Susie doesn't shrink from Blanc's advancements. She seems tickled by the machinations of her teachers rather than put off by them. And eventually, it all makes sense: Susie understands that she has the upper hand. The coven thinks they are harvesting Susie's body to provide sustenance for the decaying Markos, but in the bloody grand finale, Susie reveals herself to be the leader Mother Suspiriorum. "For us, it became quite unavoidable the fact that it wasn't about a sort of divide between good and evil but more about a power within," Guadagnino told Thrillist in a phone interview. "Susie Bannion had to be one of the elements of that dynamic of power."
This isn't just Susie's story, however -- and it's certainly not one that takes place entirely in a fantasy, like Argento's does. The former was bathed in feverish neon; Guadagnino's is washed out, more true to its setting. As the drama within the Markos Dance Academy is unfolding, hostages are being held on Lufthansa Flight 181, an act deemed political terrorism by some and activism on behalf of the Red Army Faction by others. Berlin, a place torn in two, both by its physical East-West split and by the legacy of WWII and Nazism, has a particularly fraught subtext. Younger generations of Germans were angered by the notion that members of the Third Reich still held places of power, explains David Kajganich, who wrote the adaptation’s screenplay. It's this quagmire of inherited guilt that Kajganich and Guadagnino wanted to explore.
"It was ambiguous at the time whether a political action was politically reactive, whether it was terrorism, what you would call even the simple act of protesting at the time depending on who was making the criticism," Kajganich says. "We thought that [was] a very interesting space to have an audience's relationship with the coven. We didn't want to make moral judgements about the coven as much as we wanted to make procedural observations about how this particular group of women might be able to cultivate private sources of power and figure out how they might wield the most influence in this politically turbulent time."
Enter the character of Josef Klemperer, a psychologist, played ostensibly by an unknown German actor named Lutz Ebersdorf, who is actually Swinton in a lot of makeup. Klemperer is introduced in the very first scene when Academy escapee Patricia Hingle (Chloë Grace Moretz), driven mad by the coven, runs to him seeking counsel. "In this movie, we deal with the irrational," Guadagnino says. "We deal with magic. We deal with the violence that is perpetrated and acted out from a place of fantasy somehow. So I found with David that it was quite essential that we had a character that was completely soaked in the reason."
In tandem with Susie's journey, Klemperer's tragic backstory unfolds. His wife, Anke Meier (original Suspiria star Jessica Harper), was killed in the Holocaust, and he carries around the baggage that he couldn't save her. "Reason was the element that kept him alive," Guadagnino adds. It was what sustained him when he was forced to confront the irrational horrors of the Nazis. When he comes into contact with the Markos coven, he is forced to confront a force that defies all of the qualifications he can make. The witches make him a witness to their ritual, stripping him naked, trembling in front of the bloodbath.