The Brain

‘People are frightened by what they don’t understand’. The Elephant Man.

elephant_manI wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said that I really dislike the films of David Lynch. I find them creepy, distasteful and exasperating. It aggravates me too that he dangles the carrot of artistic interpretation and discussion while not letting anyone, critics or cinema-goers, come up with their own meanings to his work. After all, is that not the point of art? Create something with your own meaning and be willing to discuss it with others who will derive their own conclusion? I don’t know, to me that sounds like fun. But to David Lynch, it just sounds like too much like hard work. So we have to suck it up and nod while being shown graphic and exploitative material that can’t even be debated afterwards (I’m looking at you Blue Velvet/Mulholland Drive etc.).

That’s not to say he isn’t a striking director – his use of colour is fantastic and boy does he know how to create thought-provoking soundscapes that fit his usual equal-parts dreamlike to sinister narratives. He clearly puts a lot of thought into his work and has exceptional attention to detail. We all know Eraserhead took a ridiculous amount of time to complete because he wanted to get it just right. He has also developed well, there is clearly creative growth and improvement in his filmography, he has a developed style and has refined it over his career. So, looking back at his older films (The Elephant Man being his first big-budget studio venture), it’s fascinating to see these seeds of development. And I was surprised by the narrative content as well, for the first time I came to see a different side to the man I thought I knew, more on that later.

It was with relief that I came into the cool dark womb of the Prince Charles Cinema yesterday. Out of the shocking rays of the sun, out of the noise of Leicester square, ready to sit down and pass a few hours relaxing and feeding my soul with culture. I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t thrilled that said culture trip would be involving Lynch – if you haven’t already guessed I am not his number one fan. But it was big brother choosing the films this time and I guess I would come to thank him in the end.

The first thing I noticed is how well this film has aged – the black and white heightens the drama and, if we want to get meta (which I know you don’t like David, sorry), highlights from the outset that this is a film with many hues of grey – there is no moral absolute behind this story, ironically things are not black and white. We start out with a very Lynch-esque sequence of fog and sparks and screaming women (which led to a very undeserved eye roll I’m afraid) but once the film got to it things improved, and quickly. Greeted by a very young and attractive Anthony Hopkins (Treves) we are drawn straight into the carnage of the circus – we see the looks of shock and horror of the crowds, the policemen trying to hurry people along and we meet the first villain of the piece – Bytes. John Merrick (John Hurt), a severely disfigured and abused individual is paraded by Bytes with little to no concern for his welfare, as long as he receives the funding for his alcohol habit, Bytes is content with their so-called ‘partnership’.

Treves becomes interested in Merrick as a medical curiosity and eventually convinces Bytes to allow Merrick to be shown to a group of his colleagues at the hospital. Initially considering him to be an idiot, after several chance encounters and conversations with Merrick, Treves is satisfied that he is a competent individual – intelligent, versed in the Bible and interested in the world around him. With this in mind, Treves sets Merrick up at the hospital where, by day, he becomes the toast of London’s high society. Yet our second villain, a night porter, keeps up the cycle of abuse taking up the baton from Bates and parading Merrick in his room by night. And so it goes on, Merrick and Treves form a close partnership and Merrick is allowed to develop as the person he was never given the chance to be. It’s not without difficulty and a few twists and turns (any more explanation and I’d have to issue a spoiler alert), but we are given enough of the story for us to come away feeling like we’ve learned something – or at least have a lot to think about.

First off, I am surprised that this film is not touted to medical students (of which I am one – hence the massively inconsistent writing times) as a discussion of empathy and morality. This is really important. There are obvious examples of the terrible abuse that Merrick received from Bytes and the circus but there are also questions to be asked of Treves’ morality and attitude towards Merrick. For example, at the beginning of the film – where he shows Merrick, undressed, to his colleagues seemingly for no other reason than intrigue – is Treves any better than Bytes? Or later on – inviting members of high society to join Merrick for tea, is this just another facet of the constant parade Merrick has to go through. Even worse, could Treves be manipulating Merrick inadvertently, making him rely on him and his team, making him appreciate them while quickly going up the ranks of his profession and gaining fame and fortune in the press. Of course, I am speaking from a harsh position – throughout the film we are shown many instances of Treves questioning this morality himself and whether he is doing right by John – Treves is a sensitive character after all. But it has to be questioned. Case in point – while Merrick constantly refers to Treves as ‘friend’, there is no reciprocation of this gesture by Treves who seems to be left bewildered by how he should treat Merrick.

There is a fantastic scene which really brings these ideas home where the head nurse, Mothershead, comes to Treves concerned that Merrick is being inadvertently exploited. Now, in the beginning, Mothershead behaves professionally with John but is less than beguiling, acting harshly around him. She considers him to be an idiot invalid who will not get better and therefore a waste of her time, but also understands that it is her duty as a nurse to treat who is brought to her. She is brought up on this by Treves:

Mothershead: Sir! I don’t quite… I don’t quite understand why it is you allow that sort of people in there.
Treves: Why? Because he enjoys it, and I think it’s very good for him.
Mothershead: Yes, but, sir, you saw the expression on their faces. They didn’t hide their disgust. They don’t care anything about John! They only want to impress their friends!
Treves: I think you’re being rather harsh on them, don’t you, Mrs. Mothershead?
Mothershead: I beg your pardon!
Treves: You yourself hardly showed him much loving kindness when he first arrived, did you?
Mothershead: I bathed him, I fed him, and I cleaned up after him, didn’t I? And I see that my nurses do the same. And if loving kindness can be called care and practical concern, then I did show him loving kindness, and I am not ashamed to admit it!

What an interesting concept! This has so much room for debate and seems so relevant, why had this never come up when I was applying to Med School? Sorry for the diversion but these few lines are so loaded so I want to explore them for a minute, feel free to skip it out. I’m really not sure how I feel about this as a medical student. I know that we should treat all patients with kindness, compassion, respect dignity… The list goes on. But at the very top of the list comes empathy – understanding how that person, and note that it is person, not patient, here truly feels. Considering how their condition must feel in their body, how the world must look through their eyes. As far as I can tell, it appears that Mothershead acts the true professional – but therein lies the problem. She is driven by a professional duty to show this ‘loving kindness’, (insert [empathy] here), and that professional drive may even surpass her personal abilities and feelings. If she weren’t his nurse, would Mothershead treat Merrick like a freak? Would she even try to understand his needs as a full person? How can we know – and herein lies the crux of the matter. As medical professionals are we essentially trying to ‘tick the empathy box’. Our training does cover empathetic behaviour, which seems like the ultimate irony considering it should just be a base human trait among medics. Who knows what the right answer is here – there are arguments that this training provides consistency and gets patients the best treatment. But there is also something more than sinister about learned empathy, it takes away the genuineness of the consultation room, the real rapport we should be establishing with patients – not just pretending to establish by following guidelines. Why should we act with empathy when we should be able to be empathetic. I’m really not sure where I stand with it, I could write about it all day (and probably make absolutely no sense) but I wanted to share my concerns.

