“There are a lot of theories about the story she is telling,” says Brit Marling during our recent webcam chat (watch the exclusive video above). Marling stars in and co-created “The OA” with her frequent collaborator Zal Batmanglij, and is often asked to divulge the many secrets and unanswered questions from the show’s first season. “I can say this,” Marling reveals. “Her story, the story she tells in Part One, really is a road map, and the most careful observers of that story will find a lot of things in it that will tell you where the narrative is going next.”
In “The OA,” Marling plays Prairie Johnson, a blind woman who resurfaces with her sight inexplicably restored after having been missing for seven years. We learn that Prairie was abducted by a scientist experimenting on people who have had near death experiences, which forms the narrative of the story that she tells to a group of four teenage boys and their algebra teacher (Phyllis Smith) over the eight-episode first season. “We were really interested in talking about the power of storytelling,” Marling explains. “To create a tribalism for people that would not ordinarily spend time together.”
Marling admits that the feverish and dedicated online debate about the intersecting narratives of the show’s plot have given her insight into how different audiences react to the show depending on their perspective. “Was it the truth? Was it a metaphor, detail for detail, of a darker or more complicated truth? Was it completely fabricated?,” Marling wonders. “It is interesting to see what side people fall on. Some people who are skeptics by nature want to believe that something extraordinary or magical or something that they cannot describe in science as it stands now happens in the end, but they’re not sure, especially when their faith in her story is punctured. And then there are other people that tend to naturally be believers, or romantics or poets, and for them they see the ending and they take that leap of faith,” she explains. “The definition of faith is that you believe in spite of doubt, and those two camps and also the people in between are beautifully revealing about human nature and the places that we are willing to let our guard down and where we put it up.”
“The OA” confounded audiences from the very beginning, because Netflix stealthily premiered the show late last year with little to no publicity. It was a huge risk for the streaming giant to do this. “I was really moved that they came up with that idea, and it seems to have worked,” Marling admits. “It’s such a delicious pleasure to come to the narrative not knowing anything, because part of the leaps in its imagination is where it takes you, because this story is about not knowing what is coming next,” she explains, adding that “everybody at Netflix was really on board with that and they actually came up with the strategy in order to protect the integrity of the mystery.”
“There’s definitely more story to tell so we were happy to leave the audience in a place of wonderment rather than stitching it all up,” she says. “We’re taking our own leap of faith in telling this story. We don’t know if we get to tell one part or we get to tell three, four, who knows. But you want it to feel like a delicious novel where you get to the end of it and it meant something and it had something to say and left you with something and you’d love to get the next book if it comes out.”
One of the most talked about aspects of the show are the “movements”, a series of strange interpretive dance sequences meticulously performed in unison by the characters on the show. It has proved divisive aspect of the show with audiences, but is often the first thing that people want to discuss with Marling, who says it was born out of a desire to demonstrate the power of physical expression and communication. “One of the unfortunate side effects of technology is that we’re connected more than ever but we’re also disconnected. Tech allows you to keep a barrier up; you don’t really have to be vulnerable or in real time with somebody. And we’re all living from the neck up, we’re all up in our brains,” she explains. “The movements are an invitation to drop down into the rest of your body and to remember that you’re an animal and that your body has a kind of intelligence that in some ways is even more advanced than the intelligence of your mind and your rational linear thinking, and that maybe the intuition that your body holds is equally important.”
We also talk at length about how the show is a meditation on the after effects of trauma, the diversity of the cast, some of the unexplained mysteries of the plot, and the moving season finale climax that ended during a terrifying school shooting.
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