My Suicide is a dark, no-holds-barred comedy (or “dramedy,” to use the fashionable, and apposite, term) that explores contemporary teen angst with considerable insight into the labyrinthine hell of modern youth indentured to a high-tech world, both freed and imprisoned by it. The film screened recently at the SFIFF as part of its Cinema by the Bay. Brilliantly directed and edited with supreme panache by its lead actor (who shared a number of production responsibilities as well), it is the sort of movie to give family projects a very good name indeed, created as it was by a very talented family headed by director David Lee Miller.
High schooler Archie Williams announces that he intends, for his classroom video project, to commit suicide on camera. He is faced with skepticism, dissociated curiosity, disbelief, dismay and anger by his dumbfounded classmates and scandalized teacher, all caught on the camera he takes everywhere with him; his sidekick, confessor, wing man, best friend. Archie puts everything on camera, from quick conversations on the school lawn to late-night ramblings about the meaninglessness of his life. He doesn’t just record: he mixes his footage with clips and audio found on the internet; edits and tweaks and distorts, animates and reinvents his captured images, creating a wildly over the top, sometimes macabre world that exists only inside his CPU yet demonstrates, in manic detail, the empty, tech-driven life that has driven him to the despair he is drowning in and yet, at the same time, flaunts in a way that takes the idea of self-dramatization to an entirely new level.
Archie is almost entirely an object of technology. Under the spastic reflexes of his technological narcissism, Archie is living through the usual male teen angst of loneliness, alienation, profound ignorance of self and world, and, above all (the one motif that nags consistently at his damaged self-love), self-contempt over the fact that he is still a virgin. Yet everything is grist to his computer; it is his only friend, his confidant, his lover, one is tempted to say his self, or perhaps a substitute self for the ego he barely has; a diabolically mirroring slave to an enslaved master.
The story follows Archie from his announcement to the camera to his announcement to the world of his intended self-annihilation, with the inevitable results: school scandal, police detention, psychiatric evaluation, visits to a laundry list of shrinks, Archie’s sudden rise in interest and status among his classmates, who have ignored him until now, and the sexual curiosity of the babe he has been dreaming about all semester. The results are both predictable and surprising―indeed shattering. To call the ending life affirming would be false; and yet to say that it sees no romance in death, and sees the death-entranced poison of Narcissus for what it is, whether in the surface of a pool or the screen on a computer monitor, might not be.
American filmmakers seem unable to choose an actor for a lead who is less than a babe or a hunk; they haven’t watched enough BBC, which would teach them that a plain face attached to a brilliant actor can be more effective in creating a bond with an audience than a good looking face attached to a merely good enough actor, as is the case in My Suicide in both of its leads. As Archie, Gabriel Sunday is too good looking by half – no one will believe this fellow can’t get a date, social gaucheries or not. Worse, Sunday exudes an aura of physical and psychological robustness that militates against any belief he could really be intending to kill himself, though he might enjoy scaring his friends by pretending to. Brooke Nevin as the love interest is even more implausible, though to say more risks spoiling the story.
My Suicide is a wickedly humorous, slyly witty study in the high-tech dandyism of our age, where the dandy is both actor and principal spectator: such dandyism creates a wholly solipsistic universe of endlessly distorting mirrors that, while mapping both the real world and the boundless empire of fantasy through the mimetic miracles of technology, reduces both reality and fantasy to the projection of a single mind, turning them into a prison of self-referential meaninglessness.
With its brilliant incorporation of the conceits of the video diary, it is a milestone in the use of film to explore the frailties of the human heart and falsehoods of the modern mind. It uses the devious and treacherous instrument of modern technology to look hard, and with sharp comedy, into the face of a very contemporary despair.