Deconstructing Dark: Finding Meaning in the Netflix Original Series
Finishing the first 10 episode season of Netflix’s original German series will leave your head spinning as you try to crunch all the twists, turns, and symbols. While there is plenty of speculation on the plot points and tons of fan theories out there (we recommend you check out Reddit’s r/DarK for that) we wanted to take a deep dive into the world of Dark and look at some of the things you might have missed and what it could mean for Season 2. Be aware, there are all kinds of spoilers ahead and this is designed for someone who has already watched Dark. If you haven’t, check out our review and get on Netflix immediately.
*** WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD***
Theseus, Ariadne, and the Minotaur
Dark gives us an Ariadne, a maze, a Theseus and some red string. Where is the Minotaur?
There is a pretty glaring allusion to the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur in Season One, with the character of Martha Nielsen playing the part of Ariadne in a school play and Jonas using red string to find his way into and out of the maze of the caves. On a superficial level this is a pretty neat nod to Greek myth, but similarities of the myth and the plot of Dark go much deeper. The myth is well known, but two of the more little known aspects of the myth play out in Dark: the abandonment of Ariadne by Theseus and the suicide of Theseus’s father. After slaying the Minotaur in the labyrinth and using Ariadne’s ball of string to lead himself out, Theseus abandons his love and sails away. Harsh move, right? He does it because of a dream he has where the goddess Athena tells him to do so. Theseus is so heartbroken by this that he forgets to change the sails of his ship to white, which was the predetermined signal to his father that he has been successful at killing the Minotaur. Thinking his son dead, King Aegeus takes his own life.
These aspects of the myth line up perfectly with the abandonment of Martha by Jonas and the suicide of Jonas’s father Michael. Jonas abandons Martha because of supernatural knowledge. Jonas’s father hangs himself and the reason is not exactly clear, could it be that he misinterprets a signal from his future son? Whenever there is a maze, a Theseus, a ball of string, and an Ariadne there has to be a Minotaur, so who is it in Dark? Noah would be a good guess, but I think we will have to wait for Season 2. To be sure we are seeing the myth of Thesus played out, albeit in a different order because of all the time traveling. Perhaps the maze is made even more complex by the added dimension of time.
Depictions of Three-Fold Time
Dark gives us a unique take on time travel, rather than depicting time travel as a gateway to the past or the future, the time travel event is actually a doorway to both at the same time. The rip in time in the caves of Winden leads not to one past, but two pasts 33 years apart (depending on your frame of reference of course). This aspect of three fold time is not only confusing, but also deeply disturbing at a subconscious level. Note that in the book carried by Noah and the Emerald tablet (referenced in the tattoo, the doorway, and on the hospital wall) time is symbolized by a triquetra, which shows natural three-fold symmetry and has numerous religious connotations. Yet in the opening of every episode, we are given images of two-fold and three-fold symmetry. The two-fold images may be dark and brooding, but they are at least aesthetically pleasing while the three-fold images have a jarring, uncanny valley aspect to them. Whoever built the door and wrote the book must see some beauty (at least in their own eyes) of the three-fold time concept that we cannot. From the view of the characters, it brings only pain, discord, and death. Be wary of anyone, not just Noah, who depicts three-fold time as anything other than anathema.
Particularly German Themes
In a great review of Dark by New York Times writer Mike Hale, he points out that, “You may also wonder whether the idea of cutting off evil influences emanating from the past is a specifically German theme.” An old nordic expression claims “you never know who your parents really were in the past” which is also echoed in the show. This is another theme that must resonate strongly in the German consciousness for different reasons for different generations. These ideas, as well as themes from German philosophers, play heavy into Dark and some deeper digging leads to some additional points that maybe particularly German. Nuclear power and being pawns in a great game may also have some particular significance.
Pershing II nuclear missiles, one of many types of WMDs deployed there in the 1980’s.
Stock photo from US Army.
Americans have at times expressed strong opinions about nuclear power, but in general it is not a hot button issues. Germany is much different, however. Given its closer proximity to Chernobyl, referenced in Dark, and certain post war events Germans in general have a much more negative attitude towards nuclear power. In fact the German Government has pledged to phase out all nuclear power plants by 2022. While this phase out can be attributed to the Fukushima disaster, there is a distrust of nuclear power (described in Dark at one point as a Mafia) that runs deep in the German consciousness. This could be because in the post World War two years the United States and the Soviet Union both brought huge numbers of weapons, of conventional, nuclear, and chemical designs, into Germany and built nuclear plants on both sides of the divided country. This plays out in Dark as outsiders, whether they are from outside Winden or outside time, bring poison into the town. Literal poison is shipped in the form of nuclear waste, while relationships are poisoned by travelers and knowledge from an outside time. To further heighten the cold war allegory, notice that even our main characters play the roles of pawns in a greater game
between two time traveling superpowers, working to further either Claudia’s or Noah’s agenda. It is hard not to predict that future plot points will hinge around which side our characters take in this cold war between Noah and Claudia and more importantly our character’s attempts to break out of their control (and of time loops) to regain agency.
Are there some symbols and themes from Dark that we missed? Maybe you think I am reading too much into the show. Either way, we would love to hear from you, so hit us up on Facebook or Twitter. To stay up to date on our horror and science fiction analysis, reviews, and news you can subscribe below or follow us on Facebook.