Purgatory owes its conception to two ideas which had been knocking around in my head for a long time before they began to take the form of a short film; indeed, the first idea probably goes all the way back to a disturbing conception (or misconception) of the afterlife from my childhood. In fact, a lot of my youthful beliefs are quite terrifying to recall even now: as a very small child I was convinced that heaven was just rows and rows of coffins in a giant refrigerator where our souls would lie in fully conscious boredom for the rest of eternity. When I was a little older I came round to the idea that heaven might be nice after all, but I had a troubling conviction that before we got there we would be forced to watch a film of the stupidest and worst things we had ever done, along with an audience of family, friends and enemies, who would all howl with laughter or derision until the film was over. Quite where I got these ideas I don’t know (I’m pretty sure I wasn’t taught them in church) but they made a lasting impression – to this day, when I do something particularly idiotic I cringe at the thought that it may be one of the things aired at my pre-heaven screening. In Purgatory I drew from this image to explore the comic and tragic potential of the notion that when our whole life flashes before us at the moment of death it might be more of a humiliation, or indeed an irritant, than a series of happy memories.
The other foundation for the film was the moment in the summer of 2009 when, exploring the South of France, I turned a corner and found myself in what looked to all intents and purposes like a perfect film set – a deserted, sun-drenched square with water trickling out of a fountain, narrow streets leading off in all directions enclosed by walls that leaned towards each other as if they had been designed by M. C. Escher, flights of steps, cobbles and little archways. And not another human being in sight. I knew at once that I had to make a film there. Exactly one year later, literally running around for hours on end in 30 degree heat trying to capture the strange beauty of the place, it was clear exactly why there was not another human being in sight; aside from the sheer heat, every resident in the place seemed to have locked their dogs inside while they napped, so we were battling with desolate yapping from all corners. Mad dogs and English men, indeed. Although the place was the perfect visual match for my conception of a bleak and empty purgatory, the experience was closer to being in hell itself. Fortunately, the story called for a rising sense of desperation and there was plenty of that to draw on. But I’m holding out for the giant refrigerator when I die.