‘Tales from the Loop’ review: A beautifully-shot poetic puzzle

A still from ‘Tales from the Loop’

A still from ‘Tales from the Loop’  

Based on Simon Stalenhag’s narrative book of the same name, the new series from Amazon Prime tries hard to balance between the bleak and the beautiful

With my limited knowledge of the world of arts, before embarking on the new Amazon Prime series, I had to educate myself on Swedish artiste Simon Stalenhag’s phantasmagoric works. The characteristic juxtaposition of giant robots, massive machines, mammoth structures and humongous flying saucers against an everyday landscape—cars careening on expressways, kids playing in the field or walking in the meadow with their parents. Stalenhag’s work is exquisite, intriguing and enigmatic, a combination of the real and the surreal that enchants even as it confounds.

In that sense the three episodes of Tales from the Loop that one got to preview can also best be described as poetic puzzles. The beautifully-shot series approximates Stalenhag’s visuality. The retro-futuristic scenery is omnipresent in each of the episodes even as human, emotional tales play out at the core. The bizarre backdrop itself may have a remote, distancing effect but the people, their relationships, dilemmas and feelings are relatable and universal.

Based on Simon Stalenhag’s narrative book by the same name, the series is an assortment of stories involving townspeople (Sweden relocated to small town America) living above the “Loop”, a machine that is supposed to unlock and explain the mysteries of the universe.

The episodes I saw were all to do with reconciliation and underlined with melancholia and also a hope for continuities. The first, about abandonment and coming to terms with it, has young Loretta (Abby Ryder Fortson) wondering about the nature of her mother’s work in the Loop and going on a search herself. One that makes her realise that people and things disappear and get lost and one has to give oneself time to heal from loss.

    Episode four, has another kid Cole (Duncan Joiner) understanding the meaning of life and death, of the unfairness of sudden absences of people, all through a mysterious structure called Echo Sphere.

    And episode six, a new take on an age-old doppelgänger tale, has the security person at the Loop, Gaddis (Ato Essandoh) coming to terms with his own unresolved loneliness and craving for irrational love and fulfilment, by landing into an unknown parallel world. Will this new plane of existence be the answer? Will it lead him to the start of something new?

    Like all good sci-fi it’s the human aspect that makes an impact, but plenty of the elements of technological fantasy feel facile than profound. The scientific design and human drama feels at a disjunct at points. The open-endedness makes science feel almost spiritual and haunting at points and at others annoyingly inane. The element of the unknown have a touch of The Twilight Zone but I thought the eerieness lingered there more chillingly, or perhaps I am another generation of viewer altogether.

    The cast is led by the ever-dependable Jonathan Pryce, as the force behind the Loop, an actor who cannot put a wrong foot forward, but it’s the two children — Fortson and Joiner — and Essandoh who steal the show.

    The narrative moves slowly, at points the stillness gets immovable. It’s an aspect that you feel more intently in these socially distanced days when time seems to be stuck. The interesting bit about the calmness, however, is that it also makes you notice the tiniest of details. The poster of Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman’s Summer With Monika in the local cinema, in the first episode for instance. A nod to flighty women as well as the series’ Swedish origins? But how would the film have got released there is still perplexing me. On a more serious note, the contemplative mood will either make you feel more invested in the stories or may just make you want to get off the ride even as The Tales from the Loop tries hard to balance between the bleak and the beautiful.

    The Tales from the Loop is now streaming on Amazon Prime

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    Printable version | Jun 4, 2020 7:16:57 AM |

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