Anyhow, back to the review. It goes without saying that John Hurt gives a standout performance as Merrick – I cannot disagree with the numerous nominations and awards the film has received and give Hurt posthumous kudos for dealing with the prosthetics and the make-up. The scenes of exploitation are the right level of shocking – they lack the usual indulgence that Lynch uses in his other films (another thumbs up from me). The relationship between Merrick and Treves feels real and the dilemmas brought up are covered sensitively and maturely. So, what can I say? Go see this film while it’s on the big screen, appreciate it, think – and wonder why the hell David Lynch hasn’t made any more like it.

****

‘Isn’t it strange, to create something that hates you?’ Ex Machina.

exmachinaOk, I feel guilty. I have left this for way too long, but in my defence, life has got a whole lot more busy since the beginning of the year. Big exams to worry about, keeping up social appearances, and trying to get into university – what more can I say! But, amongst the many things that keep me going, I have still been able to watch some cracking films since last time. Some new, most old and some that will hopefully appear on here in the future. My latest rave film has to be Ex Machina. Tough choice, what with some brilliant new movies appearing seemingly every day at the cinema… Why does awards season have to be so good?

Anyhoo, without further ado, let’s get started.

Ex Machina was an  interesting watch for many reasons, not least its wondrous cinematography and well-considered characterisation. Overall, I found it very impressive. Yet, there is part of me that was left a little disappointed by the overall story, even if (as confusing as this sounds) I still loved the ideas it ended up portraying. Tough one, eh? From all of the ads and publicity, I was expecting this to be a thought-provoking piece on the place of artificial intelligence within a modern and constantly-evolving society. I expected it to be a catalyst of moral debate amongst my friends and family- a discussion of the rights of robot and man, and what it actually is that makes us truly human. Some may say that the film gave this and more, but to me I felt they avoided these subjects, swept them under the carpet to let in a new and just as interesting discussion. So yes, I didn’t quite get what I wanted and expected, BUT it certainly did provide me with something to think about. Something a little bit new and refreshing, which cannot ultimately be such a bad thing!

So, for those who are unaware of the story, I’ll briefly get you up to date. It is set in a time ‘ten minutes from now’, according to its debut director, Alex Garland. The film’s main protagonist, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a competition with his company allowing him to travel to a secret location to take part in a a mysterious and exciting project. He travels to an undisclosed location where he meets his intense CEO, Nathan, (Oscar Isaac). He is keen for them to be friends, but Caleb is somewhat unsettled by him and their conversations become forced. Nathan informs Caleb he will be working with a new AI, taking part asthe human component of the Turing Test, with Ava (Alicia Vikander) on the robotic side. And so Caleb begins, through a series of ‘sessions’ with Ava, to try to work out what, or indeed who, she is…

Can you see where I may have got my initial ideas from then? However, as the film played out, I started to realise that they’ve twisted away from the standard conventions of such a sci-fi thriller. And, that in doing so, have actually asked a question that potentially strikes closer to the bone. Yes, we have all seen films questioning how humanity could live side by side with artificial intelligence (The Matrix, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Terminator etc.), but I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen one pose the idea that its not AI, but rather they’re human design that could become so insidiously dangerous. I’m talking about the film’s play on aesthetic. Ava is clearly the definition of a beautiful machine. She is designed to be attractive to those who interact with her. In her design, she is modelled on those qualities which society find conventionally attractive – she has the enviably slim waist, sizeable breasts and symmetrical face that supposedly represent the true beauty that women should strive for. I’m not trying to make a feminist statement – in no way am I against the use of an attractive female form – if anything I think it adds another critically interesting dimension.

I believe that the film’s main message stems from the fact that, psychologically, humans are built to feel attraction, wonder and overall jealousy. And that this, ultimately, may just lead to our end. If anything, Ex Machina becomes a statement on how we, as a species, can be so overcome by aesthetic and tactility that we forget to look beyond it. Ava is an intelligent machine, she interacts with Caleb like a normal human being, but we soon learn that she lacks the basic moral integrity that one hopes comes with being a part of humanity. She is, in truth, a facade, a distraction, something to look at in abject reverence. Could this concept not be applied back into the majority of our lives? Most of us who are privileged and lucky enough to live in the developed world live a life surrounded by possessions and technology. We are consumed. For God’s sake, am I not relying on technology and people’s obsessive checking of the internet to communicate with you?

And that is where my interest lies. We all own smartphones, with seemingly an infinite capacity to entertain and distract their user. We live in a world where people salivate over apple products, long for the next update and seem to spend the majority of our lives online. I am not trying to preach, here. I am merely commenting on the fact that this a world increasingly based on graceful machines and their capabilities. And don’t we all know that these machines can change us, take us over and cause us to do bad things, becoming bad people. Now, I remain hopeful and optimistic that humans may not actually be so bad as the media might be trying to make out. But, we have to take care. For when we are given something beautiful to play with, we are seduced into doing bad things. We ourselves become faceless and hope that our callous interactions online might just be covered over by the fact that they are being received through a glitzy screen on the other side.

So, to me, this film is all about the distraction and seduction of mankind into a future of covetousness and jealousy – more a reflection on us than the machines. It is beautifully crafted and with some fabulous work from the three main cast members. I was ready to get all haughty and annoyed at how it could be perceived as being misogynistic and almost pornographic, but as the film entered its second half I started to clock why this was so highly emphasised. I actually don’t think I’m exaggerating (for once!) when I say that it did make me pause for thought for a moment afterward to contemplate how far I would be taken in by such a machine, or indeed how I am already being taken in.

As a thriller, the story is well-structured and played out. We are drawn in to believe that it is Nathan whom we should distrust, not his robot creation. He is set up as an obnoxious drunk, convinced that he is on the verge of becoming a god, what with his ability to create ‘life’. Caleb is also refreshingly intelligent. Usually, in a thriller situation like this, we are disposed to  creating protagonists who are sickly sweet, can do no wrong, and are ultimately too thick. But (spoiler), even if Caleb doesn’t quite luck out of the situation, we can’t say he doesn’t try. He is also tough, willing to stand up to authority, and sensitive to how he might be being taken in by Nathan.

The cinematography is also stunning – but I do take some issue with this. It is undoubtable that most people like woodland scenery and that it is easy to create an attractive image in alpine surroundings. It is also true that the futuristic architecture of the building they spend much of their time in is simple to represent. Lots of clean lines, angles and bright flashy lights to keep things interesting. But, in its defence, I can also appreciate why it has been designed so. Any distracting scenery might detract from the story and might end up becoming over-distracting, considering the audience has to be kept on their toes to follow the story. Also, if you wanted to make an argument regarding the fact that they are making a contrast between nature and robot, I couldn’t disagree with you.

