connect with anyone because she prefers cats to people. She befriends the witty, charismatic Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), a fellow writer and an irresponsible drunk. As Lee’s situation worsens, she discovers the burgeoning world of collectible autographs, working with Jack to forge signatures and turning to a life of crime to just pay her bills.

Lee abuses everyone in her life throughout the course of the story. Jack, her publisher, her old partner, a potential new partner, bookstore owners… Everyone but her cat. She can’t stand other people’s feelings and inadequacies and doesn’t trust them. She also can’t open herself up and create lasting connections. It’s a testament to McCarthy that we feel sympathy for such an unlikable character. This is quite a different McCarthy than we’re used to: belligerent, hot-tempered, mean, closed off. She demonstrates a strong dramatic range in addition to her comedic talents.

Could we forgive her? The film lets us glimpse into Lee’s life to help us answer that question for ourselves, a benefit those in the film are not afforded. Knowing her situation, the pains she takes to avoid commitment and how often people betray her, can we forgive Lee for breaking the law, losing the trust of her friends and being an overall pain in the ass? Maybe.

It is a very well-acted film, specifically from McCarthy and Grant, two performances that make you care for them them, pity them and despise them all at the same time. The first act drags on a bit long with the same repetitive beats over and over, but it also serves to really let us into Lee’s life and shows her predicament. The middle and last act are slightly uneven as there are moments where the film really picks up and gets exciting and then moments of long pauses and introversion. But overall, it’s an interesting character study of a temperamental, antisocial woman who nevertheless deserves our empathy.

Hollywood has a bad case of Marvelitis

There was a time when hype was built up for a great movie experience. All cinephiles can remember that excitement for the motion picture event of the year. There was Jaws in 1975. There was Jurassic Park in 1993. There was Star Wars: The Phantom Menace in 1999. The was The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in 2001. There was Avatar in 2009.

The world was given glimmers of the promise of truly breathtaking filmmaking leading up to the release of each of these films. People rushed to the cinemas to see something that became more than a movie, it was a global phenomenon, something that changed the way we think about film culturally. Where has that gone?

For studios, it’s no longer about one film anymore. It’s about franchises. Why put all of your eggs into one basket when you can have multiple baskets? And it has drained the creativity and ingenuity out of the Hollywood marketplace.

The tentpole film is dead for the moment. It can always come back. It probably will at some point. But one film is no longer enough for studios right now. It’s the franchise that rules.

The term is called Marvelitis. It started with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The characters of Iron Man, Captain America and Thor were each given their own separate films before joining up in a mash-up Avengers film (2012). Then the list of characters expanded and more individual films were made before they all joined up again in a second Avengers film (2015). And more characters will be given their own films and more team-ups will come together, an ever expanding universe. And not only have the films become successful, but there is now a need to see all the films in order to stay up in the continuity of the overall story, and the more entries into the MCU, the more opportunities for merchandising. Ever going. On and on.

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And studios are now copying Marvel’s success. The Justice League, the Transformers, the Ghostbusters, the Men in Black, 21 Jump Street, Star Wars. As long as a studio has a hot franchise (or in some cases even not so hot), it can create its own series of films and hook viewers into a continuum storyline in order to suck as much profit as it can out of a franchise’s bone marrow.

The problem then is that nothing of much substance happens in the films. When drastic things happen in the plot, the story is closer to its end. In order to stretch out the story as much as possible, dramatic things have to be delayed, which leads to far less interesting stories. The results are watered down films where not a lot happens.

And the effect on the audience is a dilution of substance. We are not as emotionally engaged anymore because we know certain characters are “safe.” Captain America is not going to die because he is signed on for three more films. And even when characters die, they often come back, further diminishing the effect of death in film. The dramatic stakes are immediately lessened based on the cinematic universe approach.

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Audiences will tire of this approach eventually. There are already box office signals that the ruse of milking profit and franchises for all their worth is fading. It will take a few years still, but it will happen. Will the movie event of the year film come back at that point? Perhaps. A true emotive film experience is not built up over a series of watered down movies, but over true emotional change in the life circumstances of characters, full of love and loss and hope and desire. The movie events of year’s past had those qualities in spades in addition to advances in technology and breathtaking thrills. They can’t be back soon enough.

 

New “Halloween” a return to form for Michael Myers

John Carpenter’s original 1978 “Halloween” is a classic, the original slasher movie with a great score, scary villain, deep message and genre-defining storyline. Its seven sequels and remake however… not so much. Except for some interesting ideas in “Halloween III: Season of the Witch”, the “Halloween” franchise has consisted mostly of hack jobs meant as a quick means to turn a profit. None of them are in the spirit of the original.

So it’s a relief that the new “Halloween” (which is not given any new identifier) shows great reverence for its source. It’s a direct sequel to the original, dismissing 40 years of lethargic sequels and lazy remakes. And considering that it is by all accounts a good, not great but pretty good, movie, forgetting all those other films just became a whole lot easier.

