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Opinion: Inception and the importance of grounded sci-fi - SciFiNow - The World's Best Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Magazine

Opinion: Inception and the importance of grounded sci-fi

Sometimes it’s important to keep it real.

About five years ago, I convinced myself I was going to write a book. After about 40 false starts over the ensuing years that led to me getting a job that allowed me to make money for my writing, I still only had a smattering of half-finished chapters as the story grew almost completely out of my control.

It started as a dark coming-of-age drama. It became a comment on the wealth gap in some parts of Western civilisation. Then it became a pseudo-fantasy drama. Then it became a doomed romance novel. Then, it was all of those things. Then, I gave up. The characters were certainly there, but I didn’t believe in the story.

As each weekend passed without any progress and the protagonist just sat there in my head, taunting me for my laziness, I started to wonder what was missing – why I was failing to engage with my own creation. I knew I liked the characters, but I don’t think I ever really gave a shit about the story; nothing locked in.

Everything seemed a bit too far out to work. I couldn’t suspend my disbelief at my own creation! Deeming myself a complete failure, I settled for the fact that I wrote professionally anyway, and put the writing a novel thing on the back burner (and by back burner, I mean I chided myself at every opportunity for not being an overachiever).

Then, I saw Inception. I’m not going to sit here and tell you why the movie’s great, or that it transformed my entire existence or anything – I’ll remind you that Leonardo DiCaprio is probably the greatest actor of his generation, then I’ll leave it there – but it did strike me as a courageous movie. Inception is about dreams. It’s literally an infinite subject matter, but at the same time, one that is only familiar as a hackneyed plot device in popular movies rather than the subject altogether.

Yet that’s why I have so much admiration for Christopher Nolan – even though the movie is so subjective and bizarre in its portrayal of dreams, the narrative has such a strong conviction about it, we don’t even question the fact that Paris is folding into a cube, or that limbo is some kind of hell dimension with ever-collapsing glaciers of buildings.

Of course, we’re regularly shown movies that are packed with bizarre imagery on a weekly basis, but there is a key difference with Inception – it’s so matter-of-fact about the sci-fi story that it presents. It’s so grounded in our reality and as a result, we’re swept along for the ride without question.

In an interview with visual effects supervisor Paul Franklin, published in issue 48 of SciFiNow, he described to me Nolan’s philosophies on this. “He wants to make it look like we just went out and filmed the thing. We added the conviction of absolute realism to surrealism, and that was the biggest thing – how do we reconcile the two? He’ll always try and get everything real if he can – if we could build Paris folding into a cube, he would’ve built it.”

All forms of fiction present us with absurdist scenarios that challenge our suspension of disbelief, obviously; I’m not new to this, but in terms of the way I identify with storytelling, Inception is the first piece of sci-fi in a long time that hasn’t left me shifting in my seat, waiting for it to end. I buy so completely into its ideas, and that, to me, is inspirational.

Inception is released on DVD and Blu-ray Monday.