Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.
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My name: Brian Martin
Suspension of Disbelief is a movie about making movies. It's a movie about making this movie. At one point, a character in the film opens a script written by Martin, the screenwriter-hero of the story, and begins reading. The camera moves in on the page, and we see that it is the page describing this very scene. At another point, instead of showing us a montage of Martin, we see a title, labeled "Montage," listing the sequence of events we never see otherwise. I got the movie from Netflix's Instant Viewing list. If the service is interrupted, a title appears with the name of the movie. That happened as I was watching this, and it took me a moment to realize that the black screen with "Suspension of Disbelief" written across it wasn't actually a part of the film. It could have been.
You might think that a movie like this, by the director of Internal Affairs and Leaving Las Vegas, would be a critical darling. It isn't. In fact, it seems to have been largely ignored, with those critics who did see it overwhelmingly giving it negative reviews. "Pretentious" appears to be the most common sentiment among them.
But I think this movie was made less for critics than for students of film and narrative. In addition to being a screenwriter, Martin also teaches a screenwriting class. His lectures raise points the rest of the film seeks to illustrate. "Character is plot," Martin says. To hammer home the point, a title card tells us the same thing. And then we learn more about the characters in the film.
So who are the characters and what, exactly, is the plot? Martin's wife, we learn early, left him 15 years ago. Walked out of the house and disappeared. Later, we learn that she intended to take their young daughter with her. But the daughter, Sarah, is now grown up, living with her father and working as an actress (co-starring, in fact, in a movie written by Martin). Did Martin's wife leave or did he kill her? At Sarah's 20th birthday party, Martin speaks to another young woman, Angelique, who seduces him. The next day, Angelique is found dead. At the morgue, Angelique's twin sister, Therese, arrives to claim the body, but the police aren't yet prepared to release it. Sarah convinces Martin to let Therese stay with them. But Therese doesn't fit the mold of the grieving sister.
Rotten Tomatoes offers this summation of the plot: "Sebastian Koch and Lotte Verbeek head-up the cast of Mike Figgis' psychological thriller centered on a screenwriter and professor who becomes the prime suspect in a perplexing murder case." If Figgis were to read this, he would probably conclude that this author learned nothing from the film. Yes, there's a police investigation and, yes, at least one of the detectives clearly suspects Martin, but the movie isn't about any of that. It's about the characters -- Martin, Therese, and Sarah. What have they done, what will they do, and why. Character is plot.
Are the characters worth it? That depends. In themselves, no, not especially. We don't find out enough about them to care that much what happens to them one way or the other. As examples, though -- rudimentary stand-ins pointing toward the real thing -- they shine much more brightly. Again, it's Figgis telling everyone how to go about building a story that isn't tied down by gunfights and car chases and double-crosses. He isn't teaching a course, just a single class: what else can he do? I, for one, applaud him for making the attempt.
And I enjoyed this movie, in all its self-referential glory. The "plot" was fun and so was the "class."
Of course, it ends ambiguously and Figgis includes a scene of Martin's students variously scoffing at it or defending it. Because that's the thing about character-driven stories as opposed to those (most of them) that are plot-driven: they don't tend to end so tidily.