Film / The Man in the White Suit

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The Man in the White Suit is a 1951 Ealing Studios comedy film. Though not always seen as such, it's a work of science fiction: revolving around a scientific invention, with many of its consequences logically assessed.

Alec Guinness stars as Sidney Stratton, an industrial chemist who believes he is on the path to creating a new synthetic fibre that never wears out and cannot be damaged, dirtied or stained. When at last he succeeds, he finds himself on the run (in a demonstration suit made from the new fabric) from the vested interests who want it suppressed because of the effect it will have on the existing industry.

This film provides examples of:

  • The End... Or Is It?: The film ends with Sidney walking off down the street while the owner of the textile mill he worked at reflects with relief that he's no longer a threat. Then Sidney has an inspiration about how to prevent the wonder fabric self-destructing...
  • Gaussian Girl: Particularly noticeable in the seduction scene when the camera cuts back and forth between crystal-clear shots of Sidney and really really fuzzy shots of Daphne.
  • Mad Scientist Laboratory: Sidney isn't mad, just a bit eccentric and unworldly, but his bench of bubbling chemicals hints at his oddity and scientific focus early on.
  • Man in White: Sidney, once he dons the new suit. On the literal level, it's white because it repels all dirt and stains; symbolically it represents Sidney's moral innocence in a world of division, corruption and compromise. (Daphne remarks that it makes him look like a modern-day knight in shining armour.)
  • Person with the Clothing: Sidney is...
  • Sharpened to a Single Atom: It's not emphasized, but it's mentioned in passing in the dialogue about the development of the new material that the threads are, in effect, molecular monofilaments — which causes problems in handling and cutting them. It evidently doesn't occur to any of the characters that this could have other applications (though Sidney does later use them as a reliable rope when escaping from an upper-floor room by climbing down the wall). This may be one of the earliest occurrences of the concept in fiction.
  • Trick Dialogue: Sidney delivers an impassioned speech about why he shouldn't be fired for using company resources on his quest — to the mirror in the men's washroom.

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