STREAMING SATURDAY: What is The OA About?

Netflix’s The OA asks viewers to “trust in the unknown.” After watching the pilot episode, that’s exactly what I did with the streaming service’s future hit.

Stuart Sweet challenged me to watch the first episode of The OA and use that as my inspiration for this week’s Streaming Saturday. Always up for a good challenge – and being intrigued about the show since seeing its trailer – I accepted. Without researching any of the hundreds of fan-theory blog posts on the Internet, I simply cued up the pilot episode of The OA then pushed play. Wow! What an intriguing show! It was both mysterious, compelling, and at times awkward. There’s so much more to say about The OA, so let’s get started…

The Basic Premise
If you haven’t streamed the first episode of The OA, I’ll give you the basic premise. Prairie Johnson, a blind girl living in typical American suburbia, has been missing for seven years. She suddenly returns when she’s spotted jumping off a bridge. Prairie awakes in a hospital bed where she’s reunited with her parents, who are shocked to discover that Prairie can see.

Prairie refuses to tell people where she’d been, how she got her sight, or the cause of the strange scars upon her back. All she says is that she now calls herself “The OA,” whatever that is. She says she must return to where she was to rescue a young man named Homer. And then things really get weird.

So What’s The OA About?
When people usually ask what a movie is “about,” they’re not actually inquiring about the plot. You can get that from a trailer or brief write-up. When people want to know what a film is about, they’re really asking about the overall statement the movie’s creators want to make. In other words, it’s theme.

As to The OA’s theme, your guess is as good as mine. I said before, I only watched the pilot, and I resisted the urge to cruise the Internet or YouTube in search of fan-made content that attempts to explain it. I’d much rather let the series unfold its mysteries to me one episode at a time.

I do believe I’ve picked up on a few elements that might be being used to support the creators’ overall theme. Some of these include:

  • Sight: Sight, seeing, and how people perceive things could very well be part of this series’ message. If we are to believe The OA, she started life as a young lady who could see, then lost her vision in a near-death experience, then regained her sight after being missing for seven years. Also, one of the keys to The OA’s power is her eyes. Remember, she videotaped her eyeball while she delivered a call to her five followers and each of them answered the call. Does The OA’s gaze have special powers?
  • Touch: Touch and the need for human contact also seems to be a sub-theme, at least in the pilot episode. Prairie/The OA recognizes her long-lost mother by touching the woman’s face. As The OA, she also calmed an angry Rottweiler, first by biting it back, then by touching its head and soothing it. The OA touches teacher Elizabeth Broderick-Allen’s hand, which has a sort of hypnotic effect upon the older teacher.
  • Emptiness and Loneliness: There seems to be a pervasive theme of emptiness that runs through the pilot episode. Character Steve Winchell holds his illegal dealings in an abandoned house within his suburban community. This empty shell of a home becomes a hangout for Steve’s seemingly unfulfilled friends and an overarching symbol for their lives. Steve’s emptiness is augmented by his relationship – or lack thereof – with his almost-kinda-sorta-but-not-really girlfriend. The character of Elizabeth Broderick-Allen also seems to live an empty and lonely life after losing someone close to her.
  • Destiny and Purpose: This is another theme that seems to weave through The OA’s pilot episode. The OA seems determined to return to the place and people – a religious cult? Russian gangsters? – that held her captive (maybe) for the past seven years. Her destiny is to rescue Homer, a young man who had a near-death experience. Steve, Elizabeth, and three of Steve’s directionless friends all vow to join this mission, which seems to provide meaning and direction to their otherwise alienated and directionless lives.
  • The Inability to Communicate: The first half of the trailer features some very awkward non-conversation between The OA and her parents, police, and neighbors. People seem to speak in half-sentences and riddles, and every conversation seems to be both awkward and incomplete. Nothing truly becomes clear until The OA begins to tell her story to her five followers, and this is more than halfway through the pilot. Only then do we truly get some clear, concrete dialogue where things are explained without hesitation, pause, or incompleteness. Even then, we don’t know if what she is saying is true or false.
  • Near-Death Experiences: Dying for a short amount of time before being revived is an important element to The OA. It has to be if the main character had a near-death experience when she was a child. The young man named Homer that Prairie/The OA wants to rescue also had a near-death experience. This isn’t coincidence. But how do near-death experiences factor into the other things I discussed above? Perhaps the creators are suggesting that modern life has become so empty and boring that we nearly have to die in order to truly live.

If I Had to Guess…
I’d say that the overall message of The OA is the struggle to find meaning and happiness in today’s modern world. Or perhaps the materialistic nature of the modern world has separated us from our senses and each other. Then again, it could be about the importance of believing what you see and experience over what you’re being told. It’s also possible that the series could make a completely different statement, or no statement at all beyond what each individual viewer sees in it. At this point, there’s only one thing I can say with certainty – I’m going to keep watching The OA until its conclusion.