What exactly is one’s identify? What defines us, makes us who we are and allows others to ultimately define us? Is it the color of our skin, or is it the way that we carry ourselves, dress and speak? 1993’s neo-noir film SUTURE explores all of these questions in a crime thriller told through the story of Clay Arlington, a simple man from a simple town who seeks to reunite with his long lost family following the murder of his father.
Now, SUTURE is not a new film. It was released in 1993 from directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel. This review focuses not only on the film, but the beautiful transfer to Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow Films, so while I will focus primarily on my thoughts of the film itself, I’ll talk a little bit about how it benefits from its transfer. Starring Dennis Haysbert (who you may know as the Allstate guy) and Mel Harris, the film utilizes it’s Noir soaked stylistic choices to bring the topic of identity and race to the front of your mind as Clay’s bizarre story begins to unravel before you.
The narrative opens with a man with a shotgun, our Clay, hiding in a bathtub behind drawn curtain from a man with a pistol. We are listening to our narrator discuss the finer points of identity, and how we come to think of ourselves, when the screen fades to white and we are taken back to the beginning of this story. Clay’s father has been murdered, and he has traveled to Phoenix at the request of his long lost brother, Vincent, for a visit so that they may become better acquainted following the events of the tragedy. On the car ride to Vincent’s home, they discuss the “disarming” similarities that they have in appearance; they look almost exactly alike, yet (and here’s the zinger) Clay is black and Vincent is white. It’s an interesting play not only on the fact that the film itself is black and white, but it feeds further into the discussion of identity. It adds to the metaphorical rift between these two characters – although they are related, they could not be any more different. Clay is a hard working, blue collar man from Needles, California while Vincent is an affluent man with a taste for the finer things in life who lives in a luxurious home in Phoenix, Arizona.
Vincent goes on to dress Clay in one of his own suits, claiming that the suit is a gift to welcome him into the family. After secretly replacing Clay’s identification cards with his own, he attempts to fake his own death by taking Clay’s in an attempted car bombing that doesn’t quite go as planned. Clay wakes up in a hospital with no memories of who he is or of the accident that placed him in the hospital in the first place. He is fed memories of Vincent’s life, undergoes plastic surgery to “regain” his handsome face and is, in essence, literally placed into Vincent’s shoes. He is literally being told who he is, with the one issue, that it’s the wrong life that he’s being taught how to live.
Now, this is not a horror film, yet many of the aspects and the ideas that it plays with are horrific in their own sense. The loss of identity is something that we have an inherent fear of our entire lives. While it may not be front and center in our minds, we are raised believing that our identity is our own. We crave the need to be different, to have something that sets us apart from the masses, and ultimately something that is entirely our own. We watch Clay as he begins to realize that he may not be Vincent Towers, that he may have had a separate life. We watch as he begins to question the idea and the ideologies that he is told he supposedly already believes. He is told what his favorite pastimes are, what his favorite champagne is, what kind of music and films that he likes. He is even told what his personality is like. He does not get to make these decisions for himself, and in that regards, isn’t that a bit terrifying? Not only not knowing who you are, only to be told who you are. Added on top of that, the feeling that what you are being told is wrong. I believe that in this lies the heart of what SUTURE is trying to get across, and the ultimate question that it wants us to ask ourselves: “Do we decide our identity for ourselves, or is it something that is decided for us by outside influences and changing events?” It’s heavy subject matter and it will very much leave you thinking after the credits role.
This film excels in it’s use of cinematography and imagery. Every shot is planned, every shot is perfectly framed and it creates a beautiful viewing experience, especially in the new transfer. The blacks are crisp, and while I can’t speak about the color quality, it is a beautiful film to take in. This, however, is not a film for everyone and I will be the first to say that. It is not a mindless film to be thrown on while you clean the house, or for background noise while you browse Facebook. It asks very real questions and will get your mind working in ways that may not have been anticipated, and in that regard I enjoyed SUTURE. It tackles a subject that we have all spent hours thinking about, and it does so in an elegant and unconventional way that I found to be refreshing. While some of the symbolism is very obvious, I feel that there are many more things to be caught on a second viewing, and that always makes for a film that I would recommend to others.
If you’re interested in snatching up a copy for yourself, you can head over to Arrow Films online shop (http://www.arrowfilms.co.uk/shop/) and pick up a copy of the brand new Blu-ray for yourself.