Critical Viewing Journal: Suspiria (1977)

Much has already been said about Dario Argento’s classic giallo, Suspiria (1977), and I’m sure that I’m adding nothing new to the discussion here. However, as part of my Masters in Screenwriting, this module I need to give a two hundred word analysis of ten films, concentrating on different aspects each week.

This week we’re thinking about symbolism, semiotics, and interpreting an image.

Suspiria pops with colour throughout. The lighting is deliberately made to look artificial, giving the whole piece a theatrical feel. The light colours change as a scene progresses, going from green to red to white in a short space of time. The theatricality of the piece is further expanded towards the end, when the main protagonist, Suzy (Jessica Harper) has to literally walk through some large, theatre-like curtains to discover the truth about what has been going on within the dance academy.

From the beginning, the lighting and colours are used as signifiers. The colour red is ever present to signify the incoming and ongoing horrors. Suzy, landing in Germany to attend the academy, comes through arrivals at the airport, stepping through intense red lights. She, dressed in pure, virginal white clothes, is flanked by two women dressed in red, contrasting with her and almost making Suzy disappear. In the cab ride to the academy, red lighting intermittently flashes on Suzy, covering her face and, perhaps more symbolically, her hands, as though she is covered with blood and has blood on her hands for failing to help Pat (Eva Axén) as she flees in terror from the school.

The colour red continues to appear frequently. The outside of the dance academy is a bright red. The inside of the building where Pat (spoilers) gets murdered is mostly red – even the arrow on the elevator leading Pat to her doom is red. Red lights often become the sole source of illumination when something bad is about to happen. The corridors and rooms of the academy are bathed in it, like they’re washed in the blood of the victims who have fallen there over the years. If you look closely early on when Suzy is first being introduced around the academy, Mark is using a red cloth to do some chores, hinting at his involvement with the terrors to come.

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