14 May

Several times it crossed my mind that Tales from the Loop felt awfully like a sci-fi version of Kieslowski’s Dekalog. Very low-key almost unfocussed stories about ordinary people; intense and believable characterisations, aspiring at times to an almost documentary style. Cameras which linger on visual tableux — a character can spend a minute walking from the left of the screen to the right in front of some trees or a sunset. Single events of almost unbearable importance which do not really go anywhere. No surprising twists. No resolution. No answers. And all the stories set in the same, pretty ordinary world. An anthology of unrelated stories, in which you gradually become aware of recurrent characters. In one episode we notice that Dad has a robot arm. In another episode a teenage boy gets bitten by a snake and has his arm amputated. By the end I think we can draw links between all the episodes, a little in the way that the different plots converge in Magnolia, but a lot more subtly. But I don’t think that this makes any difference. We’re not seeing fragments that will come together in a season climax, like the first season of Heroes. There is a thing called The Loop which creates Science and where most of the grown-up characters work; but we never find out what The Loop is meant to be. I harboured a theory in the early episodes that there had been an extraterrestrial event; that a UFO had crashed in the 1950s and the various robots and time travel spheres and mind-swapping submarines that litter the landscape had been salvaged from it. Perhaps the big lump of black rock is somehow its power-source. As the series wore on it became clear that this was a category mistake: we were told from the beginning that “the Loop makes the impossible possible” and that is all we needed to know. The Loop churns out plot-devices which allow for very unlikely things to happen. A teenage girl freezes time. A teenage boy gets his mind transferred into a robot. A lonely gay man jumps to a paralel world where he is living happily with the man of his dreams. But we’re not interested in the plot mechanics. We’re interested only in how the unlikely events affect the people involved. (I suspect that this means that it is not proper science fiction.) The performances are universally excellent, particularly from the children. (Most of the main characters are children.) It reminds me a little of early Spielgberg. There is no snappy dialogue and no attempt to reproduce what some screenwriter believes to be teen-slang. Mostly the kids are quiet and shy and inarticulate. This is a world where a young boy can be reunited with his family after a ten year absence (due to a time-slip) and experience only the most subtle and undemonstrative of emotions. Where the news that Grandpa has cancer leads to a very sensible discussion of the logical difficulties with the idea of an afterlife. Where “the toilet needs fixing again” can be laden with psychological significance. I am not completely certain that I would wish to sit through it again, but I would certainly watch a second series. One of those Twitter questionnaires recently asked people to give examples of “movies you think are brilliant but never want to see again”: I unhesitatingly nominated “A Short Film About Killing”, the extended version of Kieslowski’s sixth commandment. I was inordinately pleased to read in an interview that producer Matt Reeves was completely obsessed with the Dekalog while at film school.

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