Time travel, God Particle, Schrödinger’s cat, parallel worlds, meeting yourself, birthing yourself – this and more is the reason Dark on Netflix is trending, in spite of releasing on Jun 21.
The details section of Netflix’s ‘Dark’ calls the show “mind-bending”, and the description fits like a glove for this cinematic experience that pushes your grey cells no end. For every seeming end in this series leads to another beginning — Sic Mundus Creatus Est, meaning ‘Thus the World Was Created’, also the name of Episode 6 in Season 1. This could sound confusing, but that’s where the excitement of ‘Dark’ lies. Each episode brings with it a vortex of characters, themes, plots, and subplots that makes the town of Winden come alive. Set to haunting tunes, the story that starts as a missing child’s case turns into a cerebral sci-fi whodunnit. Add to that a family tree of characters across three generations and worlds.
As a sci-fi and psychological thrillers junkie, I enjoy predicting outcomes and plots — I often leave my Netflix partners gobsmacked. And then along came ‘Dark’, which left me in a black hole with too many questions at the end of every episode.
As the first-ever German-language Netflix original series, ‘Dark’, which first aired in December 2017, had much riding on it. And the credit for its success goes to the brilliantly mapped out writing of creators Jantje Friese and Baran bo Odar, who also directed it. The simple plot of a missing child in Winden introduces us to seemingly genteel, small-town folks. However, the veneer wears off as ‘dark’ secrets from the past haunt the characters in their search for truth. Even as the multi-layered plot veers into several timelines, time travel, a biblical context, struggle over nuclear power and more, the storyline somehow manages to twist its way to a high note at every end. The narrative does not lose pace even across three seasons, and that’s a tough thing to achieve.
A standout is also Dark’s brilliantly set background score by Ben Frost. German electronic musician Apparat’s theme song ‘Goodbye’ will haunt you, while tracks like ‘Familiar’ by Agnes Obel, ‘Room Full of Teeth’ by Courante, and ‘A Quiet Life’ for Me by Teho Teardo will stay with you.
There is always a certain level of unease in Winden, which all characters seem to bear like across – this is a subtle nudge to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. The four families, with their secrets and moral fortitude blown apart by human shortcomings, are people you start feeling for deeply.
The casting is flawless, leading the viewer to perhaps believe that maybe Winden and these inscrutable characters do exist. Jonas Kahnwald, portrayed by Louis Hofmann, is the teen protagonist who morphs almost seamlessly into his adult self, played by Andreas Pietschmann. When a third layer with the much older Adam (Dietrich Hollinderbäumer) is added, Jonas becomes a character we love to hate.
Claudia Tiedemann is impeccable in her mission and vision from the 1920s to 2053. At the height of her career, heading a nuclear power plant in the 80s, Claudia also fights off the perception of an uncaring mother. As a wizened old woman, she becomes an important link to the conundrum that is at the heart of ‘Dark’.
Amid exceptional casting choices, including Ulrich Nielsen, Bartosz Tiedemann, Elisabeth Doppler, and Aleksander Tiedemann, a special shout out to Peter Doppler. While Stephan Kampwirth plays the middle-aged Peter, his real-life son Pablo Striebeck plays the 1987 Peter. A slight cheat code used by Team Dark, there is another similar one in Season 3, but I’ll leave that for you to watch and find out.
I must confess I am a recent convert to the fandom of ‘Dark’. If it wasn’t for the COVID-19 lockdown, I might have ended up skipping the series. Even though it appeared in my suggestions list, it lacked the extra mile Netflix usually goes to make a series pop into your radar amid the crowded lineup of titles. It didn’t have the explosion of ‘Stranger Things’, or the popularity of, say, our very own ‘Paatal Lok’. It came subtly, it saw, and it conquered.
So it was good ol’ word-of-mouth that got me to this hellish, mind-boggling paradise. Perhaps that is also in a way perfect — how it moved, like its suspenseful, shadowy premise, in whispered recommendations and short digital prose of ‘watch it’ and ‘brill’. The result: It is trending in Netflix’s ‘Top Ten in India Today’ list.
As the final scenes from the very last episode of ‘Dark’ season 3 play out to a haunting, lullaby-like rendition of ‘What a Wonderful World’ by Soap&Skin, the viewer finally gets time to muse and let this feeling of what a wonder the series has been, to seep in. A slight reference at the very end sparks a slight hope for continuum, but who are we kidding — this is no Bollywood remix or a Hindi soap opera.
Word to the wise: Wrap your heads in tin foil to watch this.