Subhuti gives a new twist to a Nordic supernatural thriller.
Two beautiful women sit together on a beach in Iceland. They are looking at each other with love in their hearts and sadness in their eyes. One of them is about to die.
Behind them, in the distance, a massive volcano billows giant clouds of smoke and lava. It has been erupting continuously for weeks.
Grey ash covers the entire landscape, creating a sombre, black-and-white backdrop, devoid of any cheerful sunshine or colour.
But it’s not only the volcano that’s smouldering and brooding. This reflects the dark, underlying mood that permeates Katla, a supernatural thriller series on Netflix.
I don’t know whether the producers have been watching movies by Ingmar Bergman, the genius Swedish director who was notorious for making his audiences feel uneasy, uncomfortable and even depressed.
But, for sure, I felt Bergman’s ghost stalking the slopes of the volcano as I watched this drama unfold.
Speaking of ghosts, let me explain the plot:
In a small town called Vik, close to the volcano, local people who have died are re-emerging, walking out of the smoke, covered in black ash. It turns out that, a long time ago, a meteorite from outer space crashed into the volcano. The unknown metals in the meteorite have the power to sense people’s feelings, emotions and memories.
And so, each time there is a volcanic eruption, the power of the meteorite is awakened. It picks up the feelings of people living nearby and gives birth to “changeling” human beings who embody those feelings.
Naturally, some of the deepest feelings are people’s pain and suffering, as they mourn for lost family members who have died, or who deserted them.
So, the meteorite replicates these missing people and they walk out of the smoke, back into town, back into the lives of their relatives and lovers. In other words, to put it crudely, this is a zombie movie. But with an intelligent twist. These aren’t half-dead morons, staggering around, looking for someone to bite. These are fully-formed, sensitive, alive human beings, answering a deep psychological need in the people whose painful memories they are now embodying.
Unsurprisingly, the real humans are gobsmacked to see their relatives again – who wouldn’t be?
Which brings us back to the two women, sitting on the beach, wondering what to do, as the series reaches its climax.
Grima, an attractive, serious-looking blonde in her mid-thirties, has been missing her beloved sister, Asa, for about a year. Asa died in an accident near the volcano. But now this same sister is sitting next to her on the beach, gazing soulfully into Grima’s eyes.
Asa, the changeling – let’s not call this lovely-looking woman a zombie – has also been wondering about herself. She, too, senses that something mysterious has happened.
It’s time for a reality check. A few days earlier, Grima discovered a dead body on the mountain, disfigured by ice and snow, but looking similar to her missing sister. She sent samples from the body to Reykjavik, the Icelandic capital, for DNA testing. Now the results are back.
“I have something to tell you,” Grima announces to the woman beside her.
She shows a letter containing the DNA results to the changeling. The body was Asa. The truth is exposed for both of them: the woman sitting next to Grima is a replicate. All her memories and feelings, her whole identity as Asa, have been duplicated from Grima’s personal memory bank.
“Then who am I?” asks the Asa look-alike. “I don’t have a purpose anymore. Now I understand why. It’s because I don’t exist!”
Grima says nothing, looking silently forlorn.
The changeling Asa comes to a fateful decision: since she does not exist, she will kill herself. She gives a farewell hug to her sister.
“I love you Grima,” she says, with passionate sincerity.
“I love you, too,” responds Grima tearfully.
With one last kiss on her sister’s forehead, the changeling turns away and walks into the sea, ending her non-existent existence.
Now, please, let’s wait a minute. Maybe it’s because I have somehow fallen in love with this gorgeous changeling, but anyway, the fact is, I dislike this gloomy ending.
It may suit the depressive Scandinavian mood of the series, but I believe there are other, happier, possibilities. In fact, there’s a gaping existential fallacy in the Katla drama, right at this point.
Let’s re-run this climactic scene and say that Grima happens to be a longtime Osho sannyasin and has done several courses of the Intensive Enlightenment process “Who Is In?”
Grima shows the DNA results to Asa and when the changeling says, “I don’t exist!” she grabs her by the shoulders, shakes her, looks deeply into her eyes and exclaims, “Asa, it’s not true!”
Grima asks her sister, “Tell me, who is saying these words, ‘I don’t exist’?”
Asa hesitates, then says, “I don’t know.”
Grima smiles. “That’s right. And I am in the same situation as you. I don’t know who I am, either!”
Asa is confused. “I don’t understand,” she says. “You are Grima!”
Grima explains. “For sure, it’s true, I have a bundle of memories about who I used to be, and what I did. But are they real? Not here, not now, in this moment. They could be anybody’s memories.”
She goes on, “We exist, both of us, and it’s not because of who we think we are. We are much bigger than that. We exist as consciousness.”
Asa is still confused, but Grima persists.
“Just feel it! Right now! Here we are, standing on this beach, together, two nobodies who love each other.”
By the way, interrupting this conversation for a moment, I should mention here that love, in itself, is reason enough not to walk into the ocean and drown. But that’s a side issue.
Asa the changeling is beginning to understand and looks at her sister in astonishment.
Grima smiles lovingly at her and has one more thing to say, “It doesn’t matter who we are. Just to be is enough.”
Asa gets it. She laughs in relief and gives her sister a heartfelt hug. Hand in hand, they go back to the car.
There is one more detail to take care of. Another changeling from the volcano, looking exactly like Grima herself, has arrived on the scene and is currently making love to her boyfriend.
In the original script, after watching her sister drown, Grima returns home, confronts this new changeling, and challenges her to play Russian roulette with a gun to see which of them will survive.
Grima wins the contest. With the last pull of the gun’s trigger, the replicate blows out her own brains.
However, for me, this isn’t the best option. Grima’s boyfriend seems to be perfectly happy with his girlfriend’s lookalike, and has no clue what’s going on, so we can leave him in bed with her, in ignorant bliss.
In my version of events, Grima and Asa are now free of all obligations and they decide to leave this dreary, ash-covered town immediately. They travel to Reykjavik and catch the next flight to the Greek islands.
Here, in this sunny, warm, colourful environment, they start a new life. For all they care, the erupting volcano they left far behind can now destroy the whole of Iceland.
That’s a nice spiritual twist, isn’t it?
The End! Or maybe, The Beginning…
Author’s note: In real life, Katla is a large volcano, located in southern Iceland, which has erupted about 20 times in the past one thousand years. Vik is, indeed, a small town, lying directly south of the volcano. It has several folk legends about supernatural creatures.
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