The OA, Netflix

Theology Of The OA: The Anteroom Of Death

Recently Jason and I watched Netflix‘s esoteric series, The OA. Without giving away too may spoilers, the show centers around two basic ideas:

  1. The afterlife is simply another dimension. Life exists after death, but in a sense that is too complex and arsty-fartsy for us to grasp in this stage of our existence.
  2. Society is warped and perverted. Just because someone is a social outcast doesn’t mean they lack value or promise. In fact, if modern society doesn’t accept you, that’s probably a compliment.

The OA regularly challenges pop culture’s definition of emotional and mental health, and even sanity. A young man with a fractured heart and a violent temper is the kind of character modern culture would brand a bully, dangerous, and deem an outcast. In fact, he’s the sort of kid you’d expect to shoot up a school. However, Prairie embraces his damage and helps him conquer his chaos, leading him to become yet another one of the show’s unlikely heroes.

“It’s not really a measure of mental health to be well adjusted in a society that is very sick.”

~ Prairie, The OA

The main character’s own sanity is most blatantly questioned. Prairie’s mother repeatedly requests that she be medicated. Because she is the herald of a knowledge too powerful to understand, she is viewed by many as being schizophrenic, or at least very badly traumatized. Rather than serving to convict and convince, Prairie’s miraculous recovery from blindness makes her even more feared by some. Others mistakenly idolize her, when in reality, Prairie is just as blind a traveler as the rest of us.

Curiously, a kidnapping sociopath who keeps people locked in his basement for scientific research is frequently depicted as borderline personable. Hap, played by Jason Isaacs (AKA Lucius Malfoy), is undoubtedly cruel and apathetic, yet demonstrates strange twinges of compassion on occasion that are both confusing and disturbing.

The writers (Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling) seem to enjoy pointing out that those whom most people would consider very good are frequently very bad, and many very bad people can often appear to be good. Prairie’s adoptive mother loves her, but has a very insecure character leading her to make foolish mistakes which damage familial relationships. Betty is an awkward depressed spinster with no friends, yet she would quickly sacrifice her career, happiness, and even her life to protect someone in need.

And through this confused maze of moral complexity, fundamental questions are repeatedly asked: Where are you going? What will happen to you after you die? Will the way you have lived in this life affect how you will live in the next? Will your choices today impact eternity?

In a stroke of artistic genius, instead of answering these questions and showing us Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, or even an atheistic nothingness, the show writers chose to deliver an enigmatic ending with very little closure. This created a frustrating sensation analogous to the confusion, fear, and uncertainty we all feel regarding the afterlife. In essence, the writer’s intent was never to comfort us, or even blow our minds with their cleverness, but simply to challenge us to think.

Modern culture has long been fascinated with the meaning of life, to the point that it’s satirized in media such as The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and Fantastic Mr. Fox. Back in 1998, in her depressing ballad Iieee, Tori Amos mourned, “I know we’re dying and there’s no sign of a parachute.”

Across the globe, in the opening song of her 2010 album, What Lies Beneath, Tarja Turunen sings, “Blinded in the dark, I’m touching the scars of tainted hearts. If you’re searching, learn to see. Honesty is all you need. Take the bow, finally … I don’t care what you say because your lovely words decay. Come on and play another day, throw your mask away. Welcome to The Anteroom of Death.”

The pyramids of Egypt are ancient proof that humanity has always been obsessed with the afterlife, indicating that modern pop culture is not as revolutionary as it pretends to be. Nevertheless, while The OA may not have introduced groundbreaking wonderments, it certainly stirred the mud to the surface by forcing the viewer to confront the unsettling unknown.

I once attended a presentation on string theory in which the speaker suggested that there are other dimensions all around us, overlapping and flowing through each other. Star Trek, The Flash, and many other science fiction television shows and movies love toying with the idea of alternate dimensions and universes.

There is also a Biblical idea that God and his angels exist all around us at all times. While we cannot perceive them of our own volition, they perceive us and may choose to interact with us. One example of this is 2 Kings 6:15-17, during one of Israel’s battles against the attacking Syrians. The story goes, “When the servant of [Elisha] the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

Another example of this concept is when Jesus dies, and the temple veil – which symbolically separates humanity from God Himself – is torn in half. At that point, many who have died are risen from the dead. While a very blinding veil may still exist between this existence and the next, it is Christ who will finally return and tear down the divide between us and eternity.

Life is a waiting room, an anteroom, and eventually our name will be called. Death is a portal to another dimension, and what is waiting on the other side is based upon our choices. Will we sacrifice popularity and disregard societal standards in order to be true to a higher intrinsic purpose? Will we recognize and defy demons when we meet them? Will we perceive the angels around us despite their lack of superficial appeal?

These are fundamental yet frequently avoided questions. The OA simply asks them in a manner one can’t easily shake off.

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