Skip to main content

How can you have time when it clearly has you?

Dark 
Season 2

(SPOILERS) I’m not intending to dig into Dark zealously, as its plotting is so labyrinthine, it would take forever and a day, and I’d just end up babbling incoherently (so what’s new?) But it’s worth commenting on, as it’s one of the few Netflix shows I’ve seen that feels entirely rigorous and disciplined – avoiding the flab and looseness that too often seems part and parcel of a service expressly avoiding traditional ratings models – as it delivers its self-appointed weighty themes and big ideas. And Dark’s weighty themes and big ideas really are weighty and big, albeit simultaneously often really frustrating. It came as no surprise to learn of the showrunners’ overriding fixation with determinism at work in the multi-generational, multiple time period-spanning events within the German town of Winden, but I was intrigued regarding their structural approach, based on clearly knowing the end game of their characters, rather than needing to reference (as they put it) Post-Its all around the walls of the office.

I tend to find these Bootstrap Paradox, unbreakable loop narratives an exasperating viewing experience, because generally speaking, it can be a free pass for the writer to rest on their laurels, getting away with shovelling a load of lazy conceits into the mix just because “It has to happen that way”. And, if the loop is an answer unto itself, you’re attempting to wear that as a badge of intellectual success rather than admitting failure to really understand how the principles “work” (often, I think such plots simply shun grappling with the underlying concepts in favour of empty carb “reveals”). For me, a prime offender in this is Nacho Vigalondo’s Timecrimes, a movie that (SPOILER STARTS) requires its protagonist to somehow, having already witnessed them, re-enact precisely the events his bandaged alter-ego has already performed (SPOILER ENDS). Then there’s Predestination, which offers an at once attention-grabbing and involved protagonist “surprise” in its time-twisting, but is also, by the very nature of the conditions it sets on its paradox, ultimately dissatisfying.

Dark is evidently aware of the manner in which characters are forced to stumble along, puppet-like, beholden to their writers’ whims in such constructions, but I’m unsure that their own god-like positioning of their creations is as pure and unvarnished as they believe. One does feel at times that the poor unfortunates of Winden – in particular Jonas – are doing what they’re doing because of the deterministic – as in, determined by the writers – nature of the plot. The writers are simultaneously aware of the narrative tensions needed through withholding information and entirely concerned with those involved explaining themselves, such that at one point Adam, Jonas’ much older and time-travel-debilitated self, explains to him what he must do and he (Jonas) goes and does it, which will only perpetuate what has already happened rather than provide an opportunity to resolve it. This scene itself gave me worried waves of Timecrimes nausea, as it could be construed that Adam is saying exactly what he knew his younger self heard, through total recall, not dissimilarly to Michael’s suicide note; I charitably decided they were willingly relaying the gist of things on both occasions, rather than dotting every I and crossing every T, as that kind of writing takes the predetermined conceit too far, to the point of inanity.

When he learns of his error, Jonas is consequently much too willing to take note of elder Claudia, in opposition to Adam and his group Sic Mundus, and his middle-aged self appears to have retained this outlook. But still, through all this, they do and are influenced by prevailing forces in an ultimately entirely emotive way that is somehow intended to justify a lack of tempered, interrogative reflection. Or even, say, young and middle-aged Jonas just sitting down and hashing out how they will inevitably keep making a hash of things through one or other entirely misconstruing how they are unable to do anything constructive. The point in the finale, where 2053 Jonas takes off with Bartosz, Magnus and Franziska, had me rolling my eyes slightly, as it makes it appear that his younger self knowing Adam’s manipulations has failed to make him second guess that doing anything will bring him closer to bringing about what he least wants to achieve (becoming Adam).

Even the curveball of the last few minutes, expanding the events of Winden into a multiverse, whereby a version of the recently deceased Martha materialises and whisks Jonas away from imminent annihilation as the power station goes nuclear on everyone not in a shelter or also being whisked away, seems designed by its miserablist creators as a false hope (the series barely has a smile in it, let alone a laugh, seemingly set on reinforcing stereotypes regarding the German sense of humour).

