Sometimes shows appear on Netflix without any fanfare or any marketing. in these situations you’ll only receive a brief notification to let you know that a new show has been uploaded and you might not even notice that.
Given the high quality that Netflix achieves with their original programming lately, it’s a safe bet to try everything fast, with an open mind. This is how gems like Stranger Things became popular; a few (such as us) tried them straight away, then word of mouth spread.
We’re writing this to let you all know that The OA is another one of those unique and outstanding shows that you simply cannot allow to pass you by.
Few people are achieving such consistent and groundbreaking work in the field of modern SF cinema/television, in a auteur-like capacity, let alone women. So to me personally, Marling has always stood out as someone very special in the field. After following her career avidly from 2011’s Another Earth onwards, in recent years, to my detriment, I took a less pro-active approach in monitoring her output; I simply waited for her next big SF project to come to me, rather than pro-actively hunting for what she was working on next.
Imagine my surprise then when a little show popped up on Netflix that was not only co-written by, but also starred Marling, in a role that looked very similar the sort of otherworldliness that she achieved so effectively in Sound of My Voice. I wasted no time in soaking in all eight episodes and found The OA to be even better than Marling’s previous cinematic efforts (which is no small feat).
Below we provide a little insight into what makes The OA so special. Our intent being to lure you into trying this beautiful and exceptional show. We then provide some insight into Marling’s older SF projects, with the same intent of getting you to check out these out after you have watched and enjoyed The OA (or before, if you’d rather approach her career chronologically).
Although we try our best to avoid spoilers, we do touch upon synopses and general plot lines.
The OA (2016)
Addressing the other side
One of our favourite subjects in modern television is when shows pose answers to the question of what happens after death. The Leftovers did this brilliantly in Season 2 and will continue to address this in Season 3. Although my personal philosophy is that nothing awaits us after death, I still find it an endlessly intriguing subject, so it’s great to see a show with characters that treat this topic with as much reverence and respect as it deserves.
At the core of The OA is an antagonist called Dr. Hunter Hap, who spends his life’s work attempting to get a definitive answer to the question of what awaits us beyond death. His reasoning is pure – he feels that humanity will collectively breathe a deep sigh of relief if we know for certain that there is an afterlife – but his methods are evil – he choosing to kidnap and incarcerate people who have had near death experiences, so that he can perform experiments on them.
When The OA does show us the other side, mostly through OA’s perspective, it is dazzling corridors of stars, in which you must utilise a small animal in a certain way in order to return to life. We won’t divulge any more information, but it’s the same kind of mundane yet surreal visuals that we loved when The Leftovers did their version (in this the afterlife was a hotel in Perth, in which the protagonist must sing on a stage, among other tasks).
Utilising Marling’s skills to full effect
In Sound of My Voice, Marling showed that her acting abilities fit in perfectly with portraying a character who knows truths that are out of reach of most, who normal human being can revere and follow. She has that holiness and that purity about both her looks and her manner of delivery. We were thrilled that The OA used these skills once more, but to even better effect, in creating OA – a character who has been missing for 7 years, who was blind when she vanished, but upon her return can can now see.
The show also exudes masses of suburban charm, by getting OA to recount her otherworldly story to 5 people from her local town. These include a variety of representation, including a girl who seeks to be a boy, an ageing teacher and a teenager who comes across as a bully, but who holds a softness underneath. All of them begin to fall in love with OA’s tale of death, angels and portals to other dimensions. This wouldn’t be nearly as convincing if another actress was in the role of OA. It is Marling’s calm and magnetic charm that allows this to feel so genuine.
What we mean by structurally daring is that the show doesn’t really start fully until the close of episode 2 (which is when the opening credits roll). And episode 2 itself is spent telling a back story of OA’s youth in Russia, which most shows wouldn’t jump into so wholeheartedly and so early on.
We also like how the episode titles read the episode name and then the number next to it, such as ‘Champion 3’, which while initially seems like it might be talking of a third champion, turns in a very unique was of presenting episode titles. The close of each episode is also groundbreaking, in our eyes, as each ends with not credits, but a single revolving disc of light in the darkness, which provides a wonderfully eerie effect.
A talented and capable cast
We’ve already touched upon the brilliance of what Marling brings to the table, but surrounding her here is a cast of truly astonishing talent, most of whom are unknowns. Firstly there’s the big time actor that is Jason Isaacs (Awake), who we know well and always love to find in a show. Here he plays the villain Dr. Hunter Hap brilliantly, showing a man with sincere and good goals, but one who will commit any and all evils deeds in order to get there.
Another huge acting force in the show is Emory Cohen (The Place Beyond the Pines), who plays Homer – the captive whose cell was next to OA and who she fell in love with during her captivation. He brings a true honesty and goodness to the show, in the form of young sportsperson who seeks to let his son know that he has not abandoned him.
The skirting cast prove just as phenomenal. The writers are smart enough to allow viewers to spend a bit of individual time with characters in OA’s new group of 5. Three of the actors who stand out the most include Ian Alexander plays Buck, in his only acting credit to date, Patrick Gibson as complex bully Steve, who does a superb job of showing tenderness underneath his raging exterior, and Brandon Perea, who holds a similar facial appearance and acting excellent to Joseph Gordon Levitt.
Sound of My Voice (2011)
Sound of My Voice quickly followed Another Earth and this time, Marling tackled cults and time-travel. It’s the first time that we truly see her in the holy white attire that she would come to adopt again in The OA, and it’s the first time that we see her thrive in the role of a character who knows more than everyone else, who others look to in awe. This is also directed by Zal Batmanglij, who would go on to co-create The OA with Marling.
The story follows two documentary filmmakers, who seek to gain entry to a secret cult, with hidden cameras, so that they can expose cult leader Maggie (Marling) as a fraud. Once inside the cult, they hear Maggie’s story. She claims that she is a time-traveller from the year 2054, which is a time riddled with war, famine and struggle. As the film progresses, government forces seek to move in and capture Maggie and the film’s final act implies that she might have been telling the truth all along.
Of Marling’s old works, this is definitely the closest to The OA. It is helmed by the same duo (Batmanglij and Marling) and features a very similar protagonist, who also may or may not be telling the truth. We recommend that fans of The OA go back to give this film a go and to see where the first sparks of this idea began.
Another Earth (2011)
While Science Fiction in its core concept – that we discover an identical Earth appear in space so that we can see it – a lot of what Marling’s first SF project tackles is grief and mistakes. Rhoda, while drink driving, accidentally kills the wife and child of John Burroughs (William Mapother). She is sent to jail for the deed, but due to her being a juvenile, her identity is not revealed to John.
After she serves her sentence, she decides to visit John, who is now living in depression, but ends up losing her nerve upon the apology and tells him instead that she is from a cleaning company. He allows her in to clean and the two form a bond. When Rhoda wins a ticket to be one of the first people to travel to the other Earth, she must decide whether to tell John who she is and what to do with the ticket, because people speculate that this other Earth might be identical to ours in every way, up until the point at which both Earths found out about one another (which was before the car crash).
This was the first SF Marling film that we ever saw and although it doesn’t ever really delve fully into the delights of the duplicate Earths trope (for example, meeting your doppelgänger), it does work as an affecting film about loss, in which the SF elements work as the backdrop. For those looking for SF as wild and wonderful as The OA, you’ll find this a little lacking, but it’s an essential beginning to Marling’s SF auteur career and we suggest that you check it out.
Image credits: Plan B Entertainment, Anonymous Content, 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures