Discussion: Are We Masters of Our Time?

Friday, 13 July 2018

Days, years and decades march on; the beat of time ticking over the pace of our existence. But for the conspiracy theorists, the dreamers and even the skeptics among us, there is space to wonder whether our futures are truly set on such a linear path. Why do our personal histories seem to repeat themselves from one generation to another? Perhaps more importantly, are we really the master of our fates after all? Both the Netflix series ‘Dark’, and short story ‘Catapult’ by Emily Fridlund explore the topic of time travel to reveal how we cope with recurring patterns in our lives, and whether we will ever fully escape those inexplicable moments of déjà vu.

Produced and originally released in Germany last year, ‘Dark’ delves into the heart of these questions. This is one of the best pieces of foreign drama I've seen (though the gripping Cold War series 'Deutschland 83' is also well worth a watch). Atmospheric in its camera angles, the eerie melodies of the soundtrack and the entire situation its plot represents, I was hooked right from episode one. Set in the alternate periods of 2019, 1986 and 1953, strange goings-on in the small town of Winden reach fever pitch when the bodies of missing children are found with injuries that defy explanation. Its nuclear power plant dominates the landscape alongside the sinuous woods, though the darker energy permeating the storyline emanates from the characters themselves.

Life is a labyrinth. Some people wander around their whole lives looking for a way out, but there’s only one path and it leads you ever deeper. You don’t understand it until you’ve reached the centre. Death is incomprehensible, but you can make peace with it. Till then you should ask yourself each day if you’ve made the right decisions.
– ‘Dark’ Episode 5, ‘Truths’

There is a tempest brewing among both the teens and their parents as the fabric of time itself is stretched beyond its limits. In the first season that has been released so far, the ten episodes are all examples of exquisitely executed cinematography. A foreboding energy is created almost immediately, and when Mikkel goes missing, the son of a police detective working on the case, the drama begins to take its tightly woven form. Using particular songs in key scenes adds another layer of meaning, with the haunting tune of Agnes Obel’s ‘Familiar’ in episode three playing behind contrasting images of the characters in the past and present. From the depths of a murder investigation, to the inner workings of teenage love, the dangerous obsession within a covert affair and visionary realities of time travel, ‘Dark’ tackles moral ambiguity in all its cryptic forms.

All our lives are connected. One fate bound to another. Every one of our deeds is merely a response to a previous deed. Cause and effect. Nothing but an endless dance. Everything is connected to everything else.
– ‘Dark’ Episode 8, ‘So you sow, so you shall reap’

In ‘Catapult’, two teens plan to build a time machine in the midst of their summer break. Katie recalls this time with her boyfriend Noah as they embark on the plan while navigating the treacherous vicissitudes of a burgeoning relationship. Named by the pair as ‘A Hypothesis for Quantum Tunneling’, the couple hold a sense of superiority over others their age for conceiving such a significant idea. Katie comes to form an admiration for Noah with his ‘well organised heart’ and ‘mind full of unusual, ambitious thoughts which he daily cultivated and tended.’ 

Our pattern was fixed when we got to his house. We each ate a bowl of Cheerios in silence, and then we went to his room where we took off our clothes, very careful not to mention – or even affect to notice – that this is what was happening…Time got crinkled up, got sticky.
- 'Catapult'

However, just like the teens in ‘Dark’, there are hidden jealousies to be overcome within their dynamic, and beneath it all a plea ‘to save me from myself.' Whether they will settle for their relationship and follow its shaky blueprint or go their separate ways to find something even better, are decisions left to be made. 

Where this tv series and story intertwine is through the characters attempting to understand topics beyond the realm of comprehension. A quest to analyse the intricacies of time travel eventually morphs into the catalyst for an intrinsic search for meaning. Though often speaking in riddles, at some point these people all ask themselves the same question: What have I become, and when will I find my truth? The answers may be scattered somewhere in the events that time left behind, but the clearest solution to determining their fates is simply to find purpose in the here and now.

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