After all, if Adam was unaware of the existence of alternate timelines and presence of alternate Martha, he surely wouldn’t have left his younger self there to meet his certain death. And doubtless the words of elder Claudia will be underlined during the final season, as hope-against-hope Jonas tries to unravel his very being (“I’ve seen the world without you. Believe me, it isn’t what you’re expecting”). Presumably Jonas' middle-aged self is aware of alt-Martha too, yet this seems to have done nothing to dissuade him from attempting to save her, the kind of futile gesture he should surely know better than by now, but seemingly, because he’s the writers’ puppet on a string, does not.

When pinned down about their designs for what’s to come, director Baran Bo Odar expressed nothing but gloom, while writer Jantje Friese offered a sliver of hope; I expect this in itself is merely a manipulation to keep the viewer, as desperate for some as Jonas, on the hook. The show’s main achievement, however, is that, even when you’re resigned to its unrelenting bleakness, it continues to be compulsive viewing, exacting an oppressive, hypnotic hold, free from respite. If the seventh episode of Season Two was supposed to be something of a lull, a return to relative normality, it managed to illustrate that even at its most sedate, Dark is unremittingly foreboding.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

It looks like we’ve got another schizoid embolism!

Total Recall (1990)
(SPOILERS) Paul Verhoeven offered his post-mortem on the failures of the remakes of Total Recall (2012) and Robocop (2013) when he suggested “They take these absurd stories and make them too serious”. There may be something in this, but I suspect the kernel of their issues is simply filmmakers without either the smarts or vision, or both, to make something distinctive from the material. No one would have suggested the problem with David Cronenberg’s prospective Total Recall was over-seriousness, yet his version would have been far from a quip-heavy Raiders of the Lost Ark Go to Mars (as he attributes screenwriter Ron Shusset’s take on the material). Indeed, I’d go as far as saying not only the star, but also the director of Total Recall (1990) were miscast, making it something of a miracle it works to the extent it does.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

I am you, and you are me, and we are here. I am the dreamer. You are the dream.

Communion (1989)
(SPOILERS) Whitley Strieber’s Communion: A True Story was published in 1987, at which point the author (who would also pen Communion’s screenplay) had seen two of his novels adapted for the cinema (Wolfen and The Hunger), so he could hardly claim ignorance of the way Hollywood – or filmmaking generally – worked. So why then, did he entrust the translation of a highly personal work, an admission of/ confrontation with hidden demons/ experiences, to the auteur who unleashed Howling II and The Marsupials: Howling III upon an undeserving world? The answer seems to be that Strieber already knew director Philippe Mora, and the latter was genuinely interested in the authors’ uncanny encounters. Which is well and good and honourable, but the film entirely fails to deliver the stuff of cinematic legend. Except maybe in a negative sense.

Strieber professes dismay at the results, citing improvised scenes and additional themes, and Walken’s rendition of Whitley Strieber, protagonist…

I’m not the Jedi I should be.

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
(SPOILERS) Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is the only series entry (thus far) I haven’t seen at the cinema. After the first two prequels I felt no great urgency, and it isn’t an omission I’d be hugely disposed to redress for (say) a 12-hour movie marathon, were such a thing held in my vicinity. In the bare bones of Revenge of the Sith, however,George Lucas has probably the strongest, most confident of all Star Wars plots to date.

This is, after all, the reason we have the prequels in the first place; the genesis of Darth Vader, and the confrontation between Anakin and Obi Wan. That it ends up as a no more than middling movie is mostly due to Lucas’ gluttonous appetite for CGI (continuing reference to its corruptive influence is, alas, unavoidable here). But Episode III is also Exhibit A in a fundamental failure of casting and character work; this was the last chance to give Anakin Skywalker substance, to reveal his potential …

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded
The Premise
George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

How do you like that – Cuddles knew all the time!

The Pleasure Garden (1925)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s first credit as director, and his account of the production difficulties, as related to Francois Truffaut, is by and large more pleasurable than The Pleasure Garden itself. The Italian location shoot in involved the confiscation of undeclared film stock, having to recast a key role and borrowing money from the star when Hitch ran out of the stuff.