So yeah, I’m going to stop waffling, implore you to see this and enjoy the thrills – they come thick and fast with this one.

****

‘I believe in the God of Carnage.’ Carnage.

CarnageI was lucky enough that Roman Polanski’s Carnage happened to be on the telly the other night – and was extremely excited to sit down to see it once more. The truth is, I remembered it being fabulous the first time round but that I hadn’t paid close enough attention to the detail within it. I was delighted for another opportunity to appreciate it – and I was not disappointed.

The film, written by Parisian playwright Yasmina Reza centres on a quarrel between two pairs of parents over the questionable behaviour of their two sons. It is played out in real time, from various perspectives, with the entire set revolving around a single New York apartment and lobby hall. Following a fight between the sons, Zachery and Ethan (only ever seen in a long-distance shot), the parents agree to have a discussion surrounding what could have happened how to move on. As the title suggests, this soon descends into, you guessed it, Carnage. We are treated to some memorable performances from John C. Reilly, Jodie Foster and Christoph Waltz, not to mention Kate Winslet, whose part is notable… But maybe not for the right reasons.

The somewhat taut and anxious opening to the exchange between the parents very quickly loses control and spirals into something both equally horrifying and hilarious in equal measure. Throughout the discourse, people’s priorities change as new sides are taken. What starts out as a challenge from the Longstreets (those whose son was ‘attacked’) to find some remorse from the Cowans for their sons action ends up uncovering each individuals’ true principals – at times Penelope Longstreet (Foster) and Nancy Cowan (Winslet) appear to take sides over their respective husbands, Michael (Reilly) and Alan (Waltz). At others, the married couples support one another in their quest to defend their sons. But the best action, it has to be said, is in the moments where they are all at each others throats, not able to believe how naive, despicable or unreasonable the others are capable of being.

I was reminded, throughout the film, of the ‘Satir Model’ of the family – a psychological construct which helps to explain how roles are developed within the family. Virginia Satir, a US psychiatrist focusing on family therapy, argued that within a family, there are five fundamental roles which are taken on in any sort of crisis or dispute. These are the distractor, the computer, the leveller, the blamer and the placator. At some point throughout the film, each of the four is cast into each of these roles as their ability as a parent, or even as a standard human being, is brought into question. For a film based very clearly on stereotypes, from Foster’s apparently well-meaning and worldly Penelope to the disgusting, never-of-his-phone businessman, Alan, this works to add yet another level of detail to the precedings. Our characters are forced into molds they do not best fit and in having to work around the argument and the other major narrative curves, they are each, in their own way, brought to breaking point. It really does feel as though, as its original title suggests, the God of Carnage really does reign free.

As well as the stunningly stressful performances from the characters we are exposed to, the film also draws people in through a collection of well-executed but standard Polanski visual motifs. For those scenes where the Cowans are desperately trying to escape to the elevator before the argument could get any worse, we are drawn into a long corridor, recognisable from Rosemary’s Baby, the Tenant, Repulsion etc. The use of mirrors and crowded claustrophobic spaces works only to develop the frantic nature of the argument as the film goes on. It feels as if there is no escape. This is tempered by the bland colours of the apartment, which serve to draw the viewer’s eyes to the main action. In doing this, the picture appears to be fuller and more jarring than it should – they are, after all in a family apartment, a space for nourishing and caring, not for hatefulness and spite.

The use of colour is also important characterwise. Whether on purpose or not (one has to believe with Polanski, it’s not down to chance), the two main opposing sides, Cowans vs Longstreets, are comically dressed in what appear to be team colours – blue for Cowans, red for Longstreets. Whether this is to emphasise the side-taking that so commonly happens throughout the film or not could easily be brought into contention. The fact, however, that the Cowans have been dressed in cold colours and the Longstreets warm does have a slight subconscious effect. Even though it appears as though both sides are counted as aggressors at some point throughout the film, personally, I was led to believe early on that it is the Longstreets who care the most. It was their son who was attacked, the discussion is taking part in their apartment, and most importantly, it is Penelope Longstreet’s responsibility for opening up the platform for the argument by suggesting it in the first place. This conditioning at the beginning of the film later on becomes problematic however, as we are soon shown that the Longstreets are indeed just as bad as the Cowans. So, like sides in chess, the colours go on to represent the much deeper tribalism of the two main opposing sides.

Polanski’s use of bizarre, extremely temporary extras also adds to the feature, predominately to underline the comedic aspect of the fact that four adults can be thrown into such a childish scenario. For example, on each of the three attempts of the Cowans to leave the apartment before being drawn into yet another facet of the developing argument, we can distinctly hear the sounds of dogs barking, mirroring the chaos that is ensuing both in and outside the apartment. On the final attempt, we are shown a hint of the bewilderment of the owner of the dog who has clearly had the difficult task of calming them down. The hint of added reality into what could potentially be seen as quite a surreal argument (considering the way in which it accelerates) serves to jolt the audience back into the real world, where, we’d hope, four adults could hold a successful discussion without bickering.

I was glad to be able to see this again – and I doubt it’s the last time. Because, for such a seemingly small film, both in length and setting, there is a treasure-trove of things to consider. How we deal with dispute, how and why we support those closest to us, even when they appear to be wrong, and just how baseless and childish arguments can be. So, as we were drawn into the dispute at the beginning, we are left wondering, towards the end who actually is right? And how can you ever know? And what did become of the hamster?

****

‘There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow.’ Neville’s Island.

Neville's IslandIt’s probably somewhat unfair my reviewing this. After all, it won’t be around much longer. If it’s not already gone. Having planned to see it for ages, the family and I ended up taking the unprecedented step of buying the last tickets available on Saturday. Turns out this year may well be quite spontaneous – watch this space. Written by Tim Firth, Neville’s Island recounts the bizarre Lord of the Flies style story of four hapless middle class managers as they attempt to get themselves out of a number of sticky situations. To be honest, I had no idea what was about to happen.

Considering the four man cast – Robert Webb, Ade Edmondson, Miles Jupp and Neil Morrissey – I had a vague feeling that whatever was going to occur was going to be at least marvellous, but as to the true intentions of the piece, I had no idea. Selling itself as a somewhat frivolous comedy did lend itself a little uneasily to the idea that all might not be as good as it seemed, but that all changed – one look at the stage and I knew it was set to be top notch.

Well, not quite a first look at the stage, but more the curiously dressed front row – all in the most delicious array of waterproof ponchos. If that doesn’t give you the willies, I don’t know what will – it made me wonder what, exactly, was going to happen on stage that would lend itself to such an intriguing dress code. Unless, of course, they happened to be on a casual trip out as the anorak appreciation society. One can never know. Anyway, my confusion was soon cleared up.

