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We should have known

The latest psychological thriller to hit the small screen, The Undoing, starts off sedately, making us salivate for the décor, the furniture, the wardrobes, the hairstyles, before giving us the violins and the goose bumps.

November 28, 2020 / 07:47 AM IST

In our current frame of mind, with ample time to entertain ourselves with TV and telephone, psychological thrillers are what we tune into effortlessly. We don’t ask for much; some blood, some gore, a body here, a body there… Between dashing off our CV to a stranger online and a zoom call with old classmates, we want to enter a world very different from ours. A happening world, a hectic world, populated with hot men and women, where murder and music intertwine in an audio-visual treat.

The latest one to hit the small screen, The Undoing, starts off sedately, making us salivate for the décor, the furniture, the wardrobes, the hairstyles, before giving us the violins and the goose bumps. Soon we are in suspense.

Adapted from the 2014 novel You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz, the viewer is not sure which way the plot will go, given that screenplays are known to deviate from the book. We think we know it, then we don’t.

Nicole Kidman is a therapist who, like most female protagonists, knows not what is happening. We wander the picturesque streets with her wondering who, what, why, when. In her professional capacity she is able to concisely tell her patients how the problems they face are the problems they always knew about but ignored – ‘you should have known,’ she implies. Of course, this sage piece of wisdom comes back to bite her tiny, tiny ass later.

Which brings us to the case of the shrinking heroine. From The Good Wife, where Alicia Florrick, Diane Lockhart and Kalinda Sharma dwindle away to nothing right before our eyes, to Princess Diana in the latest season of The Crown, female characters look all set to vanish into thin air. To match her screen sisters, Kidman walks around in velvet overcoats, belt cinched tightly, so skinny she can’t be seen from certain angles.

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While the mystery of what Kidman eats or whether she eats at all is never solved, she does go about trying to find out what the hell is happening around her.

A good mystery depends on its lead actors and here all stars, including Kidman, Hugh Grant, Donald Sutherland and Matilda De Angelis, give us plenty to chew on. Is he guilty, is she guilty, if not them then who is guilty? And is it true that a person’s true nature is never hidden from the start, that it is in our lapse in looking that we miss out on the clues?

Elegantly carved from clever camera angles and lighting, enacted by good actors, with the killer ready to jump at us out of the darkness any minute, this is a thriller that gives us all its twists and turns in the first two episodes itself. The rest perhaps drags a bit in comparison but by then we are hooked.

The culprit? The Undoing speaks of seemingly perfect and privileged lives coming undone, but also perhaps points to the original book title. A good whodunit should end in an ‘aha’. We should have known.

Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is the co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival.
Shinie Antony
first published: Nov 28, 2020 07:47 am

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