Magic Carpet Ride
by ALEX CARNEVALE
creators Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski & J. Michael Straczynski
There is a scene in the Netflix series Sense8 where each of the show’s eight main characters visualizes the moment they were born. We see babies emerging from cervixes, an utterly astonishing visual sequence from two of the finest cinematographers working today. No one makes better looking movies than Lana and Andy Wachowski — Sense8 is a feast for the eyes, if not so much the ears.
Even a moment as simple as a Mexican man walking into a bar is lit so stupendously it almost feels like being on psychotropic drugs just imbibing these visions. More prevalent than babies popping out of massive craters within human beings in Sense8 is penises. Much like in the real world, men are always thinking about penises or displaying them prominently. It is a considerable relief to dispense with the prohibition that obscures them, and the rest of Sense8 follows along similar taboo-breaking lines.
Wolfgang (the super charismatic Max Riemelt), a diamond thief, has a lot of downtime in his job. Being a sensate allows him to display his thick, variegated cock in a number of different countries. The men and women of the eight person coterie can access each other’s abilities at any time, and appear to each other in living flesh at a moment’s notice. The group is advised by a character from Lost named Sayid (Naveen Andrews), and emerges after the suicide of Daryl Hannah, in an odd cameo at the beginning of the show.
Most of Sense8 consists of the group being hunted by a grey-haired man they call Whispers. When they are not running from his or his minions, they use the abilities of the others in their coterie to not only survive their particular situations, but to thrive in them. Capheus (Aml Ameen) runs a private bus service in Kenya. When crooks rob his bus, he uses the fighting skills of a Korean woman, Sun (Bae Doona) to put them down and save his mother’s precious AIDS medication.
The show’s production costs, filmed as it is in eight different locations, prohibited a large budget for the cast. Smartly, the Wachowskis opted for actors who are largely unknowns. The most recognizable is the show’s ostensible lead, a trans woman named Nomi (Jamie Clayton). Sense8 spends several episodes establishing the particulars of Nomi’s journey from frustrated man to lesbian woman, and despite several gag-worthy voiceovers, it is refreshing to experience a narrative arc that doesn’t feel like the same old story.
Clayton herself is stupendous in the role, even though she is not very believable as a hacker. The actual science and technology behind Sense8 is like all of the Wachowskis forays into the genre: aesthetically pleasing bullshit. The directing team’s last film, the bizarre Jupiter Ascending, took this to even more of an extreme, creating a campy futuristic world reminiscent of The Fifth Element. The tone was all over the map, and Mila Kunis’ gee-golly performance torpedoed the already wretched script.
Still, Jupiter Ascending showed off so much visual creativity it would have been a terrific silent film. It was almost impossible to hear anything Eddie Redmayne even said in the movie, but who cares? They had the nerve to dress Channing Tatum up as a half dog, half man. It is only in very few, well-chosen moments where Sense8 becomes as completely silly as that.
In one scene, Kala (Tina Desai) is about to be married in Mumbai to a man she is not super interested in. As a manifestation of her doubt, Wolfgang appears and displays his engorged penis to her. She faints dead away. Later, they have sensate sex together, precipating an orgy between all the members of the group. There is a lot of sex overall in Sense8, and it is great fun watching the intercourse. In the hands of the Wachowskis, it is the opposite of pornography — we actually get a serious attempt at a visual insight into the phenomenon of love-making.
In between the gorgeous cinematography is a patchwork narrative about public and private acceptance of racism, homophobia and difference in all its forms. It is surprising how much of these dilemmas feels fresh and unexplored — Sense8 takes the time to really unpack the intricacies behind the terminology, never leaving it abstract or morally ambiguous. That’s for another medium: this show you either just have to take as it is or leave.
Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.
“Brightside” – Nate Ruess (mp3)
“Harsh Light” – Nate Ruess (mp3)