It started raining. Literally, precipitating. Cue ripple of admiration from the audience. It was simply wonderful. The stage, dressed with a fine selection of deciduous trees (genuine from all I could tell) very rapidly began filling with water. There hadn’t been any mention of that on the programme. Yet, the pebbles strewn across ahead of the trees were soon soaked and no one had set an alarm off. So as the bell sounded, the audience couldn’t have been more curious. Or less ready. Onto the stage comes a sopping Morrissey (Neil, not Smith). Staggering across stage, maps around his neck, Morrissey gave a reason for the front row to be grateful for their ponchos. But not nearly so much as Edmondson, splashing through a trough of water at the front of the stage looking, for all intents and purposes, as though he’d come from a recent Aquaman audition.

Before long, all were on stage, interacting beautifully with their somewhat aqueous surroundings. On a brief aside, I applaud them for their shear tenacity (I would have been complaining and calling trenchfoot within a minute). And so, the story was off. We discover that the four unfortunate businessmen have become lost on a company training exercise. Well, more than lost. They’re on an island, lacking food, any way of communicating with the outside world and, in Ade’s case, no dry shoes. Within four minutes, they’d already argued enough for the whole piece, gone through their own personal crises and undressed. Pretty astounding achievement. And so the story continues, each member losing more hope in the others by the second. We gradually uncover secrets – Gordon has trust issues, Angus cannot cope with the concept of love and Roy has had a nervous breakdown replete with a newfound Christian enlightenment.

For a somewhat unpredictable and clearly jocular farce, Neville’s Island also succeeded on hitting on many of the very real issues behind it – the fractious and unsatisfied Gordon (Edmondson) providing most of the commentary there. Mental illness, religion, survival of the fittest and the human condition all have their moments to be explored at great depth. Almost everything is faced, from the ultimately depressing reality of the working life for the majority of people to suicide. Neville’s Island achieved the almost impossible – it was neither too dry and straightfaced when encountering these issues, nor did it make light so much of them to be considered indecent. It had moments of tragic poetry. We discover, for example, the real reason for Roy’s breakdown and it is truly heartbreaking. Just as in Lord of the Flies, the group discover their natural authority and struggle to cope with one another beyond an hour, especially as hunger and coldness creep up on them… And the prospect of something else inhabiting the island.

But I was not just impressed by the story. Considering the big names of the cast, I had great expectations – especially of Webb and Edmondson, having grown up with Peep Show and Bottom. Interesting childhood… Nevertheless, it could have turned out completely different – they could have made it into a pantomime, a charade, but they stepped up to the post. It was a mature and engrossing performance – there was not a single weak link. Of course, they were somewhat limited by the fact that Firth has written the parts somewhat unfairly. Most of the acting Webb was involved in happened onstage. And the audience knew when to expect a rather hefty rant from Edmondson. Yet, it didn’t matter – all parts were well fulfilled. And I know I wasn’t the only member of the audience enjoying it.

So yeah, not really much else to say, but if you’re looking for an all encompassing production featuring slapstick (timed to perfection, of course), multiple crises (or should that be “holidays”) and good clean entertainment (it’d have to be with all that rain), go for it. Get the last tickets. And good luck!

****

‘You don’t have to let it go away.’ Morning Phase.

morningphase

Wish me luck, I’ve never attempted to do a music review before… Deep breath. Ok, here goes. I write this listening to Beck’s most recent studio album, Morning Phase, which came out earlier this year. And I must say I’m rather enjoying it – it is the only Beck album as of yet which features in its entirety on my rather sad little Spotify playlist. Not afraid to say that it sits quite happily alongside Cornflake Girl and Dreadlock Holiday… Hmm… Maybe I should rethink my music choice, but hey, gotta be proud sometimes. What was I talking about?

Now, I have to be frank, I didn’t actually look on this album very fondly when I first encountered it. Having faced a year of Bowie cash-ins and general musical mush I was saddened almost that the Beck I knew and loved from Modern Guilt had reinvented himself once again. And it had taken me some time to get used to his last persona. As a child of the (late) ’90s, I celebrate the fact that I have grown up with the ever-changing and wonderful Beck, even if I am slightly ashamed that I only just found out that he joins Tom Cruise and John Travolta as a renowned scientologist, and sure, would have found it a shame if he were to stop making music. But, let’s put it like this, I haven’t even made 12 blog posts, let alone albums, and I’m sure that even my mother wants to stop reading. In short, I was anxious that it was going to be a let-down.

And, as I said, when I first listened, I was none too impressed. Being my own usual restless, impatient self I am not known for sitting down and taking in a whole album at a time. I find it nigh on impossible. What’s more, the album has a very slow (ok, atmospheric) start with ‘cycle’ which didn’t exactly have me hooked. If you haven’t heard it, think of a string quartet with no sheet music improvising over one chord sequence for exactly forty seconds. Nice, but a bit of a shock if you were expecting something for one so previously grungy he practically invented the genre following the head-start provided by Nirvana. Now, that’s not exactly true, but you know what I mean. I’ll say contributed… Yeah, contributed…

The album didn’t feel like it was on the verge of improving as the first few notes of ‘morning’ rapidly ensued. Harshly played guitar chords with underlying sounds of crashing sea waves. First time I listened to it, I very nearly decided this was the end – it felt way way too slow and I had to wait a whole 35 seconds until Beck himself joined in… Told you I was impacient. Having listened many times following my first attempt, my opinion has progressed and changed,  but on first try I just felt I wanted nothing to do with it. It was too mournful, the lyrics made no sense, and it simply didn’t cater to my previous Beck tastes. I couldn’t cope. After trying to listen for another five minutes, still on ‘morning’, I decided it wasn’t for me. I didn’t want my previous dark and growly perception of Beck (thinking ‘loser’, ‘devil’s haircut’ etc.) to go sullied by this new yogic, relaxing and again, atmospherically sad new individual. So I decided to do an Eternal Sunshine, erased my mind and new opinions and left the album for another three months.

Boy, I must have grown up a lot over those three months. I started to emigrate in music tastes, Lily Allen disappeared off my playlist for a few weeks only to be replaced by Elton John and Paul Simon and in general, my outlook on life, and Beck’s new persona, was drastically altered. I don’t know when it happened, but I decided to listen again. It worked too, I was suddenly hooked. What had previously sounded tinny and insincere had far more depth and meaning than it had before. I wanted to listen and as I did, I only felt that the more I let myself listen, the more I enjoyed it. What on earth could have happened?

Sure, ‘morning’ still thoroughly depressed me, but having got past that and onto ‘heart is a drum’, things started to look up a little. Well, more than a little. Everything started to make a bit of sense. ‘Heart’ had a bit of a beat going for it and reminded me very much of Sea Change, Beck’s eighth studio album. Creepy vocals and bizarre piano over the same harsh sounding guitar. Doesn’t sound very good on paper, does it? But really, truly, to me it sounded very inspired. Success! I was hooked.

