Heavy Duty Woman
As Pablo Neruda writes in his poem “Body of a Woman”, he describes the female framework with his version of love and lust. Though out of romantic persuasion, the poem is an objectification of the well-oiled machines, the land that is conquered by the man. It is an older piece of history that continues to stir tensions between the two sexes, one wishing to claim female sexuality as its own, and the other with a more traditional perspective. It would not be uncommon for people to assume women as sexually submissive objects, rather than someone with desires. The poem was understood back then under the guise of devotion, where men are simply trying to worship the woman’s body, but now with the introduction of the #MeToo movement and a wave of feminism, the meaning of this poem should be re-examined. And yet, what about the female body?
Body of a woman, white hills, white thighs,
you look like a world, lying in surrender.
My rough peasant’s body digs in you
and makes the son leap from the depth of the earth
Aside from Neruda’s questionable comments, the bodies of women can often spark debates, the pugnacious cabals challenging her anatomy, to her allegory, to her rights. 1977’s Suspiria by Dario Argento is a vitriolic horror piece that shoulders the expectations of womanhood, daring to explore the themes of feminism and equality. The 2018 Luca Guadagnino remake takes the original mold, and asks a more contemporary question. While the female characters are brutalized, their agony squirming for life, the journey to becoming a “perfect woman” is a long and arduous one, ugly for the sake of beauty, painful in the name of graceful.
The most iconic scenes from Suspiria have to be Olga’s breakdance and the climatic red witch-gathering. The film’s obsession about a woman’s body is most evident when Olga decides to quit the company. Why should the led of the fictional show Volk give up her position to let Susie, the newcomer, replace her? There is mystery behind this, surely something has to explain Olga’s paranoia and frustration?
The two performances take place simultaneously, with Susie dictating the choreography, and Olga following uncontrollably like a ragdoll. It is a magical alignment fashioned by the choreographer, Madame Blanc, better known as one of the witch mothers of the coven. Whatever movement is made by Susie, Olga has to reciprocate via the extremities. What follows is a very cruel torture sequence, as Susie indirectly rips Olga apart.
And that is what comes from the film; two sides. To summarize the flip side of the coin in one word: ugly.
Essentially, this specific dance is meant to relocate vital essence, flair and power from one woman to the other, until all that is left, is a puddle of urine and a human pretzel. When Olga’s body is skewered and broken down later by the witches using rib bones, reminiscent of God using Adam’s rib to create Eve. The same tissue used, means that he and she were from the same substance. Like him, she was made in the image of God, a companion who goes along with him. Although Olga and Susie are definitely not each other’s besties, refining Susie demands Olga’s sacrifice, ultimately for the ritual at the Red-Wedding-esque climax.
How many times has this motivator lead to the downfall of women? The infatuation of feminine beauty, a social construct dictating physical attractiveness to be arguably a woman’s most important asset. How many times are pretty women given the spotlight in media, especially Hollywood, a place brimming with gorgeous actresses and frowning upon those that are considered “fat” or “ugly”? The more you fear something, the bigger it appears. The more decoration we lather upon these darlings, the heavier the ornaments bear on the shoulders of those who have been taken from. Think about Marketa losing her formidable jumps to Susie, désormais that violent seizure cherry top added to the cake. Yet another woman has to cave for Susie. In a flurry, fellow dancer Sara is maimed too. Suspiria does well to showcase Susie’s adroitness as a dancer, but does even better to hide this malevolent theme until the last minute.
All this hassle to beef up Susie is not meant for herself, but rather for the benefit of the warped Helena Markos. Her young, rejuvenated body is supposed to be a vessel for the dying matron, and Susie’s very own soul to be sentenced towards a dormant coma for the rest of time. This brings everyone from the dance company to the climax of the film, a mess of body parts, taking part in some sort of necromantic ritual. Under a hypnotic spell, the dancers join together by their arms and legs, effectively creating a parable of heavy duty beauty, for Markos’ perpetuity.
History tells stories of new civilizations being built on the backs of innocent people, ushering a new era of false tranquility. Underneath the Great Wall of China, lies thousands of perished souls that were worked to death in unfavourable conditions. Suspiria, centered in Berlin, touches somewhat on the footprints left by Nazism and the mechanistic Holocaust, building an empire of Aryan supremacy by stepping on the lifeless bodies of countless innocents. Again, the question begs, how much has to be sacrificed for the frivolous pursuit of splendour?
Dakota Johnson, fresh from her campaign as Anastasia Steele in the Fifty Shades series, stars as Susie Bannion amidst this arid film. It captures the landscape of Berlin in the 70s wonderfully, hardened and greyish architecture, complimented by a red colour palette. It reminds fondly of the original, and as a remake, does not dwell too long in it either.
Looking deeper at the grotesque physical malformations of some characters, the film canons off the more self-conscious images of modern-day society’s demand for beauty, be it natural or artificial. The product of our incessant aspirations lead to unnecessary crowd-pleasers, maladies coming as the result of an almost epidemical anorexia and businesses built to profit off further insecurities. You think of Indian skin-lightening creams that promote their idealized versions of a man and woman, South Korean plastic surgeries pillaring the Kpop moguls and French girls who starve themselves just to shave off a couple of pounds. Suspiria is a very touchy (literally) film that pays a lot of attention to Susie’s glamorous body, whereas an indifference is cast to her worth inside. Her personality.
The nearly all-female cast can be seen as a win for actresses around in a high-profile film, but moreover a testament to how women are ultimately the ones hastening their degradation. Admiration is one thing, yet jealousy is another; this cruel society forces everyone to clamour over each other towards the finish line, luring them with a slice of cake and demanding Herculean tasks as prerequisites, and the scary thing is just how quickly they can discard themselves for this cake.
Game of Thrones has a popular saying: All men must die. Perhaps out of the fictional world and into reality, this is some sort of female genocide ploy going on. After all the turbulent events that transpire onscreen, Suspiria ends the same way it begins, awaiting the arrival of another Susie Bannion so that this cycle can continue. It is not always true that the hot women peppered by paparazzi got their fame by artificial means, however, the heavy duty woman is an amalgamation of suffrage. Surrounded by deathly hallows and bone-chilling sequences, we realize that practice does make perfect. Thus, society will continue practicing, until perfection is achieved.