I got interested in the TV-show The Prisoner a long time after seeing Nowhere Man which honored the material made by Patrick McGoohan in the 60’s. Both shows are thoroughly deep and compelling stories with multiple layers of depth and intrigue. I don’t pretend to comprehend everything that goes on and the sheer amount of books written about the original Prisoner proves that I don’t have to feel bad about it. I have my own views and opinions about it and, albeit a bit worried like with most remakes, looked forward to see what they did with The Prisoner remake.
With McGoohan gone and the internet-revolution behind our teeth it was expected to be different, and despite a largely British cast it’s apparent that this is an American product that explains too much too soon.
BEWARE — Don’t read this when you haven’t seen it or don’t mind spoilers. There are spoilers ahead.
By the time I watched the third installment of the mini-series I already felt like I was watching a different show and as such I will consider it a stand-alone, set in a similar universe. Where the old series was campy and humoristic, full of esotheric and surreal -almost drug-induced madness- the new series is much more serious. A bleak post-9/11 -including the oh-so-symbolic Twin Towers just in case we forgot AND to rub in the blatant symbolism- world where there’s not much smiling going on. Not even the romantic concept of love gets treated with a blanket of compassion, it’s reduced to an emotion that ultimately gets conquered by the greed and selfishness of humankind. A true standpoint ofcourse but even the cynic in me would have liked to see something more lighthearted. It makes the remake very heavy to watch, something that wasn’t the case in the original or even Nowhere Man.
The Prisoner ultimately was, to me, about the person. An insignificant being in the grand scale of things but an individual nevertheless. Stuck in a world where he has to do things and act accordingly, bow to the rules or be punished. And the message that in each man there’s rebellion, to stand up against those who imprison you -whether government, jobs or any other- to become a free man. The sheer awesomeness of McGoohan ofcourse made it as such that number 6 actually is his own worst enemy.
“Who is number one” -“You are number 6”.
Making us all ultimately our own worst enemy and the cause of our own prison. Cause let’s face it, governments are made of people, we decide governments, we decide not to rebel. 666 the number of the beast, also, the number of man.
In the remake they answer one of the big questions from the original: flat-out by a schoolgirl. “Who is number 1?” The answer, however logical and true, leaving a kinda disappointed aftertaste for spoiling it. Noone is in control but there’s always someone in control, and if noone is in control one can never truly be in control of anything. Where you felt that McGoohan’s 6 sometimes was in control the new one doesn’t ever seem to be.
McGoohan was always obviously working against the village the new protagonist doesn’t give me the impression to fight it… or to be able to fight it. He goes with the flow more then McGoohan’s number 6, often falling into the traps and never really strikes to be someone with much fight in him. The fight he has appears utterly pointless. A sign of the times maybe?
We are far away from the 60’s rebellious spirit, too busy with ourselves and our luxuries. In this day and age we can’t really be bothered to resist. McGoohan’s 6 would have died in order to get what he wanted, this one would shrug and get on with it despite his often disagreement.
In retrospect: for all the cold-war atomic threat the 80ties were a much more lighthearted era. Villains and heroes were comical parodies, the threat was something we didn’t know or understand. We were more “dumb” and naieve. Something died when the wall fell, the rise of the internet has made us all much more aware and even with all the delightful folly that can be found on the Internet life, and people, have become much more serious. Many might not admit it openly, but I have noticed that many feel the difference. The difference being very obvious between the two versions.
Kids die and are shown to be able to be evil, people are in pain and agony, love is de-romanticized and sex is made into something solely carnal. All inhabitants are empty, depressed shells who act as if nothing is wrong but they can’t hide the unhappiness and terror they’re in. It’s delightfully dark but even for a self-proclaimed cynic it’s a heavy load. Every episode feels almost like watching the second part of Requiem for a Dream over and over again.
Then there are the strange symbolism’s in it. The main character saying “I don’t like pork” while the whole Village eats nothing else then wraps. A meal that looks very similar to the Moroccan food Dürum. Singing choir-girls in burka-esque clothing behind bars reminiscent of a sleazy club – including peepholes? Multiple religiously inspired songs. The desert and abyss/oblivion. And ofcourse the Twin Towers… again. The weatherballoon orb-nemesis from the original is back but it’s bigger and badder. It is, quite literally, much more in your face in the remake. Much more in your face are all the other symbolism, emotions and events. It will leave you grasping for air as it slowly suffocates you.
Watching the new Prisoner is the image of McGoohan fighting to get free as the white plastic wraps around you… a struggle. If you hold on and fight against the urge to give up you’ll see a certain light.
Maybe this all makes The Prisoner Remake worth the watch and makes it good in it’s own way. It’s a modern iteration of an age long gone, an age that might return some day. There’s always hope and as long as there’s man and society there will be rebellion against it.
Watch the remake, watch the original, watch Nowhere Man, it’ll be an experience you’ll carry with you.
Be seein’ you!