“Suture” refers to the processes by which we are “stitched into” the story-world, or “fabric,” of a film–the processes by which we are “drawn into” the film, taking up positions as “subjects-within-the-film” such that we experience the film-world as an enclosed world unto itself, and such that we make sense of and respond to what the film represents as we are encouraged to do so by the film itself–that is, along, or according to, “the film’s own terms.”   In beginning to grasp what “suture” means as a critical term for making sense of film, it is important, beyond this, to recognize that a film may successfully suture us without ever suturing us into a position of identification with any character, although this is probably the most common way in which we are sutured into a film; character identification is, in fact, only one (common) way in which suturing works.   Often, however, we do not suture with a character but rather with a position as that of a seeming observer of, or (other) fellow participant in, the story action.  Actually, at all times we are always really identifying with “the film apparatus”–with “the camera-eye”–and, more precisely, with what it shows to us from the vantage point it show this to us, yet successful suturing tends to render us unconscious of the fact that we are looking with and through the camera, as well as according to how the film has been pieced–or stitched–together from various selected takes.  

    Sutures, in medical terms, stitch over wounds; according to psychoanalytic theory, psychic wounding inevitably occurs for all of as a necessary condition of our entering into society, that is into relations with other people, and, in particular, from accepting the necessity of reliance upon social codes, social symbols, and other social forms of mediation to work with others to satisfy our individual needs, and our individual desires.  Suture, in this sense, refers to how the story-world of a film stitches together an imaginary reality, and, even more than this, one that possesses a semblance of coherence and wholeness, that, while attending to it (and seemingly participating within it), we do not reflect upon as something that has been fabricated–that has been constructed.  In short, when we are successfully sutured, we do not pay attention to the “seams” that mark the points at which distinct pieces of “the fabric” of the film’s story-world have been “stitched together.”  Only once we subject the film to critical analysis do we consciously reflect upon the film’s artificiality and its constructedness.  

    Suture theory therefore focuses on how film works with our psyches to position us so that we enter into the imaginary worlds conventional narrative fiction films create for us such that we look and listen past, or through, the particular means, techniques, codes, and conventions that create these worlds.   Suture theory focuses on what accounts for the “invisibility” (and, perhaps, also, the “inaudibility”) of these particular kinds of means, techniques, codes, and conventions to us, as we allow ourselves to become one with the film–to lose ourselves in it, to allow it to envelop and absorb us.  Suture theory inquires into how, in other words, do these means, techniques, codes, and conventions work to render their own operations invisible (or inaudible).    

    One final point, as an introductory way of making sense of this concept in relation to film study: Professor Stacy Thompson, my UWEC English Department colleague, suggests thinking of “imaginary suture” as what happens when we, as spectators, suture with characters, whereas “symbolic suture” is what happens when we suture with ‘world-views’ represented by films.