In spite of Mike Figgis’ vocal struggle to fund the film in the UK, his psycho thriller Suspension of Disbelief plays like a distinctly British answer to David Lynch’s evocative Mulholland Drive. Shot in noirish tones by the digital pioneer director/DOP, this film treads dangerously into ‘meta’ territory, but successfully envelopes the audience with nightmarish lighting, tight editing (also by Figgis) and an alluring cast headed up by German Sebastian Koch (The Lives of Others, Black Book).
Koch stars as Martin, a feature film scriptwriter, who also works as a screenwriting lecturer. Martin’s wife went missing fifteen years ago in unexplained circumstances, and yet he has a daughter with her, an actress called Sarah (Rebecca Night.) Sarah gets an acting job on a film written by Martin and things begin to get complicated as she becomes increasingly intimate with its unsympathetic director Greg (Eoin Macken, playing a role presumably based on Figgis.) For Sarah’s 25th birthday Martin throws a party in his flat. At the party they meet a young girl called Angelique (Lotte Verbeek) who, like Martin’s wife, subsequently goes missing. The duel-layered plot thickens when Angelique’s twin Theresa (also Lotte Verbeek) arrives to identify the body and simultaneously begins a suspicious flirtation with Martin.
Figgis juxtaposes the murder inquiry with the production of the crime film written by Martin. The investigation is lead by the amusingly (and knowingly) cliché’ detective Bullock (Kenneth Cranham.) Bullock has a penchant for detective yarns and is an aspiring amature screenwriter himself. When he meets Martin he becomes more inclined to receive advice on his writing, than to solve the Angelique case. By working in his character’s obsessions with storytelling Figgis attempts to explore Carl Jung’s “Participation Mystique” concept. The theory posits that the emotional part of the brain cannot distinguish between truth and fiction; hence Suspension of Disbelief. Here, even the detective cannot help himself.
The plot sounds unbearably convoluted, but Figgis is entirely aware of this. Making sense of the intricacy is his precise focus as a director and he does so with enormous dexterity. Each scene is lit and constructed with such generic understanding that we revel in the gradual unravelling of his tangled tapestry (the majority of the film is shot in moody Lynchian tones, while the film-within-the-film is a stark black & white, resembling Sin City.) Lotte Verbeek’s presence in the film lends a mood of smouldering sexuality, as Koch’s Martin finds himself both a mystified suspect and an obsessive investigator in Angelique’s disappearance. The psychosexual intrigue does well to appease the structural head scratching, appropriately countering Figgis’ intellectual impulses with the deeply physical (though never particularly explicit.)
The downside of the film’s meta exploration is that the emotional weight of the work plays second fiddle to rigorous structuring required to explore Jung’s theories. If Lynch’s Mulholland Drive is a movie for dreamers, Suspension of Disbelief is one for the conscious thinker. Figgis completes his intellectual tapestry with musical references to Kid A era Radiohead and photos of film pioneer Godard. For such murky mystery it is a oddly sobre affair, but the sobriety does lend it a certain British charm. It is ironic then, that Figgis had such trouble with the funders.