Undone Review: A beautifully trippy, multi-genre mind-bender
Undone shares with that show the otherworldly quality in addition to some themes such as psychological trauma, depression, existential crisis, loss, grief, and so on
It's not every day that you see something that is aesthetically pleasing, emotionally stirring, and intellectually stimulating all at once. Amazon's new series Undone does exactly that. A blend of thought-provoking science fiction, dysfunctional family drama and murder mystery, the eight-episode series packs a lot without ever losing its edge in its approximately 160-min runtime.
A beautifully trippy narrative aided by rotoscopic animation (a process of adding an animation layer to live-action performances--previously used by Richard Linklater in the films Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly), Undone doesn't waste any time getting viewers to latch on to its central concept: time travel. Without spoiling anything, the first episode begins with Alma (Rosa Salazar) driving her car whilst in the middle of an affecting emotional crisis (the reason for which is revealed soon in flashbacks). A minute later, she spots... something... on the street and her car is hit by an oncoming vehicle. She survives. At the hospital, she gets a visit from her dead father, Jacob (Bob Odenkirk), who tells her about the possibility of time travel--something he has been doing research on it before his death--and that he can train her in order to enable her to go back in time to solve the mystery of Jacob's death, which he believes is actually murder.
Created by: Raphael Bob-Waksberg
Cast: Rosa Salazar, Bob Odenkirk, Angelique Cabral, Constance Marie
Created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg, the brainchild behind another acclaimed Amazon series, BoJack Horseman, Undone shares with that show the otherworldly quality in addition to some themes such as psychological trauma, depression, existential crisis, loss, grief, and so on. The chain of events experienced by Alma can be best described as a Memento-meets-Inception-meets-Groundhog Day-meets-Minority Report-meets-Unbreakable kind of phenomenon, and you slowly begin to realise why the makers had opted for rotoscopic animation. For example, there is a sequence where Alma experiences multiple versions of the same moment and you end up being totally confused, in a good way, of course. I don't think doing all that in live-action would produce the same effect. There is also a beautifully poignant sequence where Alma is transported to past memories--not only hers but also her relatives', and, wait for it... her boyfriend's. It makes you momentarily peek into the inner recesses of your soul and wonder if it's possible to possess similar "superpowers".
Though the animation is really impressive, it doesn't take away anything from the performances and is a lot more effective than in the aforementioned Linklater films. Due to the strong performances of Rosa (Alita: Battle Angel), Bob Odenkirk and the remaining cast, the surrealistic veneer never feels like a distraction. Undone utilises Rosa's acting abilities to the fullest. It is easily her best work. Alma is a woman grappling with unresolved issues, which include her about-to-be settled elder sister and her concerned mother who may or may not be hiding some truths about her father.
Alma's disorientation is more akin to that of Guy Pearce in Memento than Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception. Now that I've brought up Inception, the "mentor-protege" interactions between Alma and Jacob evoked the DiCaprio-Ellen Page moments from the Nolan film. Much like DiCaprio's Cobb, Jacob is tormented by his past and is desperate to alter the past to get back to his family. And it's quite possible that the makers named Alma's father after Tim Robbins' character in the 1990 film Jacob's Ladder, a psychological thriller about a character experiencing strange visions.
If you, like me, have been yearning for a greatly satisfying mind-altering experience for a while, then Undone should satiate your hunger. Perhaps, it would make the long wait for Nolan's upcoming mind-bender, Tenet, more bearable.