A teenage boy rides up to a lone traffic light before a dark forest, which overlooks nuclear power plant stacks in the distance. He wears a yellow raincoat. Wistful, surreal strings play lightly in the background, before slowly increasing in speed and intensity.
The boy stares intently at the nuclear power plant, and at the forest. A few months prior, his father had hung himself, leaving only a letter with a blunt directive to not open it until this very day, at a specific time.
This, is one of the opening scenes of Dark, the first German production on Netflix.
In the beginning, one wonders, is this just your regular mystery/crime thriller, albeit in German? Or is there something vastly deeper?
From the surreal music (composed by the ingenious Ben Frost), to the acting (all lesser known German actors/actresses), to the story line that will make you question every little happenstance in your own life, Dark is simply a perfect culmination of a series that for once is (1). Unpredictable, and (2). Makes you actually think — in the deepest way possible.
The majority of never-ending content today — from shows and movies, to books — comprise of largely predictable plots, characters, and themes. One is always left with a distinct feeling of having been used, as if the creators or writers knew their audience to be dumb enough that they would fall for the most easily manipulative emotional triggers.
So, what makes Dark different?
Every human being has undoubtedly always thought their life would be drastically better should they only be able to simply unwind time and undo all the terrible decisions — read financial, personal — they made in the past.
Say for a moment that we were suddenly able to do the impossible — that is the above.
Now, ponder the notion that going back in time to change your actions that caused so much present woe, actually reinforced your present outcome? (i.e. instead of altering your life, it only cemented your current position in life?)
The question is not changing what we want to do — people tend to do what they want most of the time — but rather changing our innate desires and preferences: that is, our natural ingrained personalities, which in turn set us down our paths (based on the choices we make as a consequence of our individualized base personalities).
This is the core premise of Dark, which intimately explores the existential themes of fate, destiny, and free will.
Are we truly in control of our own paths, or are we dictated by some internal compass (i.e. our base personality), unique to each of our selves, that in turn is set by some higher entity prior to our creation? Are we truly free at all if we cannot change our base personalities (and even if we could — was this already pre-programmed into us)?
There’s no way to truly know of course in our present reality, but Dark delves into this entire entanglement with the aid of time travel. Even by traveling through time however, the show’s protagonists discover that it is virtually impossible to alter the future course of events, no matter their drastic attempts at doing so (which tends to simply reinforce the inevitable).
Is there such thing as free will? Sure we are “free” in a sense — but, as Dark contends, this freedom is limited. No matter what we decide, our “free will” life decisions will culminate on our eventual set paths as a result of our ingrained base personalities.
From the topic of free will vs. fate/destiny, how about the role of randomness or chance in our lives? Is our presence in this world due to chance? Or was it predetermined by some higher entity?
Consider your parents: if they had never met, you would never have been born. It’s that simple. Now, did our parents (and their parents) meet by chance?
Scrutinizing my parents initial meeting — they met on a boat trip in post-War Communist Poland — if either of them had NOT decided to take the trip that day, they would have never met, and yours truly would never have been born and here to type these lines today.
Even when my father moved to the States, my mother did not come over until 4 years later. She could have stayed in Poland — she decided to leave everything she knew in order to join a man she had met a few times years ago.
I’ve asked my mother multiple times what it was that caused her to leave everything she knew behind and move to a foreign country — she can’t really answer.
Was our parents’ meeting and our subsequent birth into this world, designed by fate? Or was it simply chance?
Another way to look at this is via finite, or fixed terms, vs. infinite.
(1). There are an infinite number of worlds. In some of them we exist, in others, we do not (all due to pure randomness/chance).
(2). There is a fixed number of alternative worlds, where each world is subsequently created according to a preset “program.”
Note the philosophical/metaphysical difference — in an “infinite” existence, any and all things will occur. Including us existing and not existing.
If the sample is fixed however — this reveals some element of higher “control”, where each world can then be programmed to a creator’s liking.
If you believe in infinite randomness and chance and no higher entity, then you may believe that you can find your way thru the maelstrom via free will and making the right choices.
But can you? If our world simply exists due to chance, why even bother trying in this one? After all, there will be another world that you can pop into where you can be born into wealth say, or as royalty. Why bother trying?
If you believe in a higher entity — God — then you believe we have a set path. And therefore fate. Our world, and the number of other alternative worlds are part of a finite sample. Each world is created to the creator’s liking.
(In Dark’s world, everything is pre-programmed and cannot be altered, no matter what the protagonists do, which lends credence to the existence of a supreme being.)
The atheist's argument is “I am in control of my own destiny.” The atheist therefore would be able to travel back in time to change their decisions so that their paths may perhaps turn out for the better.
But by the atheist’s argument, everything is due to chance, therefore there are an infinite amount of worlds…so why live/try in this one?
The allure of Dark, is that every single happenstance in your life, has meaning. There are no coincidences. Everything, has a purpose (in the series, a seemingly innocent attraction between two people causes a cascade of events to occur that is the basis for the entire story).
Note every little occurrence in your life thus far — was it by chance, or was it by design?
Just say it was for chance — that the majority of our life is simply the culmination of the outcomes of random encounters with people. What then is our purpose? Are we just lemmings bouncing around in a world of endless randomness?
Or is there a meaning to this randomness? Are our lives constructed by design? And is there no way to change it? Should we accept our fate?
(Note that “acceptance of fate” does not imply “sit around and do nothing and wait for stuff to happen to you” — rather, we can choose to do something, or nothing. But our future choices have already been decided.)
Now the question is: how can we tell if we are in one of infinite worlds, or if we are in a fixed sample of worlds each pre-programmed by a higher entity/creator/God?
That’s the beauty — we cannot.
Either, we believe, or we do not. And those that do not believe, should in turn simply do nothing. Because there will be another world waiting for them in due time.
The point here is that as much as we rue on our past decisions and mistakes — we must simply learn from them and assume that things would have turned out the same, even if we chose differently.
As the final episode of Dark concludes, we are left with the stark realization that not only must we accept and be grateful for how our lives have transpired thus far, but also how we must always hold unshakeable faith that in the end, everything is as it will and should be.