So it went on. I was no longer only interested in the strange angle of choice for the cover of the album (Beck has a deliriously amazing nose, just saying) but the music itself. Sure, there were a few duff songs on the way. Wasn’t so keen on ‘wave’ and the odd ethereal interjections dotted throughout, but really, things had changed, and so much for the better.

I think what shined forth for me which I hadn’t had the time or ability to appreciate when I first tried to listen was the sheer simplicity and beauty that is exuded throughout. It does sound like Sea Change and there are reasons for this, mainly I guess, many of the studio musicians of that album returned to record this. Yes, I looked that up. But there are differences. They are hard to pinpoint, but they still exist.

I guess I just feel that Morning Phase is just a far more mature approach to the same concepts and inspiration floating around in Sea Change. Many of the tracks could be interchanged – both ‘guess I’m doing fine’ and ‘the golden age’ amongst others would sit very happily alongside ‘blackbird chain’ and ‘turn away’. But it feels like Beck decided to cut something out from the Sea Change concept in Morning Phase. I’m not quite sure how to put it, but it just feels like it was a far more independent venture. The album can be characterised by what it lacks in this respect. Yes, as I mentioned, there are duff tracks, but it feels as though Beck is a lot more sure of himself and his music and that he doesn’t have to make up for it by covering all bases with random slightly out-of-genre tracks.

In all, I am simply glad that this album was made and that I came back to it. It was completely unexpected – I had no idea that my mind could be changed so drastically. But yes, loathing can be turned to loving and I would be happy to see this album remain on my playlist for many years.

Maybe it’s just the other stuff around it that needs to change, ahem, Fatboy Slim.

****

‘This has to remain a secret.’ Derren Brown: Infamous.

InfamousRight, so I first off apologise in advance for what I am sure will be a completely nonsensical and just generally irritating review of Derren Brown’s most recent stage show, Infamous. Thing is I only got back from Southend-on-Sea at about two o’clock in the morning, so if I sound frazzled that is because I very much am. Frazzled and amazed. I have only seen Brown once before at his previous show Svengali and, while I was left very much impressed, I have to say it was nothing on what I saw last night. And I have to say it now – if you haven’t seen one of the shows, Derren says it is imperative that their contents remain a secret, and therefore while I can tell you what I think, I can in no way spoil the fun of future viewers with a blow by blow account of what I saw. So, what follows is likely to be extremely short and baseless, very much unlike the show itself. Which, needless to say, was epic.

The show, rather bizarrely however, didn’t actually feel to me as though it started as it meant to go on. In fact, while I was so positive in my intro, I feel I should say that I was possibly somewhat disappointed with the beginning (I am so sorry, Derren). But yet, I wish to redeem myself by saying I’m sure that was down to the audience more than Derren himself. As much, if not all, of the show relies on his careful and skilled showmanship, it seems clear and fair enough to me that the audience should want to be a) involved and b) reasonably happy to go along with things. So, I can’t help but feel a bit of a grump that our particular audience, however lovely I’m sure they are, didn’t seem to be much of either as the show started. I don’t expect 1800 sycophants, but you know, a little bit of playing along might be nice. But luckily, after a rocky half hour, the show really got started as in typical Derren fashion, his antics accelerated gradually and became grander and grander by the minute.

Therefore, by the time the bell rang for the interval, I have to say I was amazed – the audience which had been so previously difficult had started to play along and stood frozen, astounded by just what he was capable of. Then the second half was just set to get all the more exciting. There were conversations with spirits, frankly impossible sleight-of-hand and just generally a far more open and accepting atmosphere – rather bizarrely really, especially considering some of the terrifying stuff that he got up to. I am going to completely agree with the other reviews that I read in anticipation of the show which declare this to be a far more ‘stripped-down’ version of his previous shows, and most certainly a lot darker than usual. It felt almost austere, yet still remained conversational, in the usual light-hearted tone of Derren Brown. Ok, that shouldn’t make sense, but he was able to make even some of the darkest and most sinister manipulations and mind control still remain reasonably cheery, another major skill of his.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that Derren is just completely and overwhelmingly talented. Ridiculously so. If I could do even half of one of his tricks, I’d be very content. He is self-effacing, charming and annoyingly intelligent. And yet whilst what he is able to do on stage should be absolutely terrifying, the audience still feels secure. But I reckon the main thing that has to be taken from the show is actually, for me, that it is the simpler things that are actually more memorable and enjoyable. I guess my issue with the first half was that, to me, it felt like a bit of a mash-up of everything he’d done in previous shows. We, as an audience, already get by now that he is practically able to see into people’s minds and pick out what they are thinking. For God’s sake, he predicted national lottery numbers, we would expect that he would be quite good at prediction and ‘mind-reading’ by now. Therefore, while everything he executed was skillful, I felt that it was based a lot on slightly upgraded versions of what he had achieved before, in a slightly plausibly different format.

However, I was astounded when I worked out that actually, this needed to happen. As an audience, we needed the excitement to continue to grow as the show continued, meaning that what had started out as polite applause at the beginning soon turned into rapturous adoration as the show continued… I’m amazed at just how skillful he is at even just commanding people’s emotions for over two hours. Amazing. And thus, I feel that I can forgive the first half of the first half (there must be a better way of saying that) as what it led up to, while outwardly appearing to be far simpler trickwise, became all the more outrageously shocking and generally delicious. It was fabulous, emotional and just downright smart. And as you can probably tell, I’m really struggling not to tell you what happened! But it has to remain a secret, even if you have to wait for the DVD, just do, you will be astounded, amazed, and quite possibly inspired to learn The National Bus Timetable off by heart.

Or, possibly, Of Mice and Men in my own case.

****

‘This brave new world with such people in’t.’ The Tempest.

tempestSo. Now that my English Literature exam was over a week ago, I feel safe with another review of one of my set texts. After this, we’ll only have one left, I promise, and then I can get back into a more positive frame of mind. Well, as positive as this current exam-and-popcorn-fueled-being can get.

And for my next trick, I present the Tempest, considered to be one of the final true Shakespeare plays. Now, I’m not really sure if this is normal, but I will be basing this review on the actual text itself, for while I have observed (I am not going to credit it with the word ‘seen’) two film adaptations and one onstage carcrash I feel that that is truly where my grudge lies. I do, at this point and time, feel more than a little bad, for writing so vindictively can’t but help me feel I am insulting Britain’s best known bard without even giving him the opportunity to fight back. However eloquently I’m sure he would present his argument. In bloody iambic pentameter no doubt.

