Wann ist Mikkel?
‘Who the hell is Mikkel’, you might ask, ‘what kind of question is that’ you might say, ‘why the fuck are you speaking German’ would also be a reasonable response: these all being especially understandable questions if you haven’t seen Netflix’s most recent delve into the strange and unknown, Dark.
Certainly, it won’t be for everyone. With a sometimes convoluted and entwined way of story telling, it’s heavy and oppressive atmosphere, Dark doesn’t shy away from its namesake, it is indeed all very dark in the small German town of Winden.
During this renaissance period of ‘kids meet stranger things’ film and tv, with the success of Stranger Things (S.T) itself and reboots such as IT proving wrong all those who tut at the thought of the 80s; it would be easy to make comparisons with this first German Netlix Original. However, aside from the introduction of a group of young people in the first episode and a missing boy, the themes, stories and characters couldn’t be more different.
I love S.T and thoroughly enjoyed both S1 and S2, but as with all things in life you seek different kinds of nourishment from different places, things and people. Do I really watch Survivor for the sociopolitical dynamics? No of course not, I watch it for the salty comebacks at tribal and people shamelessly fighting naked for a rubber dinghy during an immunity challenge. In this same vein I don’t watch S.T and expect challenging, mind bending Sci-Fi/Horror. I expect good storytelling, some lighthearted humour, well written characters and a healthy serving of nostalgia. So, on those few evenings, or few weeks a month that I feel really up for a good headfuck, myself and Jordan, my partner seek out a series or film that can provide just that nourishment.
Dark was first recommended to me by my dad via a text that went something like: ‘watch Dark on Netflix. That is all I’m going to say. Oh and it’s in German.’ He usually reserves this kind of abruptness to the real good shit so I asked no questions and we went for it.
WARNING Some slight thematic spoilers ahead.
With the aim of being concise when discussing a dangerously tangent provoking series I am going to discuss how Dark explores time though three main sections.
Follow The Boy In The Yellow Coat.
As with all adventures into time and the unknown, we have our vessel, the crux, the load bearing wall that the story centres around and who introduces the concepts and themes important to this particular story. Whether it’s Alice [In Wonderland], Donnie Darko or Cooper from Interstellar an audience needs it’s anchor and the pair of eyes that allows us to understand and perceive that world.
Dark takes us on this journey, very effectively via its chosen vessel, Jonas Kahnwald. Consistently suffering and hard done to, the young teen is almost immediately introduced to us in the first episode. To wrap our minds around the complex and difficult concept of time as a fluid, sometimes cyclical thing, ‘the distinction between past, present and future is nothing but an illusion’ a focal point that stays the same throughout each time ‘space’ or environment is required. As I mentioned before, we have seen these characters before. In Dark, much as with the iconic costumes of the aforementioned characters, we are lead through the very literal dark, gloomy settings and environments, sometimes even journeying into cave systems, by Jonas and his yellow coat.
In a storyline that stretches over many different decades simultaneously, this striking character visual is the torchlight necessary to prevent the loss of immersion, of belief and interest. Without this sustained centre the story would become too hard to follow, and when that happens you switch off. In order to accept the changes in time, there must be a constant, and so we follow Jonas in his yellow coat.
Oh, Skeleton Boy.
Back when I was 14 and I first watched Donnie Darko, I was enamoured, amazed and utterly confused. I felt like on some level I understood what had happened but I almost had to have what I understood in my gut explained to me in words. Luckily, my dad was to hand to give me a thorough break down, the fruits of which I have passed on to many others. Many think Donnie Darko simply isn’t meant to be understood, that there is no wrong answer, that all interpretations are a-okay; to this I say, clearly you didn’t have my dad giving you the TRUTH.
A Tangent Universe or alternate universe, as explained in Donnie Darko, is what occurs when something ‘corrupts’ the 4th Dimension. For our current reality to function we are required to understand and move in time/spacetime from present to future, moment to moment. In this context the 4th Dimension refers to a unification of space time that we can move through and along (as far as I understand it anyway). Either way this spacetime isn’t built for us, at least, not yet, so a corruption of it could be something as simple as a human passing through it. Aside from the obvious themes of time and time travel there is another characteristic that Donnie Darko and Dark have in common:
Somehow I don’t think that the creator’s of Dark accidentally or unknowingly made this nod to one of the most groundbreaking time travel films, when their own main theme is also time travel. Our two skeleton boys, Mikkel and Donnie, unknowingly and accidentally create a time-loop, a tangent universe. The possibility of a tangent universe or an alernate reality poses the questions, how important are our actions? How much do we affect reality around us? How much could we affect another time or reality separate to our own, and ultimately the future? These thoughts also provoke the ever unnerving but fascinating notion that there could be numerous, thousands, millions, infinite amounts of our universe and reality, varying slightly thanks to the ripple effect of those who disturb that 4th Dimension and travel to where maybe, they shouldn’t. To help you a little further down this already winding rabbit hole, just imagine: what if every person who went missing, ever, never to be found again got sucked into another time? What other realities and universes could manifest as a result of this?
Either way tangent universes never bode well for the people unfortunate enough to exist in them. Which brings me perfectly to my third and final discussion…
‘I don’t like the idea that I’m not in control of my life.’
Themes of free will, destiny and fate are of such profound importance to so much of what we experience that it is no surprise that they appear almost as frequently as themes of mortality and immortality in the arts. In Dark, the idea that the events taking place are ‘inevitable’ and therefore almost meant to be is reiterated throughout. If time is linear that means we can never predict the future, our futures are endlessly open with infinite possibilities, that’s how we like to see it at least.
What if we lived in a world such as that in Dark? Slowly the characters in this world begin to realise that time is, from their point of view, repeating itself. What is actually happening, isn’t so much a repetition of time as it is a cycle, circle or loop. This loop is a prison and confines the lives of those within it to relive the same trauma and horrific experiences over and over, existence itself is thus predetermined; until someone or something breaks it.
In Dark, we follow the characters at different points in their stories, their timelines and slowly as we realise what Jonas himself eventually comes to understand, that we each are at the centre of a web of events, past, present and future that are all connected, it becomes evident that time is not as simple nor as straightforward as we are led to believe. In this there is confusion, fear even and well, as far as finding our place in time? It’s in the past, the present and the future.