‘Dark’: Netflix’s German show that subverts every time-travel trope

‘Dark’ has left audiences confused and thrilled simultaneously   | Photo Credit: Netflix

“Die Frage ist nicht wo, sondern wann” — the simplest of questions often reveal themselves to be the most disconcerting. The more one pokes and prods at them in pursuit of the truth, the more one starts to wish that one does not know at all.

“The question is not where, but when” — a fairly straightforward question, and one that tears apart the small German town of Winden physically, emotionally and morally. Netflix’s Dark is a deeply philosophical conundrum that explores the repercussions of fiddling with the space-time continuum.

In the span of two seasons, the grim series brings out the best in German television. The series progresses at an intentional gentle pace. Piece by piece, an unsettling truth is brought to light. This Daedalean puzzle of sorts, when solved, reveals a horrifying bigger picture. The seamless editing and the foreboding monotone score work together in releasing tension just before a scene reaches a crescendo. The series boasts some outstanding camera-work that captures the bleakness of European suburbs.

This is how Netflix describes the show: a missing child sets four families on a frantic hunt for answers as they unearth a mind-bending mystery that spans three generations. ‘Mind-bending’ is just about right as complex philosophical questions arise at every juncture, with creepy and murderous undertones.


Each episode kicks off with a narration that deals with the metaphysical. The second season opens quoting Nietzche, and his philosophy permeates the very structuring of the show. “How do we know what is right and what is wrong? What is good and what is evil?” These questions are an obvious reference to Nietzche’s Beyond Good and Evil. Amidst the unnerving realities brought out in the errant town of Winden, the townsfolk find themselves caught in a war waged on time itself. ‘Sic Mundus’ or ‘The Travellers’, is an impious group of time-travellers who have convinced themselves, by visiting their past selves, that notions of God are a farce, and that God is Time itself. Time is always with you, you carry it in you, and it carries you. In essence, they encapsulate Nietzche’s rejection of the Western notions of God, Good and Evil.

A character in the series marvels at mankind’s ability to resist cracking under the futility of existence. The endless cycle of life and death, as in Buddhist ideology, within the context of the series, is an inescapable loop of time. The people of Winden embody this suffering as they’re made privy to this ghastly truth. It is as if, every 33 years, the same old wounds are reopened with every new generation, and Winden is cursed to eternally live out the same set of events.

Human desire is also portrayed in various constructs. On the one hand, it is sinful and adulterous lust that drives a stake through familial relations. On the other, it is the irrepressible desire to be reunited with a beloved (which unfortunately takes an incestuous turn). The series blurs the lines between the extremes. It is hard to distinguish which side is morally right and which is wrong. It is even harder to distinguish the beginning from the end.

The obscure timeline of the narrative turns time into an abstract, never-ending loop, an often-used convention in science fiction. And hence, there is neither a beginning nor an end, neither right nor wrong. Every person and every action in the series plays a pivotal role in shaping the past, the present and the eventual apocalyptic future. An addition to Murphy’s Law suggests anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and usually at the worst time. Dark’s convoluted plot-line brings new life to the adage, suggesting things can and will go wrong as a result of time.

(Dark Season 2 is streaming on Netflix currently)

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2021 11:19:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/dark-netflixs-german-show-that-subverts-every-time-travel-trope/article28225554.ece

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