“Halloween” takes place 40 years to the day Michael Myers went loose and butchered several people in Haddonfield, Illinois. The girl who escaped, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), still lives with the events of that night every day. Her daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), thinks her mom is an old kook, obsessed with safety against an old foe long gone. Laurie’s granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak), tries to connect with her grandmother but is caught between her extremism and her own mom’s pragmatism. Michael, long in confinement, breaks out of prison the night he is being transferred and returns to the town, intent on killing. Laurie, long waiting for this night, is ready to finish him and end her years of torment.

The film is focused on the characters, specifically the three generational Strode women in Laurie, Karen and Allyson. This gives the story a strong foundation to build the relationship between them and how they confront the nightmare that is Myers. Laurie is a survivor who has been scarred by her experience, believing the world is out to get her. Karen believes the world is inherently good. Allyson is caught in the middle, young and still learning about life. It’s an interesting study about trauma and worldview that becomes somewhat muddled at the end, but nevertheless gives the film some gravitas.

Due diligence is also given to pretty much every random character, killed or not. Some moments feel rather forced in and don’t really go anywhere, but the characters are not stereotypical chum meant purely for slaughter. Much like the original film, we’re slightly sad when they get butchered. That means a lot.

Perhaps the thing that works best in “Halloween’s” favor is that it feels consequential. It feels like a sequel that maybe not necessarily needed to be told, but still feels important as a continuation of the original’s story. That’s due to the dedication of screenwriter Danny McBride and director/co-writer David Gordon Green, along with a returning John Carpenter to do the score. They respected the original, studied and tried their best to make something worthy of a follow-up. It’s not a classic like the source, but it doesn’t need to be. It just needed to feel consequential and it does.

It’s almost a shame that Michael Myers will return. Given the box office success of this film, it’s a given that there will be another movie. And perhaps another after that. And after that. Much like the success of the first “Halloween” spawned 40 years of lackluster cashgrabs, perhaps it’s the franchise’s destiny to be plagued by an incessant need to cash in whenever a substance of quality is made. This “Halloween” feels like a natural conclusion. But Michael will return.

That’s the scariest trick he ever pulled.

“The Haunting of Hill House” a rare gem of long-form storytelling

There’s been a paradigm shift in the way viewers consume content. We don’t want to wait a week for a TV show anymore. We want all the shows at once. When we watch TV, we tend to do it in large bulks, several hours at a time. Due to this, some storytellers have become lazy. Look at the recent “House of Cards” seasons. One story climax per season. That’s hours and hours of buildup that lost viewers. The same can be said of several other Netflix shows such as “Luke Cage” and “Daredevil.” Since the storylines would be consumed at once, filmmakers were content to build mood, characters and storylines over several hours and avoided grand, dramatic moments. Now, the opposite could be argued of weekly television programs. One need only look at Shonda Rhimes’ shows to see drama morph into melodrama and soap opera as the need to cram as many dramatic moments into 60 minutes renders believability and schmaltz an issue. But such dramatics also build stronger story arcs generally.

So the balance between these two different types of storytelling approaches begs the question: Can you make long-form storytelling engaging without resorting to melodrama but also avoid the slow buildup that often plagues shows of this nature?

Enter “The Haunting of Hill House.”

“The Haunting of Hill House” focuses on the Crain family: father Hugh, mother Olivia, daughters Nelle, Theodora and Shirley and sons Steven and Luke. Back in the 1980s, they try to fix up an old house and sell it, living in it until it’s ready for market. But something is wrong in the house. Very, very wrong. In the present day, the family must come together after years apart to deal with a tragedy, the events of the past still reverberating in the present.

The show is very smartly a mystery, keeping us intrigued as we wonder what is in the house? Why is it haunted? What did it do to each character? And what is in the red room?

Then the show builds up towards the conclusion of that mystery by going from character to character per episode. Nell gets an episode. Theodora gets an episode. Steven gets an episode. We see the same event from each character’s point of view and learn a bit more about each of them. Then, when all the characters meet in episode 6, it makes the emotion of their interactions all the more powerful because we understand each of their flaws, desires and motivations.

The show tells one story, but it feels like a multi-faceted, character-driven ensemble rather than just biding time till the big twist in the last episode. Much like a novel, there are layers built up throughout the story.

And like many a good novel, the mystery at the center of the story keeps us engaged. Learning about each character keeps us involved as some questions are answered and new ones asked. And we are “dying” to know how this all will end. The buildup to those questions ups the tension and our involvement.

And in looking just at the show, “The Haunting of Hill House” is exceptional for a new twist on an old tale. The ghosts are scary. The real world is even scarier.

The ghosts are symbols of the trauma each character suffers: addiction, abuse, mental illness, the fear of death. Trauma haunts each character and the ghosts represent those past experiences. That is what is truly terrifying about the show (not the jump scares which are unfortunate), the realities of childhood trauma still affecting us today. It’s affecting in a way that other horror shows that resort to cheap scares and overt creepiness aren’t (*cough* American Horror Story *cough*).

Director Mike Flanagan was very smart about how to tell this ghost story, and it appears this type of engaging long-form storytelling is becoming more fruitful. “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” and “Orange is the New Black” have utilized similar types of approaches to create engaging stories that last several hours without resorting into melodrama. One hopes that this trend, and other new approaches that test the form, continue.

“The Haunting of Hill House” is definitely worth your time as it is an engaging, terrifying, emotional story.

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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