Overview: Surprise! Netflix has released a slipstreamy sci-fi/fantasy drama just in time to ignore the family for 8 hours over the next holiday. Or when you’re on the verge of catching what’s going on at work so are a bit too congested to fully sleep.
In the OA a woman is found and she turns out to be the missing child of an older couple named Prairie. The only thing is, when she left she was blind and now she can see. She also now wants to be called The OA instead of Prairie and won’t talk to her parents about what happened over the past seven years.
Prairie AKA THE OA gathers together a group of misfits who want to believe in something and choose her. There’s Steve – the 17 year old bully beating up people he’s jealous of and on the verge of being sent to military reform school; Jesse the orphaned stoner kid; French the super smart non-white kid who might just make it if he can keep that scholarship, who also has to support his drunk/drugged mom who spends time at school meetings sleeping with the fathers there; Buck, the transgendered kiddo who really wants to believe in good; and Betty, the older teacher who has lost sight of why she teaches – to save those lost souls, per the movie. Together, they meet at an abandoned house (one where construction has stopped after the bubble burst) to listen to The OA tell about her life story, how she got her sight back, and teaches them modern dance.
Her story is long (6 of the 8 hours!) and goes from Russia, to a place of captivity with 4 others, across the universe and to Saturn, and focuses on seeing the inner self and finding the correct movements to transcend, to protect against evil. This with a focus on Near Death Experiences (NDE) as that is when she has gone all Slaughterhouse Five and traveled to other worlds to learn the dance moves to save her friends and, ultimately, herself.
Other aspects of the show include the frustration of her parents at what’s happening, the town’s reaction both to her being with their boys and the fascination with her return. A little time is given to the boys current stories, at least a few of them, and Betty.
I was really engaged from the beginning. The story is king of cool, like a Millennial Orlando without gender politics, but rather wealth politics and the like. She was the daughter of a Russian oligarch who taught her to ‘outcold the cold’. But she was still wealthy and loved him. But then all the children of the Russian oligarchs were killed in a bus crash, she alone survived only she didn’t – she agreed to go back to earth only blind. When he has to disappear, she’s first at an opulent school for the blind, then later at the house of a relative in the US which is part brothel, part illegal adoption ring. She is adopted as a miracle and raised in the suburbs. She has premonitions of the future. She goes to NYC and is captured by a man obsessed with those who have had Near Death Experiences and put in an ecosystems with others. They plan their escape and it takes those 7 years for her to leave. She dies a lot, but always comes back.
There are a lot of theories at play and I was as enchanted as the kids in the show, sitting there listening to those tales and wondering what was next. I also like and buy into the story of the outsiders who come together to better themselves through a book club (only, in this case, it’s an oral history).
I also like the way trauma is addressed, and how different people view it without asking the one who went through it. The OAs parents are at a loss and follow the doctors advice to monitor closely, not even allowing her on the internet. Then the OA meets with an FBI counselor who talks to her about creating her story and believing it and finding others for help. He tries to get her parents to take her out, treat her as human, when they want to see her as fragile and in need of protection. There is the public fascination with the trauma of others, how they weave the stories they want out of scant information for sensationalism, to soothe themselves that while monsters exist, they exist to harm others, not them. That part was intriguing and I could have used more of it.
There’s a lot of hokiness throughout and I wondered multiple times how the actors kept a straight face, because the movie is done with utter earnestness. The film has a couple scenes of the kids doubting her story and looking for it on google, but they believe pretty quickly because, cue X-Files, ‘They want to believe.’ A good portion of the story hinges on learning dance movements (The Five movements) that can open a portal to the other world where The OA can save her friends. She teaches these to the crew she’s assembled. Two of the movements alone can bring someone from the dead and cure all disease, all five is a miracle.
The ending is where this comes into play and pissed me off. I won’t say the situation, but will say it was a ‘very bad thing’ that seemed too easy per the story set up, far too easy an ending situation to have happen and overtly manipulative of the viewer. It also followed the format of these ‘lost boys’ movies where they temporarily lose faith, then something big happens, they realize they’re all together, and they do the thing they didn’t believe before and thus save their world. In this case the thing they did was. . .begin to dance. All disbelief was gone, as was the good will I had developed over the course of the previous 7 hours.
The OA: AKA Nina, AKA Prairie. She’s the blond blue-eyed heroine of sorts, the one whose story informs the others. People gather around her, see her as kooky but cool, and she drives the narrative. In fact, in can be seen as somewhat progressive if not more than somewhat that it’s her voice, her story, and whether you believe the story or not, these eight hours are about her telling it. She is not only the lead, but the creator of the reality we are led into.
Betty: The meek and mild school teacher whose brother died from heroin and has given up on many things, including herself. Meeting the OA gives her purpose enough to continue on and deal with his death.
The OAs Mom: She’s going through a lot of complicated stuff, and it’s cool that her emotions are so varied and exhausting. The relationship is strained with both her husband and daughter, who she never understood to begin with and now really doesn’t understand.
Two Women Trapped with The OA: I forget their names, one sings and the other sleeps with one of the guys.
Other females include moms of the kids, a sister, and a girlfriend.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? (Two women talking to one another, not about a man) I think it sorta does. The women plan escape, granted that’s from a man, but there. The OA and Betty talk about her brother, so those conversations don’t count, but then the OA talks to the spirit in the other realm who is female, so that counts. She also, sometimes, talks to her mom. So it’s probably a clear OK for passing.
Overall, until the ending, I dug it. It was a good way to ignore the weather and had some interesting ideas about how we tell stories, why, and why we listen and need stories in our lives. I just want to ignore the last half hour or so.