Family man Jim (James Gilbert) and his friend Aaron (Aaron Poole) are making a documentary on conspiracy theorist Terrance (Alan C. Peterson), when Terrance suddenly vanishes without trace, leading Aaron down a rabbit-hole of fanaticism and paranoia as he tries to pin down whatever nefarious plot Terrance might have discovered. Soon Aaron and the more sceptical Jim are drawn to a years-old Time Magazine article on the shadowy international cabal known as the Tarsus Club, and to the article's reclusive author 'Mark Tucker' (Bruce Clayton) - although that is not his real name, and his face has been digitally masked to preserve his anonymity (even if his flowing mane evokes Julian Assange).
"I wouldn't be surprised that in the immediate future Tarsus purposefully lets a little bit of information out there," Tucker tells them, "a news, story, a press release - something that has the appearance of being objective but has been engineered by them." Certainly as we watch stock footage (the JFK assassination, the attack on the Twin towers, Presidential speeches, etc.) intercut with commentary from talking heads (some fictional, some real) and with the video sequences of Jim and Aaron's ill-starred attempt to infiltrate a Tarsus ritual (as shot on their hidden button cameras, and subsequently digitally altered to conceal the identities of the Tarsus 'brothers'), it becomes clear that this is two different films. On the one hand, it is Jim and Aaron's documentary, perhaps merely imagining, perhaps exposing, or perhaps further covering up, a conspiracy theory of terrifying proportions. On the other hand, it is Christopher MacBride's The Conspiracy, a fictive thriller (cum Mithraic mystery) where the real manipulators are in fact MacBride himself and his crew, responsible for all the wild connections and disposable half-truths, and even, one assumes, for setting up the (entirely fabricated) wiki pages dedicated to the Tarsus Club and its leader Murray Chance.
So while The Conspiracy works well as a tense, claustrophobic tale of conspiracy, it also lays bare our deep-felt desire to believe any daft plot that might soothe our sense of helplessness and incomprehension before authority. In other words, The Conspiracy is concerned both with the manipulative workings of fiction itself, and our willing suspension of disbelief. Through bravura free-associative editing and a compelling connect-the-dots narrative, MacBride invites us to become active participants in the madness, accepting that we are indeed all victims, that we know only what 'they' want us to know, and that every handshake we see being exchanged is proof of circles within circles and hermetic significances in a world of illusions. Like any good conspiracy theorist (or perhaps Grand Master of the Universe), MacBride rewrites the cosmos, forcing us either to buy the particular reality that he's peddling, or to risk being cast as collusive shills or sacrificial 'sheeples' - and rather brilliantly his film leaves us uneasily confused as to who exactly is pulling the wool over our eyes.
'The Conspiracy' screens at Film4 FrightFest...
Main Screen, Sun 25th August, 6.45pm
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