The OA review – head-spinning drama skips between life and death

Netflix’s mysterious new offering blends angels, parallel realities and nightmarish imprisonments in a tale of gargantuan imagination and ambition

At the beginning of The OA (Netflix), the mysterious new drama created by and starring Brit Marling, a woman runs across a busy road while cars swerve and beep. It’s a bridge, in fact: she reaches the edge, climbs the barrier and jumps.

Not to her death, though (and later we’ll be questioning what death is and what it might mean when it occurs). Now she’s in hospital, and an older couple turn up and say she’s their daughter Prairie. She doesn’t recognise them until she feels the woman’s face, and says: “Mum?” Because when she went missing seven years ago, she was blind. Now, she can see.

A lot has happened in those seven years, and in Prairie’s whole life, in fact. She was once a seeing Russian girl called Nina, who had an oligarch daddy and eerie premonitions of her own near-death experience.

Without giving too much away, just in case you haven’t already binge-watched the lot, Nina’s/Prairie’s/The OA’s path follows an indistinct and disputed frontier between life and death, forking off into parallel realities and dimensions. There are angels, nosebleeds of doom, purgatories, stories within stories, questions about consciousness, nightmarish experiments, subterranean incarcerations and celestial escape portals that can only be opened by harnessing the power of movement.

It’s like Stranger Things meets The Missing meets Twin Peaks meets Glee meets Westworld. Some – conspiracy theorists, etc – will probably find clarity and confirmation. Even the uber-grounded and the ultra-cynical will find parallels in their own universe: Guantánamo, Ariel Castro, psychosis and mental illness, plus some of the awful things that happen in US high schools.

Certainly it’s a thing of gargantuan imagination and ambition, both seductive and infuriating. I was sucked in, almost reluctantly. Then brought back with a jolt by lines of claptrap: “to exist is to survive unfair choices” or “knowledge is a rumour till it lives in the body”. And when a character called Scott says, “Oh God, honestly, go fuck yourself” (to his fellow prisoners, though I imagined he was saying it to the drama in which he was imprisoned), I found myself shouting: “Yes!”

The GuardianTramp

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