Suture (1993) – Tuesday’s Forgotten Film

Suture-dvdThis complex mystery is in a literal, thematic and metaphorical sense, a true piece of black and white cinema. An experimental indie movie that riffs smartly on the Film Noir genre, this is a cleverly plotted murder mystery about amnesia and identity in which what we see as an audience is radically different from how the characters perceive the world they inhabit. We begin with two men, one white and one black, one stalking the other, seemingly about to kill each other. During this we listen to a lecture about amnesia. Just as a shotgun is poised to go off, we flash back to the beginning of our tale, and understand something truly disorienting  …

The following review is offered as part of the Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme hosted by Todd Mason over at his Sweet Freedom blog and you should head over there to see the many other fascinating titles that have been selected.

“How is it that we know who we are? We might wake up in the night disoriented and wonder where we are. We may have forgotten where window or the door or the bathroom is or who is sleeping beside us. We may think perhaps that we have lived through what we just have dreamed of.  We may wonder if we are now still dreaming. But we never wonder who we are … But it makes no sense to begin this story here without its history, its past. So, let me take you back to a proper beginning, to a time before identity has been confused” – Opening voiceover by Dr. Max Shinoda (Sab Shimono)

This is the story of two half-brothers who bear an uncanny resemblance to each other and who never met until their father dies. Clay (Dennis Haysbert) comes from a poor background while Vincent (Michael Harris) is hugely wealthy. After meeting at the funeral, Clay is invited by Vincent to his palatial new home in LA. Clay says he doesn’t want anything except to make contact, though Vincent is clearly wary. 

Suture-01

Indeed, Vincent is pretty much an annoying little jerk all round, condescending and effete with a truly stupid-looking ponytail to boot. While Clay is in the shower, he swaps his ID documents with him and then says he has to leave for an urgent flight. He has Clay put on his clothes and accept his watch as gift and asks to be taken to the airport. Vincent then calls Clay on the car phone and apologises, saying that he had no other way out.

“Our physical similarity is disarming, isn’t it?”

Before Clay can ask what he means, the bomb under the car is detonated by the phone call and Vincent walks away, to all intent and purposes apparently now dead and no longer a suspect in his father’s murder.

Suture-02

However, Clay amazingly survives the explosion, but loses his memory – having been setup to be mistaken for his half-brother, when his face is reconstructed it is made to be exactly like that of Vincent. Clay is now the object of the affection of his plastic surgeon (Mel Harris) and is being watched by the police, as he is still the number one suspect in his father’s shooting, though some question if the shooting was not murder but a robbery gone awry; in one amusing sequence, one of the new men on the squad questions if even the car explosion was not another murder attempt but something else …

“I’ve seen a lost of suicides. Poisons, gas, narcotics, leaping suicides, suicides with guns, handguns, rifles, shotguns, not to mention suicides with automobiles but never have I seen a suicide with a self-activated remote control car bomb”

So, Clay thinks he is Vincent, a man who was a loner and widely disliked and has to wrestle with the possibility that he may be guilty of his father’s murder – but will he regain his memory? He seems to have only one old family friend, played by the delectable Dina Merril, who tries to tell him about what his old life was like but who also wonders if he really wants to remember it. As the police investigate and he speaks to his psychiatrist (Sab Shimono) he begins to have dreams which slowly develop into memories of Clay’s earlier life – but who is the person now following him in a car? And why is old family friend Merril starting to look at him so strangely after looking at his back?

Suture-03

Informed by the theories of Lacan, and with the central surgeon named Dr. Renee Descartes for the celebrated 17th century French philosopher, this is clearly a film with some very esoteric ideas on its mind, all of which pays off with the Shinoda voiceover that bookends the films. But the main ace up its sleeve is the casting of Haysbert and Harris as two nearly identical brothers in the story, though the men in question don’t look anything alike, and not just because one is Caucasian and the other African-American. This adds a fascinating additional visual layer to this tale of identity theft by introducing a racial element that matches the stark black and white cinematography and the matching design and finds a clever method to unsettle the viewers in a way that matches the discomfort of the protagonist. If you can find it, this a great thriller that easily deserves 95 minutes of your time and will also give you something to chew on after the end credits have finished rolling

DVD Availability: A barebones release is available in the US and is well worth getting until something in HD finally comes along …

Suture (1993)
Director: Scott McGehee and David Siegel
Producer: Scott McGehee and David Siegel
Screenplay: Scott McGehee and David Siegel
Cinematography: Greg Gardiner
Art Direction: Kelly McGehee
Music: Cary Berger
Cast: Dennis Haysbert, Michael Harris, Mel Harris,  Sab Shimono, Dina Merrill

***** (3.5 fedora tips out of 5)

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33 Responses to Suture (1993) – Tuesday’s Forgotten Film

  1. Sergio – What an interesting film! So often the amnesia motif is not done very credibly but it sounds as though this time it’s done reasonably well. And esoteric or not, it sounds like a solidly-paced film, too. Thanks as ever for a rich discussion of it.