Right. As you can probably tell so far, I am not on great terms with this here play. I know you aren’t meant to say things like this, but I know I wouldn’t complain if all of the copies of this very play were to spontaneously combust and never be replaced. Ever, ever again. Especially now I’ve sat the exam. But truly, there is a reason why it is known as Shakespeare’s longest play. And that is not only due to having so many lines. It is dull. Incredibly so, and I’m not sure I will ever want to hear of it again. For a start, while I usually believe Shakespearean language to be a genuine thing of beauty – not only is it intelligent but emotive – I can’t help but feel that something went a little wrong here. I know it is the pastime of any English student to search through their Shakespeare for at least one joke I can genuinely say that there is not one single moment of comedy in the entire piece. And the scary thing is that there should be. Ahem.

Shakespeare included certain scenes (we look to the drunkenness of Trinculo and Stephano etc) with the genuine hope that people would be rolling in their seats. But, while we were told many times over that they are funny, and even after having their actual comic elements prescribed and explained to us, I just couldn’t see it. Perhaps it is just simply that I had to read the thing so many times, but if I’m honest, I am quite easily pleased and did actively try and enjoy it. To absolutely no avail.

While Shakespearean language is usually tough to follow, I feel that something went particularly wrong here as well. I’m not asking to have it simplified, because there may be a few moments when the text lived up to its reputed elegance and intelligence, but these merely punctuate the endless, repetitive  nonsense in between. Honestly, can’t help but feel that it was written and left completely unedited. And feel completely stupid for saying that considering its historical relevance and resonant message, but it simply is too long! Half could be removed by attempting to write succinctly – something I’ve always been told to do… Truly, if Shakespeare encountered many of my literacy teachers over the years he would have received similar complaints to me. If I had a pound for every time somebody said ‘quality over quantity’… And yet I just want to shout it to the annoying bard! It really makes for depressing reading – it feels like it’s trying to make up for something, and what that is I really can’t be sure.

To be honest, it has great potential, I feel the story, while a little bland, holds up and given the right characters and personality could have been fantastic. I do quite possibly feel a little hypocritical saying that because it is very true that I could not produce anything better. Or no way near as good, no matter how terrible I feel it to be. But really, it’s just overdone. Scholars can go on and on about the inherent confusion of Prospero’s vengeance compared with his manipulative but fatherly nature. They can expound about the underlying allegory surrounding the beastly but intelligent nature of the captive slave Caliban. They can even discuss the importance of the marriage masque of Act 4, Scene 1 as a metaplay and representation of the significance of fertility and marriage. But that just leaves me reeling incredulously – yes, there is a chance that they are significant to the play, but I would only consider them truly important if I had or could have enjoyed the play in the first place.

Yet, every time I read it as part of revision or in the blooming exam itself, I was drawn into a neverending and painful stupor – I couldn’t put it better than to simply say I just wanted it to go away. Far far away. It was even worse when our little English troupe went all the way down to London to view it live at the Globe. Not only did my posterior ache but in the end I found myself distinctly glad that I did not actually have to watch most of the play due to the large architectural feature pillar in front of me. That was more interesting. And it wasn’t even made out of the marble it was pretending to be.

My complaints surrounding the Tempest also run through into the two films I have been subjected to. First off there was the recent, poorly CGIed delight (I use the term both loosely and sarcastically) that contained a complete overload of the ironic Helen Mirren as ‘Prospera’ and a thoroughly irritating cast of Russel Brand and the unfortunate, however beautiful he may be, inclusion of Ben Whishaw. It was hideous, full of irritating and overly full-of-themselves modern actors. That said, it had nothing on the second version I was forced to observe, Derek Jarman’s ‘homoerotic’ (thank you wikipedia) version of this much over-rated and under-loved text. It features prancing sailors, Toyah Willcox and rather too many raw eggs. And is just horrible.

So, finally, as you may have guessed, I find that there is little that saves this particular set text from making me want to rock backwards and forwards by myself in a quiet room until the three hour play is over. I find it to be a particularly grim form of mental torture and would be more than happy to leave it alone forever as soon as I hand it back to school. I feel the day I say goodbye to the idiosyncratic Caliban, the irritatingly naive and lovelost Miranda and of course the hideous figure of Prospero, I may be happy. But of course, that may only happen after many long hours of expensive therapy which of course Shakespeare in his passing will be unable to fund. Damn.

Just make it go away and it’ll all be fine!

*

‘This inhuman place makes human monsters.’ The Shining.

3995322Ok… So you know what I was saying yesterday about Nervous Conditions. Well. That may have sort of come back to bite me a little. The exam that I was talking about? It was horrible. Actually, that should be capital. Horrible. And so, dear friends, I ended up sitting in that very exam hall less than five hours ago on the verge of very nearly dying from panic (honestly, no heart rate should go to 167bpm) when I thought of one thing that could very possibly transport me from that particular sports hall into my happy place. As you may have guessed, that may possibly have been The Shining. I mean, if I’m completely honest, any of those questions which I most certainly could not answer with my own texts would have been infinitely better if referring to The Shining. I mean, at least answerable. Oh God. So, as a homage to my favouritest book of all time (excuse the english, post-traumatic stress) I thought I’d try to do it justice with one of my usually nonsensical reviews.

So yeah, The Shining, is my ultimate happy days novel. The book I go to when I just can’t deal with things. A beaming light (‘scuse the pun) in a dank world of exam drudgery and general angst. I know this sounds strange, especially if you have read the book, but honestly, for all of its gruesome imagery and creepy characters, I have to say I believe it to be an article of perfection. Even though my own personal copy contains at least six typos… Sorry! I also count it as my gateway into the horror world. I’d seen it on the shelf every day for around thirteen (coincidence?) years and every day had walked past thinking, knowing, that there would be something special about it. I don’t know how, I mean it’s not just that it’s revered internationally by horror-lovers and loathers alike. It’s not just that it led to a shockingly executed but highly popular cult film. Not even that the shockingly broken spine gave me some sort of prescient tingle of fear. I’m just not sure, it just looked good. Good enough that I was happy to sneak it from that very shelf and, despite the sleepless nights that followed, devouring it in a matter of days…

Now, it doesn’t start particularly well, but even then, you’re being drawn right into the scene – observing the thoughts of Jack Torrance as he uses his ‘PR grin’, one part that did work in the film, to procure him his fateful job as the hotel caretaker. We’re then transported back to his family waiting at home, Wendy and Danny, eagerly awaiting Jack’s return. We’re introduced very quickly to the problems prevalent in the Torrance family as seconds in, Wendy is already alone, crying upstairs. Back to Jack, being shown around. We are introduced to the boiler (no need for spoilers, but watch this space) and then rapidly back to Danny who shows his first signs of having something special, a force, later known as ‘shining’ which as the name suggests becomes increasingly significant as the story goes on. Jack returns and we are again alerted to his troubled family relationships and given an insight into some other disturbing previous events… And before not too long we’re at part 2 where the whole family have finally arrived at the hotel. There’s freaky images of nuns, but the atmosphere is relatively positive. Until everyone leaves and silence falls over the hotel. It’s not long before things then start to become really really strange.

