As a child of the ‘Twilight’ era, it’s safe to say I’ve seen a lot of films with supernatural premises. So I’m certainly familiar with the heightened versions of reality which sci-fi projects. And the terrible acting and excessive special effects which tend to come with it.
But thankfully, ‘Dark’ is not your average sci-fi watch. Far from superficial viewing, this German language Netflix Original explores the complex nature of time with a plot which deftly intertwines past, present and future. Refusing to be confined to one single genre, ‘Dark’ also strays into the tragic and the gothic, albeit not in a conventional way.
It’s all about time travel, with the main characters, Jonas Kahnwald (Louis Hofmann) and Martha Nielsen (Lisa Vicari), shifting between generations in a desperate attempt to right the wrongs of the past. Dizzyingly, in just one episode, the viewer is confronted by multiple time frames, from a 19th century factory to the bleak wasteland of a 2020 apocalypse. But we’re grounded by the show’s focus on four families, all living in the fictional town of Winden, whose destinies are enmeshed.
The show, directed by Baran bo Odar, returned to Netflix this June for its much-anticipated third and final season. Season three not only focuses on time travel, as in the previous seasons, but also on the characters’ travel between different realms. As a version of Martha says to Jonas at the start of the season, she’s not from a different time, but a different world.
Without giving too much away, the final episode of ‘Dark’ answers questions which viewers have had since the very start of the show, revisiting scenes from earlier episodes. Seemingly disparate journeys to other realms crescendo and combust in the finale, where Jonas and Martha are finally able to reach the very cause of the apocalypse.
What makes season three so successful is the eerie atmosphere which it creates. Even more so than in previous seasons, the colours on screen are drab and muted, heightening the sense of apocalyptic doom. And, as always, Odar exploits the vast German forest, creating a consistent setting which transcends space and time.
The special effects too are certainly worthy of praise. Characters materialise in new realms in an impressive way, showered in gold. This is strikingly understated; the special effects are all the more effective because they are often subtle and used sparingly.
But what makes ‘Dark’ really stand out from other sci-fi works is that behind the special effects and otherworldly appearances, it explores profound personal relationships. This is facilitated by the use of split screen, which often highlights the irrepressible bond between characters.
Not only this, but split screen also focuses the viewer's attention on the complex relationship with the self. In the final episode, two versions of Martha are displayed simultaneously on screen, which troublingly reveals her array of identities. The viewer is forced to question whether we truly are free, or just mere products of our environment.
Season three of ‘Dark’ is certainly a compelling watch, not least for its eerily preemptive vision of an apocalyptic 2020. With its unsettling mystery and thought-provoking deconstruction of identity, the show is likely to stay with its viewers long after the final episode.
Dark, Season 3 is available on Netflix.