A Love Letter to 'Sense8' and The Wachowskis
By Joe Starr | Streaming | July 31, 2015 |
By Joe Starr | Streaming | July 31, 2015 |
If there is such a thing as a bandwagon for shows put up online in their entirety, sitting and waiting for you to discover them, I might be late for the Sense8 bandwagon. But hey, you might be too.
Watching Sense8, the Wachowski /J. Michael Straczynski entry into the world of Netflix, is an overwhelmingly positive experience that makes me feel like a kid again.
Let’s qualify that statement.
I saw The Matrix 23 times in the theater. All but five were dollar theater trips but they all count towards the answer of why I was a virgin until my sophomore year of college. The movie just spoke to me. As a high school dork in Kentucky that needed some direction and meaning, The Matrix theme of there being something very wrong standing in the way of fulfillment and connection was very appealing. The knowing kung fu and the ‘pew pew pew oh my god they are flipping in the air while shooting uzis whaaaaaat’ was also very appealing. The idea of Carrie Anne Moss in a leather jumpsuit hanging out with you while a techno remix of a Rob Zombie song blares was an added bonus.
I was a kid that felt off and was into Jesus because it offered some connection but also wasn’t too sure about Jesus because maybe the connection was more of a spiritual hey man we’re all starstuff thing or maybe we were in a big computer simulation. I dunno. I was a lost kid that had some weird questions and the closest response I was getting was via Laurence Fishburne in those cool sunglasses that just sort of sat on his nose. Remember those? Those were cool sunglasses.
I don’t think I ever really found any answers to those questions as I got older. I went from Christian to Agnostic to Atheist, and pretty much put a kibosh on the whole thing because who cares, and does it really matter? I need to pay rent. Sometimes in between spouts of not believing in stuff, I acknowledge that ‘Yeah, wow. That’s kind of sad.’
And that’s a lot of uncomfortable overshare to say that Sense8 is one of the most uplifting, wonderful sci fi celebrations of humanity I can remember seeing. Without going into spoilers for the show, which you should immediately watch, the series explores the idea of human connection at a telepathic and spiritual level, and how that connection can improve us and make us whole. That connection exists in certain people through clusters of 8, who share in each other’s thoughts, emotions, experiences, and knowledge.
Like a kid again. Sense8 is all about those absurd ideas and philosophies you explored as a teenager, feeling like you were brilliant and really onto something, and that no one had ever had a thought about ‘maybe it all being connected, man’ before. If Sense8 is a lake, the Wachowskis take off running after everyone gets out of the van, jump in fully clothed and yell back “fuck it! get in, this is so fun! Guys we’re at THE LAKE!”
I’ve either cried a bit or at least big-dumb-joy smiled at least once during pretty much every episode, is what I’m saying. I miss stuff like this — content that’s uplifting and optimistic. Stuff with a soul. Most of our sci-fi and fantasy comes in the form of soulless blockbusters and franchises now, and rarely feels like it’s alive, or like a story the creators urgently felt you needed to see.
The editing and direction of Sense8 is nothing short of brilliant. The connection of the protagonists via telepathy constantly feels fresh, and never feels like a one-trick pony relying on camera tricks. I found myself looking forward to characters interacting both to see how they progress the story and how they’d be presented progressing said story. The shooting locations are beautiful, and the show makes sure to get as much mileage as it can out of 8 protagonists scattered across the planet, from Icelandic caves to car chases in Nairobi, to a son and his father on a boat in Chicago watching fireworks.
Casting is perfect. I’d watch any of the 8 and their individual supporting casts carry their own projects. Aml Ameen’s optimism as Capheus — the driver of a Jean-Claude Van Damme
themed bus — is infectious. The restraint and control of Doona Bae’s (one of several Wachowski alums in the show) Sun Bak is beyond impressive, and the actress can deliver a paragraph of dialogue with an eye twitch. Brian J. Smith came from whatever factory the Josh Hartnetts come from, and good news, they finally figured out how to build Hartnetts good. Miguel Ángel Silvestre should be in every show on television. And Tuppence Middleton’s Icelandic DJ Riley is not only super easy to fall in love with, but also gets your favorite Bjork song in your head after every episode:
The show isn’t 100 percent feel good montages, of course. It’s the Wachowskis, so there’s a good amount of fighting and shooting going on. The pleasant surprise is the amount of restraint implemented: action set pieces are used sparingly, and when they do show up they feel earned, and the impact is maximized with character motivation and depth.
The show isn’t perfect. A lot of the dialogue is too on the nose, and there is a shadowy agency trying to hunt the group down that isn’t as interesting as the struggles the group faces by being a group. The season is packed with storytelling cliches, but you know what? I dooooon’t care. They’re fully committed, never half assed, and executed well. The characters can be interpreted as broad strokes representing their regions, but never do they not come off as individuals.
Sense8 is easily the best Wachowski project to date, and it bothers me how easily that can be read as an insult. Bound was a great movie, and of course, The Matrix was groundbreaking, in both special effects and how expertly the Wachowskis blended their weirdness with the standard Hero’s Journey you’d seen a million times to convince you that this wasn’t a standard Hero’s Journey you’d seen a million times.
Cloud Atlas was fine. Speed Racer, is a perfect film and if you disagree you have bad opinions.
The second and third Matrix films weren’t for me (I’ve only seen either once, unless you count Will Ferrell’s parody for the MTV Movie Awards), but I know a lot of people that love them. Jupiter Ascending was a batshit mess, but you know what? I’m glad it’s out there. It’s mind bogglingly absurd, but at least it was passionately-made absurdity. The Wachowskis felt like a story about a winged dog alien saving the girl from That 70’s Show from an evil space empire was a story they NEEDED to tell. Can you honestly say you walked out of Age of Ultron and felt like that if that was the last movie the folks involved could ever make, that was going to be it?
The Wachowskis swing for the goddamn fence every time, and I wish more of our art was like that. Some of it’s going to be messy and some of it’s going to be flat out bad. Some of it’s going to be Tom Hanks as a weird Russian mobster and some of it’s going to be 25-minute cave raves. But it’s also going to be Agent Smith staring in disbelief as Neo gets up. It’s going to be John Goodman with a mustache fighting ninjas in the most underappreciated film of its time.
And eventually, it’s going to be Sense8: it’s not a subtle show (Gary Jules Mad World appearance!), but the Wachowskis have never been subtle filmmakers: they’re excited about this story, and they want you to jump in the lake with them. It’s just the right amount of martial arts and car chases that makes you feel optimistic about being connected to humanity again, the way you were before that optimism got all jammed up.
And that’s a nice feeling to have.