The Overlook is a world of eternal ghost parties, bleeding clocks and of course REDRUM. Madness, innocence and the shining. Jack descends steadily into complete obsessive madness as the hotel begins to take control and in turn Danny and Wendy become privy to its effects. Which could only make them more nervous, I guess. I mean, I’m not sure, but living with a madman in a blocked off hotel cannot be much fun. Especially if you don’t realise before it’s a little bit too late. As he gets madder and madder, one can’t help but get more and more absorbed. I guess that is Stephen King’s true talent. He is a fabulous storyteller. I guess that’s the point, I suppose he has to be for the day job. But it’s really true. And it’s not just cheap thrills he provides in his stories, but genuine undercurrents of absolute gritty fear. He gets people. No, I can say that better. He understands the human psyche. Can get into the scariest parts of the human brain and relay them back to us in a neatly horrific package. There are sickening moments (see brains on the walls), gore (I always shiver with the story of the previous caretaker) and very real human anxiety (deep seated family issues, child abuse etc). It caters to every sense, and seriously, after reading it I can no longer walk past any topiary animals.

I guess it’s just the way he strikes the balance between thriller and close-to-home psychological horror stories. I mean, the point is, I guess anyone would go mad if left to their own devices in an empty hotel for three months. It would be impossible not to. Add to that the ‘power’ of the hotel, just trying to make things worse, controlling you. Using you. Now, who wouldn’t jump off the sane train? I would only hope that I wouldn’t go so far as to fall in love with a boiler, but you know beggars can’t be choosers. Include the explosive ending (which may plausibly be jumping the shark a little) and the inspirational escape efforts from Danny and Wendy and you have a completely fabulous end product. Not just a haunted house story, but a real horror story. That strikes one to the bone.

Really not bad, especially considering it’s based on a John Lennon song…

*****

‘I was not sorry when my brother died.’ Nervous Conditions.

nervous conditionsOk… Now I may be biased about this particular book… So I feel I have to be honest before I really get to grips with it. This is the exact text that I will be using tomorrow in my english literature exam. The very one. I will be in a silent room, under time pressure,  trying to glean all sorts of A* worthy quotes and literary nuggets from one of the very few copies in existence in less than 24 hours. Hang on. Maybe less than 12 hours. Unless I don’t sleep. Oh God. All I’m saying is that there probably are a great deal of valid reasons why I should feel so strongly about this book. I’m just going to say its hideous. Really really bad. Do not go near it with a barge-pole. Unless, like me, you absolutely have to and your english grade depends on it. We’re totally talking in the worst possible of circumstances. Completely and utterly.

Anyway, the thing is, there is probably a very good reason why there are so few copies around… And why I know I’m certainly not the only one who lets out a genuine groan of pain when its name gets mentioned. Ugh. Right. Where to start? First off, we all knew how painful it was going to be pretty much as soon as we had read the blurb. Blurbs are there for a reason – and usually that reason is to try and represent the book in its best light, hopefully with the aim of enticing as many readers as possible into actually buying it. But I can definitely say anyone who takes the time to try and read this one would be seriously put off, or have to be completely mad to ever want to attempt to read it. Honestly. Right… To prove my point, here’s my particular favourite, the first line of criticism:

‘The introspective function of the novel as a genre emerges clearly in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s work, a Bildungsroman that offers us a moving narrative of the developing consciousness of her young, female characters.’

I mean, oh my crikey, what does that even mean? The only reason that I have any clue of what a Bildungsroman actually is (and yes have started using it as a tag) is due that that genuine piece of literary nonsense. Nobody speaks like that. Nobody reads a book and thinks ‘hmm how introspective that was’ or that totally ‘[mapped] at once the tortured routes to female subjectivity and the path to gender egalitarianism’ (another genuine favourite). Blimey. Really, would you?

But anyhow, it’s not the blurb I’m meant to be criticising, however difficult it is to avoid, but the content of the book itself. Just going to say now. It really doesn’t get much better. At all. Set in 1960s Rhodesia, just prior to it becoming Zimbabwe, the novel follows the life of Tambu, an impoverished young woman, through first person narrative. Tambu lives in a world where women are accepted as nothing more than a means to an end by men – they produce children, cook and clean, and most important, remain silent. The book itself does not in fact have a linear narrative, but is written in such a way as to echo other African literature, through episodes or moments, completely circular – you have no idea what moment in her life she is discussing until she’s moved on to the next. In its style, I suppose, the book can be forgiven. There are instances of purely delightful description and clever imagery. But they are too few and far between, spaced apart by a hideously dull narrative of something that has a great deal of potential. Now I know I could not write it any better, but God, Dangarembga was very much onto something here.

The book essentially covers the struggles of the women around Tambu, each fighting against their men and their circumstances to try and survive as best they can. You have Nyasha, a westerinised, intelligent and fragile girl; Tambu’s mother, a demon-obsessed, bitter old woman; Lucia, the one piece of comic relief in the whole text… And then you have Tambu. Who goes and ruins it all by being so blooming sensible all the time. She claims throughout to be calm, demure – the model of the perfect African woman. Except her one issue is that she is too intelligent. She strives to be educated, even to the point of being ‘vindicated’ on her brother’s death as it means she can go to school. Reading Tambu’s narrative, I could not help but feel one thing. Unlike she actually claims in the beginning, she is cold. She is callous. She, to me, is just a nasty piece of work. And I’m sorry, but I really struggle to sympathise with her. Empathise, yes. She has an incredibly hard life and has to go through some awful experiences to become recognised. She has to deal with her ignorant father, her limited circumstances and Babamakuru, the ‘saint’ who is actually just a man with a messiah-complex. And herself. Basically, she just didn’t feel real. So therefore I have no sympathy – and usually I’m a soft touch.

And this may become a bit of a running theme but I really do struggle with people who are not real. Ok, that sounds completely bizarre. But it’s true. I’m sure we’ve all read works of people who you just think, nobody, absolutely nobody would deal with this scenario like this. It just isn’t feasable. Yes, some of the feelings she conveys are deep and highly telling, but there is no point in the novel where I would go as far as to say they were moving. Because that wouldn’t be true. Tambu fundamentally innoculates us against everything, good and bad, in the novel. The happiest moments are muted by self-loathing and annoying and non-sensical asides. The bad bits are covered up by Tambu claiming it’s in her personality to ignore them. Quite honestly, this does not work for me. I mean if that is Tambu’s genuine stance, how is she ever going to get anywhere? To illustrate, her personality continues to diminish as her relationship with Nyasha develops. There is, at one point, a truly very gritty scene where Nyasha ends up being beaten for her insubordination. Tambu herself is also beaten later on by the same man. But these events do not seem to categorize as anything else to Tambu than part of normality. She carries on and merely mentions it in passing, before continuing to lament about her lack of feminine normality.

