Absolute Power: Feminine Corruption and Fracture in Suspiria (2018)
After some breathing room from the film, we’re back to talk about Suspiria (2018), a film which moves in multiple layers (much to the chagrin of some). Our first foray into the film saw us tackling notions of guilt and forgiveness. Our next one isn’t as understanding, seeking to acknowledge something pretty difficult in the feminist movement: the expectations of unwavering support of all things female versus the questioning and evolutions brought about by continuous discussion and thought. No relationship typifies this more than that of Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) and the followers of Helena Markos.
At the start of the film, the audience witnesses a vote among the coven members for leadership of the coven. The vote is between long-standing leader Markos and Madame Blanc, with Markos emerging victorious. The name symbolism and plot work to establish and push and pull between the ways of the old and the new: Markos represents standard tradition, ritual and order – the very example of following the traditions of one’s elders blindly, with a façade of choice. Madame Blanc, on the other hand, questions the ritual designed to preserve Markos, and silently safeguards proposed vessel Susie (Dakota Johnson) – “blanc” means “white” in French, symbolizing both a fresh start and purity. Madame Blanc has Susie’s safety in mind, as well as purity in the name of truthfulness – it’s Blanc, after all, who senses a type of corruption within the dance company that causes her to second-guess Markos’s motives. When Markos attempts to kill her before Mother Suspiriorum enacts swift justice, all of Blanc’s dissent is seen by the audience as validated: she was correct to question Markos’s leadership because the woman was manipulating her way into power and perpetual life. It’s the nightmare situation of any dictator – she’s essentially found a way to keep on ruling while keeping her people happy enough not to question her.
The problem of conflicting female leaders and motivations can then be applied to clashes between women and different sections of feminism. At its core, feminism is the belief that women deserve equality. When sticking to that definition, everyone is on the same side. However, certain pieces of feminism bump up against one another, requiring additional thought; this is where splintering occurs within the movement. This ranges in everything from socioeconomic class differences to race to gender assigned at birth. The result is a splintering of a group that should have each other’s backs: white feminists should be learning and advocating for women of color; women who are less financially well-off should be able to count on their more well-heeled counterparts to trumpet their issues; trans women should have inclusion as well. However, there’s a problem I’ve noticed: this goes both ways. The problems of one group don’t go away just because the problems of another group are acknowledged, yet of late, there seems to be a competition and division. And once that happens, that’s when the opportunists come in to drive further wedges and question loyalties – after all, you don’t want to seem like the dreaded enemy to the cause, do you?
That is the big bad wolf of this film: once a little bit of power becomes available, the possessor does not wish to concede it, and begins pitting women against one another. Hence, factions arise, with the intention of “proving” why one side is all bad. In order to retain control, a figurehead creates a division – the focus then becomes demonstrating loyalty by any means necessary as opposed to the main focus of a woman finally obtaining a leadership position, working together to right some of the wrongs. That’s an incredibly dangerous tactic, because then nothing gets solved and the shit-stirrers continue playing semantic games to keep themselves on top. Markos literally carves out the souls of women to inhabit a new body, and nearly decapitates her competition – that’s someone who clearly is not invested in the cause, but in self-preservation. That’s the kind of person one needs to observe and carefully avoid.
This leaves us in an uncomfortable place: in the film, Mother Suspiriorum shows up to deliver correction and oust the corrupt party; in real life, this does not happen without a lot of intervention and teamwork. Where we go from here is a matter of principle: do we take the side of dialogue and understanding, with patience and empathy, or a place of termination with extreme prejudice? Either position requires – demands – enough courage to throw out the wolf in sheep’s clothing.