A keen suspension of disbelief is critical in the enjoyment of genres predicated on wonder, whimsy and exaggeration, not having a healthy penchant to believe the unbelievable locks swathes of the more imaginative hues of cinema behind locked door. Curious it is then that 1993’s existentialist noir about the reconstruction of psyche, Suture, co-directed and written by Scott McGehee & David Siegel, should have such concerns at its core.
Dennis Haysbert (Clay) attends the funeral of his absent Father, meeting wealthier Brother, Vincent, (Michael Harris) for the first time. Despite one Brother being black and the other white, many of the funerals attendees’ remark on how similar they look. Vincent offers Clay somewhere to stay for a few nights before the long trip home. Vincent is using this opportunity to get away with the murder of their father by planting a bomb in his car, passing the corpse off as his own as part of his plan to start a new life elsewhere with his murdered Father’s inheritance. Barely surviving the blast, Clay has his face, memory and identity restored in hospital, but instead of waking up as Clay Arlington he now believes himself to be Vincent Towers.
Therein lies the gambit of McGehee and Siegel’s film – do you believe Dennis Haysbert and Michael Harris look alike? There is a passing resemblance in the positioning of certain features, sadly this is a world away from the separated at birth similarity of Mark Strong and Sacha Baron Cohen. While the maxim does state that necessity is the mother of invention it still has its limits. Yet herein lies the point, this ambitiously conceptual film is concerned with the construction and reconstruction of identity, using the black and white of its two figureheads to question whether one person can move from one extreme to the other, using skin colour as visual representation of this.
Like countless other 1990s films around it, stark black and white is used to denote thematic complexity or a severity of tone – a crutch used by some of the decades laziest directors. In the case of Suture it couldn’t be a better match to the film’s content, adding more than the surface noir patter. The black and white encourages comparisons to Frankeheimer’s Seconds of Teshigahara’s the Face of Another, both films that focus on the fractured persona, however it goes further. Greg Gardiner, who later went worked as director of photography on many high profile comedies, uses space and light to create a beautiful and empathetic dreamscape. The original promotional tag line was “a thriller where nothing is black and white”. In a final dramatic scene in which one persona clashes with the other, Gardiner articulates that haziness by using a shower curtain as a barrier, a single shot that subtly amplifies the unknown that lies just out of arm’s length.
Openly inviting the legacy of Sigmund Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams is dangerously close to naked intellectualism and ostentation, therefore to lessen the grandness of Suture’s intentions a little effort should be spent in providing a context for these unbelievable circumstance to exist within. Instead an awkward shadow is cast by the naming sensibility. The female lead (Mel Harris) is named Renee Descartes after one of the founding fathers of Western philosophy, which while understandable as a means to draw strands together it is still a little too on the nose.
Self-discovery is a huge part of a person’s coming of age and a comparably large theme in cinema. However, McGehee & Siegel penned and co-directed a film more intriguing than engaging. While Haysbert personifies the loss of self and confusion in a career high performance, it’s difficult to get lost in the haze like the script is begging for due to the constant awareness of the elephant in the room. It’s simply impossible to forget that Dennis Haysbert and Michael Harris look alike by the thinnest slither; a simple double take would undermine the entire concept. That may be the point but for many that is a leap of faith too far. Suture is well directed, acted and shot by a cinematographer whose experimentation makes for a glorious viewing experience. At the same time, it’s an endlessly interesting film pinned around a vigorously interesting intellectual property, which alone makes it worthy of rediscovery.
DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:
- Brand new 4K restoration from the original camera negative
- High Definition (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD Presentations
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
- Audio commentary with writer-directors David Siegel and Scott McGehee
- All-new interviews with Siegel, McGehee, executive producer Steven Soderbergh, actor Dennis Haysbert, cinematographer Greg Gardiner, editor Lauren Zuckerman and production designer Kelly McGehee
- Deleted scenes
- Birds Past, Siegel & McGehee s first short film, about two young San Franciscans who journey to Bodega Bay along the path set by Tippi Hedren in Hitchcock’s classic, The Birds.
- US theatrical trailer
- European theatrical trailer
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by maarko phntm