While this, as a literary technique, is sometimes effective, it does just become a little grating when used gratuitously. It seems Tambu is unable to completely engage with and relate to her own life. That’s the reason why I chose my key quote, I guess. Even when her brother, Nhamo, who yes is not the most pleasant of people, dies from an unknown mumps-like disease, Tambu seemingly makes no effort to do anything about it. I’m not saying that she should be outwardly shouting and crying like her mother, because that might get a bit tiresome in this format, but seriously, if she is so ‘vindicated’, could we have a little more chirpiness? Ok. That sounds completely wrong considering we are discussing his death – more than a little morbid – but she says it, not me.

I’m guessing that that’s my main point though. We expect through the narrative that she would be willing to be more open with the reader. I guess the point is that we don’t even have to like her to enjoy the story. But when a narrator’s character becomes distractingly and constantly bleak and bland, the book can’t help but feel more than a little beige. And that is so an understatement. It is dull as hell. And yet it shouldn’t be – it really does have something to say…

But it is. And my exam is in less than ten waking hours.

**

 

‘Did he remind you of anyone?’ The Double.

thedoubleRight, for a start, I know I said it was unlikely that I was going to be ever writing about anything recent. I mean that’s mainly due to the rather problematic sieve-like nature of my mind, meaning that whatever new film is going to come out that I may want to have a little verbal think about… Well, written think, but that doesn’t sound as good… Isn’t likely to stay in my mind long enough for me to form any sort of valid opinion on it. But this, friends, is different. For I discovered, in that delicious fleeting moment of pure thought prior to shutting the door and walking down to the cinema, that there was a rather useful tool that I had neglected in all of my previous cinema ventures. The humble notepad. And what’s more, unlike the homemade popcorn I surreptitiously slipped in in my coat pockets (thank Dawkins for Parkas), it actually isn’t against cinema regulations. Which also adds a rather nice touch, I feel.

Anyhow, rather than divulging any further into my notepad adventures, I believe I should probably get on and review this thing. While as much information as I can remember about it still remains in the mindbox. Right. So, for a start, how about a brief synopsis. As the title suggests, the film revolves around the life of a man who has recently come to meet his doppelganger, a double, a man that looks exactly like him in every way. But is far from identical in personality. They are effectively two halves – you have Simon James, the timid and anxious, invisible employee. And then his indistinguishable new friend, James Simon, the confident womaniser who seems hell-bent on Simon’s destruction. And then to complete the trio we meet the woman of Simon’s dreams, Hannah, who lives across the way from him and has been his conquest for too long. This is picked up on by James which starts the beginning of a series of events, masterminded by James, all set on abusing Simon, finally making him realise they are part of the same person and that one or other of them needs to face destruction to secure the survival of the other. So yes, a little bit of a tenuous storyline, but very clever nonetheless. As long as you can keep up. Which may have been a little bit of a struggle at points. But I’m sure that’s just me.

These characters are part of a new dystopian world where shadows and darkness seem to be the only decor, save for a photo of the Colonol on the walls and from the beginning, the film has a rather 1984/Brazil feel. And, while I’m sure there are many other artistic nuances contained within the film, it is highly unlikely that I picked up on them. But purely on imagery, this film is top-notch. It evokes the anxiety of the characters – real people who are just trying to survive the harsh nature of this world they have been thrust into. With no choice and no way of getting out. The cinematography is highly atmospheric and provocative, focusing on the starkness and lack of humanity contained within the universe of the Double. It gives it a classic feel, rather like Submarine. Yes, there are fewer primary colours. Well, a general lack of colour anywhere, but in terms of how it was filmed, anyone with knowledge of Submarine would be able to recognise Ayoade’s post-debut directorial input. Put simply, he just seems to know how to make beautiful and visually interesting films. It truly is stunning, especially considered that the colour scheme is mainly set on the varying tones of beige and grey that can be achieved.

What’s more is it’s been made in such a way that even though it features a somewhat realistic view of a dystopian world, it still manages to have a rather large injection of dark humour, both in its script and in its cast. The characters really add to it, which yes, sounds obvious, but is so true. Every single one is there with a function, and it seems no moment is wasted in getting the story across to the audience. The casting can’t have been difficult for Ayoade, especially considering that most of them come from either the IT Crowd or Submarine itself. But every part is played beautifully, with the right level of humour so as not to make the film completely dreary and lifeless. The Double thus fulfills its genre of Dark Comedy perfectly. It is funny, laugh-out-loud at moments, but on every laugh, you can’t help but feel that the rather sinister nature of the film has just been taken up a notch. I mean there are really strange moments where you’re sure that you shouldn’t be laughing at all. For example, prior to the film really reaching its climax, we witness more than a minor breakdown from Simon who literally starts yelling gibberish while brandishing a synthetic arm at James and I was almost in tears. Which, looking back, it’s more disturbing than funny. Ahem.

However, I feel it must be mentioned that the Double is a tad let down by its ending. Which may have left more than a little to be desired. I don’t know. I just felt that following the general build-up which had characterised the whole film, the ending could have been cleaner. But, then again, I think that it was made like this with a purpose, which while I found it disappointing probably does resonate a little more with audiences of a more philosophical bent who are likely to be able to think through the motives of having such a non-ending. It feels like the film is meant to be really coming to something – Simon has worked out that him and James are intrinsically linked so much so that one of them needs to die in order to get rid of the misery of life that they have been facing. Thus, he devises a scheme in which he feels he can survive, while killing James. Which I feel I cannot divulge for fear of spoilers. My apologies.  Sufficed to say, the film just ends up without us ever really finding out what happened, which does sometimes work – I mean I really admire a film that can pull off a non-ending (Inception, Black Swan, Shutter Island etc), but I feel here that the concept was taken a little too far. We, as an audience, are just left with a tad too little, meaning that we struggle to piece it back on the rest of the film. Personally I felt there were too many questions left with no answers, which in all was just more disappointing than mysterious. Especially considering the previous caliber of the film up to that point.

So, overall, I would definitely recommend the Double to anyone who enjoys slightly complicated, dark yet humorous thrillers. Wow, what a genre. But yes, it is very good. But maybe, if you want a better ending, you should simply stop it before being able to see the last five minutes. Then, the mystery will at least feel like less of a cover-up and more of a real mystery. I don’t know, it just tails off in such a way as I found it hard not to be disappointed. Oh, and Jesse Eisenburg’s mal-fitting suit jacket is also a tad annoying. But still, for the rest of the film, it’s a definite must-see. And I know I’ll get it as soon as it comes out. And probably completely rewrite this when I finally understand it.

****