A short note on the term ‘Suture’

The term ‘suture’ is used in both psychoanalysis and film studies, where its use is, in any case, adapted from psychoanalysis, to refer to the way like and unlike can be ‘stitched’ together. French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan used the term to signify the relationship between the conscious and the unconscious. However, it is really film studies, initiated by a 1977 essay on Screen by Jean-Pierre Oudart, which has given the most attention to this concept. Oudart suggested that cinema deploys a number of techniques to suture its audience to what is happening on screen, and more particularly to enable them to understand a narrative composed of images, not words. The best known of these is the shot/reverse shot typical of TV interviews and practically any emotional encounter on screen: first we see the face of the speaker, then we see the face of the listener, enabling us to see their reaction to the other person’s words. This change in perspective gives the spectator the feeling that they are in fact standing in the—now off screen-position of the speaker, thus suturing them into the action on screen by making their own position outside of the screen seem like a part of the greater totality of the action. The term has fallen out of use in recent years, but it remains significant for stimulating debate about the relationship between film and its audience.

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