  2. le0pard13 says:

    I remember when this one came out and I wanted to see it. Never did, though. I need to take it in. Thanks, Sergio.

  3. TracyK says:

    That does sound like a complex movie, Sergio. I am very easily confused in this type of movie, but if I run into, I will give it a try.

    • Once you get past the central the central conceit of two apparently identical people being played by different people (a trick Bunuel also played in That Obscure Object of Desire), the rest falls into place very adroitly – honest!

  4. Colin says:

    I don’t believe I’ve heard of this movie. The provocative casting decision and photography alone would make it interesting. Add the whole insomnia, metaphysical aspect into the mix and it sounds very distinctive.

    • Well worth a loook Colin, though definitely more amnesia than isomnia :)

      • Colin says:

        Good God! I’m losing it I tell ya!

        Anyway, the amnesia part (how appropriate!) is always appealing. One thing though, I find modern day movies shot in B&W look somehow odd. This is coming from someone who loves B&W films so I’m not quite sure why that is.

        • There’s a bit of a mixture here in terms of the look – it can’t match the beauty of say gordon Willis’ work for Woody Allen or Almendros’ amazing BW collaborations with Truffaut as the budget it too low – the opening section set at night, which is very contrasty, works incredibly well while some of the daylight scenes are a bit flat which is what I often find with black and whote movies shot in the modern era – the articifial looking moments are great but they don;t know how to make the everyday work. Bogdanovich did it incredibly well in Paper Moon and Last Picture Show, and this apparently inspsired the look of Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, which i heartily recommend.

          • Colin says:

            Yes, that’s well put, and what I wanted to express myself. There can be that flatness at times in modern B&W. I think it shows how important the lighting and stock used in the past were in achieving a more believable or richer look throughout. Good examples of successful B&W photography there too.

          • I think The Artist got it about 99% right, though of course that was a very studied hommage and set in the past. It’s when the film are set in contempotary times that the difference seems more noticeable.

  5. Patti Abbott says:

    Boy, I would love to see this one. Amnesia is so often a good premise. And add in the doppelganger sort of motiff-wow.

  6. Santosh Iyer says:

    I have seen this film and I enjoyed it.Though it may not be to everyone’s taste, I regard it as a clever film. Bizarre, unique and thought provoking. The dream sequences are superb.
    My only complaint is regarding the absurd title.A more attractive title could have been given.

    • You are so right about the title Santosh, it makes it sound like a horror movie! I think ‘suture’ is used because it was part of Lacan’s teachings but is pretty obscure for the uninitiated!

      • Colin says:

        Have to agree here – the title actually sounds really off-putting. Such things shouldn’t really matter of course but there is something vaguely unpleasant about it.

        • Never bothered me when it came out but not it does make me think of the Saw series for instance or some such. In anyone is interested in the Lacanian usage, which is what the filmmakers were getting at, and a commentary on it by Slavoj Žižek, click here.

  7. I’ve never heard of this one, and wouldn’t have thought it was my thing at all, but you do make it sound very intriguing. If I ran across it I might well be tempted…

    • It is a fascinating little indie movie which provides an original look at some pretty big themes – but is very accessible once you get past/absorb/accept the central conceit

  8. Hi Sergio, I’m with Tracy in so far as complex plots are concerned and besides I’m not a great fan of films about amnesia and changed identities which is probably one reason why FACE/OFF didn’t click with me. But then, I keep an open mind on films and books that you review and recommend.

    • I am horrified that you don’t like amnesia stories, as I love then :) This one is probably not for you then – mind you, I thought Face/Off was really dumb so I’m in agreement with you there chum!

      • neer says:

        Don’t say that!!! I really liked Face/ Off. Loved how Travolta had his cake and ate it too.

        This movie sounds interesting as I find the concept of twins/ doubles/ doppelgangers fascinating.

        • Thanks Neeru – it’s a a very small film, but full of good and interesting ideas. I enjoyed Face/Off at the cinema, but maybe I’ve changed because much as I enjoyed the OTT perfomances, now I find it too silly for words – sorry about that :)

  9. Pingback: Top 20 Amnesia Mystery Movies | Tipping My Fedora

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