Thursday, 26 January 2017

Home (2003)

The great JG Ballard's short story The Enormous Space from his 1990 anthology War Fever got the TV treatment from BBC4 in the mid 00s, with this superb adaptation retitled simply Home.

Written and directed by Richard Curson-Smith, the film bears the imprint of influences such as Polanski's Repulsion and Cul-de-Sac but manages to make this suburban horror story compelling in its own right - perhaps because (like a lot of Ballard's work) it gets more relevant as time and technology marches on. 

The story, tapping into Ballard's obsessions with suburban living, inner space, estrangement and detachment, madness and the trauma of a car crash, concerns Antony Sher's middle-class suburbanite Gerry Ballantyne who, after some time off work to recuperate from said car accident and in which time his wife chose to leave him for another man, finds the very notion of returning to the everyday life of work and interaction with the world unbearable. One morning, on a whim, he decides to retreat indoors to where he feels safest, determined to undertake an experiment of his own devising; he shall become a profound hermit, shunning the world and reducing his environment to the bare essentials, working through the stores of food and drink within his home until he is forced to rely solely on the house itself for comfort, shelter and sustenance, like an insane episode of The Good Life.

Naturally it isn't long before Gerry's eccentric and naive behaviour, borne from some kind of PTSD and agoraphobia following the accident, his subsequent convalescence and the trauma of his marital breakdown, develops and descends into a kind of manic primitivism; the stores barely last a fortnight (despite his proud boasts that his career within the food technology field would allow them to last much longer than they would for an average man) and, in his reliance on the house - or rather, his body's natural resistance to the slow death he is either wittingly or unwittingly committing himself to - he begins to consume everything from the pages of books to junk mail, before using great cunning to prey on his neighbours pets. 

All the while, Gerry becomes transfixed with the idea that the house is, in an adaptive response to his experiment, beginning to reveal secrets hitherto unknown to the populace. He believes the attic is becoming a vast, cathedral like space of brilliant light and that time and space stretches and warps before him. Intruders come to his door - 'the weapon' he used to shut himself off from the world, as he describes it - in the form of concerned neighbours and work colleagues, a policeman, a TV engineer and his estranged wife, each in turn threatening to disturb and distract Gerry from his breakthrough and, in some instances, he retaliates with disturbing, harrowing consequences. 

The task of adapting Ballard's story was a great one, and Curson-Smith brilliantly lands upon the idea of a video diary to record Gerry's progress with his experiment. It's used to wonderful effect as it clearly depicts the mental and physical deterioration of Gerry, whilst at the same time keeping the discovery he is onto inside the house ambiguous for much of the time, lending the exploration of the attic (or 'the top' as Gerry begins to refer to it - with the kitchen being 'base camp' -  as he begins his ascent like a mountaineer or Polar explorer)  a truly hallucinogenic, dreamlike and mysterious air. It goes without saying that Antony Sher's performance is impeccable taking us from the seemingly intelligent and rational ordinary man to the depths of depravity in an authentic, absorbing way. It's interesting to note that, even in the early stages of the story as he relates his plans and ambitions to his video diary, there's always something behind the eye, a hint of anxiety and mental fragility, beneath the bonhomie and lucidity.

As someone who has experienced some mild agoraphobia himself in the past in relation to depression and social anxiety, Home can be a bit of a hard watch at times, even now as I must admit to occasionally still possessing a residual attachment to the sense of security home provides, but the genius of Ballard lay in the fact that he could explore such real issues in such a compelling and intelligent manner, touching a nerve and making a statement. In this production, Ballard's voice is effectively captured as we are treated to a blackly humorous, disturbing and thought provoking delight. 

It's over ten years since Home was made and in the intervening time period the narrative at its heart has only become more topical with the normality of supermarket home delivery being only a click away upon the computer. With everything ready to go and available at your door, and the world lying in wait online, need anyone ever leave the house again? 

You can view this on YouTube, I wholeheartedly recommend it.

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