To open the new Serial column, dedicated to carefully selected series and their connection to art and fashion, we will analyse Undone – distributed by Amazon Prime Video – from a precise perspective, keeping our eyes on the spiritual side of the series.
Considering technical aspects such as the use of a rotoscope and the more intellectual side of the psychological drama, the author focused on the importance of keeping traditions alive in Undone, set in an era of disillusionment about the intangible.
By Giulia Piceni. Illustrations by Jessica García Corral for I’M Firenze Digest.
UNDOING THE WORLD
Actress Rosa Salazar plays Alma, a 27-year-old woman unhappy with her monotonous life, marked by conflict with her mother, an ordinary romantic entanglement, and a rollercoaster relationship with her little sister.
Uprooted from her Mexican origins, she is involved in a car crash that awakens supernatural powers in her body and mind. She bumps into the spirit of her dead father, Jacob (played by Bob Odenkirk). She starts having visions, flashbacks and hallucinations, which the other characters see as signs of schizophrenia and PTSD.
During these events, she is admitted to a superior dimension where she can communicate with Jacob, who desperately asks for her help to change the past to avoid his tragic death.
Just like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, she is offered a great opportunity to change the paradigm that defines her life. Alma was trapped in the routine’s loop before, and now, freed by the repetition of daily rituals, she is ambushed in another spiral of deception.
A PHYGITAL ANIMATION
It would be partial to discuss Undone without considering the role of animation, applied through the use of rotoscoping: the art of reinterpreting live-action images through drawing. Seen as a “cheating technique” by many purists, the director Hisko Hulsing ennobled this practice: according to him, the animation was the only possible way of narrating the story, being rotoscope the perfect tool to achieve a balance between realism and imagination.
The allure of Undone’s dreamy world was emphasised by an element usually considered secondary: the background. All the settings were physically painted by trained artists in Amsterdam. The oil paintings were created with the 17th-century wet-on-wet technique, mixing the colours on the palette and on canvas to achieve better gradients. The artworks were then mapped in a 3D environment so that the rotoscoped animations of the live-action recordings could be animated. A final composition phase brought together six work layers: rotoscoping, colouring, painting, shading, 2D animations (for dust and fire, for example) and colour correction. This creates a reality that is vaster than what usually would meet the eye.
MAGIC, SCIENCE AND RELIGION
During Alma’s mystic journey, the spectator is introduced to the religion of the Nahuas: the ensemble of Mesoamerican pre-Columbian tribes to which Alma descends. A minority that still exists in Mexico, its spiritual life has been strongly affected by Catholicism.
The ancient Nahua spirituality that works its way into Alma’s mind is beautifully set into our contemporary world by screenwriters Kate Purdy and Raphael Bob-Waksberg, contributing to a psychological drama rooted in a mixture of magic, science, and religion.
Undone is a series about life going beyond itself: it’s an ode to everyday life alongside fantasy in a disenchanted world framed by an overlapping maze of artistic techniques. The audience could have easily been sceptical about the elements of magic and spiritualism if they weren’t so beautifully woven into the narrative. Those two ingredients contributed to creating a distance between the story and the viewer who, unable to use Alma’s superpowers, interprets the images on the screen as a projection of a possible world: realistic enough to partly believe in it but also sufficiently different to prevent any judgment.
THE LONELIEST MAN IN THE WORLD
August 23 is the date of death of the Indio do Buraco, better known as the Indigenous Man of the Hole. This unique human being spent decades as a fugitive from the imposed civilisation process that repressed the Amazon region of Rondonia. In a few decades, he saw all his family killed for economic interest, causing him unrepairable trauma toward non-indigenous people1.
The FUNAI (Fundação Nacional do Índio)2 could do nothing but monitor and follow him until his death. He was found dressed in colourful feathers: he got ready for his last rite. The millennial knowledge that his tribe held and was condensed in him has now gone forever.
I found out about the death of the Man of the Hole by accident a few days after finishing watching Undone. This news reminded me of a scene where Alma gets inside her grandma’s Geraldine memories to save her from being secluded in a psychiatric hospital.
We should keep the intangible heritage of the Nahuas shown in Undone and that of the Man of the Hole, who will be forever unknown to us, in our hearts and minds as a collective act of appreciation for cultures that are slowly fading due to society’s growing detachment from the past and savage treatment of our common home.
Memory never dies, and you will never be forgotten, Man of the Hole. You, The Loneliest Man of the Earth.
Giulia Piceni is an Arts Curating undergraduate student at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.
Jessica García Corral is a Multimedia Arts undergraduate student at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.
1. The Guardian (2022) Amazon activists mourn death of ‘man of the hole’, last of his tribe. Online [https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/aug/28/amazon-activists-mourn-death-of-man-of-the-hole-last-of-his-tribe, last accessed, 14.09.22].
2. The FUNAI is a Brazilian governmental association that aims to protect and preserve the indigenous population on the nation’s soil.