Thursday, 29 July 2010

"Inception" (contains spoilers)

This entry contains plot spoilers about the film "Inception". But it's not really a review. You can find those elsewhere...

What a strange week it's been. My 14 month old son Oliver had an ear infection at the weekend and an allergic reaction to something that gave him a puffy eye that made him look like he'd lost a boxing match. Quite embarrassing when you take him out in public because it really did look like the little guy had done ten rounds with Cassius Clay. "We're not beating our child, honestly", I wanted to say to the people sitting at the next table in Pret a Manger, Kingston.

So we had Ollie in and out of A&E and the doctors to get him well. He was a proper pharmaceutical cocktail of steroids, piriton, Amoxycillin and Calpol. Poor little thing. He's alright now thankfully, but it was funny to watch him throwing Lego everywhere in the waiting room. That's what performance-enhancing drugs do to you when you're a toddler.

Then on Sunday I catch a fever. Later I learn I caught it from my son. I go to bed early with the chills and get hardly any sleep (perhaps you can see where I'm going with this). I suffered a very surreal night of alternately being too cold or sweating like mad.

On Monday I barely made it to work. I felt so ill on the densely packed, short-carriaged train, I had to lean my head against the cold glass of the door and take deep breaths to make the nausea go away. I even had to eyeball the nearest toilet, and thoughts of a desperately embarrassing situation unfolded in my head. That toilet cubicle would echo an awful lot in such a quiet carriage, if I had to puke in it. Luckily for all not involved, the sensation passed. But on that train I started to think that maybe I would be too ill to see Inception that evening. With all this talk of gravity-defying visuals, would I want to dash out of the cinema in a fit of motion-sickness induced nausea? But I was desperate to see it, and the tickets were booked. I decided I would need to be almost dead before I cancelled a trip to see a 9.3 IMDB-rated film.

Now we get to the film, and I'm not here to write a comprehensive review. Many others have already done it and I agree with most of them, especially Ebert. I will say that it is one of the few films that got right under my skin. I can only say that about a handful of others (Contact, The Matrix, Timecrimes, Almost Famous, Panic Room, Knowing, Fandango). So to put Inception in that list is the best accolade that I can give. This film somehow managed to create the idea that all the main characters, despite being in a 747, were suspended over some bottomless "virtual" abyss. They were entering a dream within a dream within a dream, and there was no limit to the imagination, and no limits to the depths they could descend. And to my memory the film contained no cheesy rushing shots of people falling down tunnels as they entered each other's dreams. The notion of the characters descending was created purely through the dialogue. Hans Zimmer's constant score is urgent and superb. The casting was first rate. I've loved Ellen Page since that gripping performance she gave in Hard Candy. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who I've not seen much of before, was so cool in Inception that I started wishing they might make a spinoff film all about him. His hotel scenes are just unbelievable. But his eyes give real nuance to his character in the first half and I really enjoyed watching his performance. I'd go as far as saying that these two take the film from Leonardo di Caprio. But that's not to say that Leo wasn't excellent. He really was, and for me, always is.

My visceral reaction to Inception may have been compounded by my illness, because after I saw it, I lay awake most of the night, suffering from a fever I already had, and as I lay there with my eyes shut, all I could see was the slow motion sequence of a white van falling backwards off a bridge. The sequence that takes probably 40 minutes in the film (when all is taken into account) seemed to take the entire night for me while I replayed it in my head. For me, that falling white van has quickly become an iconic, cinematic image, like the descending green numbers in The Matrix or the UFO at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Then, in my semi-conscious state, wishing my own sleep upon me, I became convinced that there were additional threads to the film that ran through the five layers that Christopher Nolan had already put into his second half. In other words, the film seemed to have fluidity, or it seemed to organically grow and evolve in my head, almost as though it had been incepted. I had taken the original idea and, with the help of a semi-delerious frame-of-mind, was plying it like plasticine into new shapes.

I wonder if Inception would have had the same physical effect on me if I had not been under the weather. One way I might be able to know, is to get the Blu-ray when it comes out, and watch it in good health.

If you've seen the film, I hope you might be able to meet me at least halfway on this blog entry. I hope it goes some way to explaining why it had such a great effect on me. And if you have seen the film, have a look at this cool graphic.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

A quick Axiom Few update

For those of you who are interested, here's an update on The Axiom Few book.

I mentioned in an earlier post that all the stories in the collection will be be standalone, but interconnected. However, I have decided (or rather, the plot and characters decided for me) that stories 6 and 7, namely "The Precipice Faction" and "The Autumn Structure" would work better if they ran together. While they are two separate stories with separate events taking place within them, it started to make a lot of sense to have the first story run straight into the second one, with an overall arc that leads to a big revelation at the finish of the second story. Think of it as a little two-parter in the series. This is effectively the finale of the collection because story 8 is a prequel, focussing on the events that brought The Axiom Few together.

The Precipice Faction and The Autumn Structure have been written almost in tandem, which is a first for me. But I feel the result is something with some real scope and will hopefully be a worthwhile read, especially in the wider context of the other stories.

So I'm still on track for a release in September. My Dad, who dabbles as a sketch artist, has (after a little persuading) agreed to come up with a drawing of the Test Shack, and has also told me that he won't be offended if I choose not to use it. So we'll see.

Now, if only I could get SFCrowsnest's Rod MacDonald to write a foreword...