Tuesday, September 06, 2022

The Rope, on Topic

Ironically, nobody mentions String Theory in this series, even though it follows a group of scientists studying the origins of the universe, who become obsessed with a mysterious length of cord. Somehow, it just appeared, but it appears to stretch unendingly through the forest surrounding their research institute in co-creators Dominique Rocher (director of The Night Eats the World) & Eric Forestier’s three-part French series The Rope, which premieres Thursday on Topic.

Bernhardt Mueller is the director of a remote astronomical observatory. Its equipment is old, but still powerful and the sudden vogue of theories he and his wife Agnes hypothesized are poised to give the institute a new lease on life. Weirdly, a week before their critical “data harvesting” Serge Morel, the facility manager literally stumbles across a length of rope in the forest. Ulrik, Agnes Mueller’s colleague and secret lover, manages to bang up his leg trying to follow it, so he will not be available the next morning for Bernard’s rope-following hike. He will be the lucky one.

Days later, Mueller’s party remains unaccounted for. Of course, he and Morel managed to recruit the most angsty group possible, including terminally ill research director Sophie Rauk, Leila, an anxiety-ridden data scientist and her increasingly frustrated husband Joseph, and visiting scholar Dani Johannes, whose work explores the relationship between science and her lost religious faith. Out of all of them, Morel is the only you would want to be lost in the wild with. Yet, the rope seems to exert an obsessive hold over some of them, driving them forward, despite the risks and the dead bodies they start to encounter.

The premise of
The Rope is a bit like other suddenly-in-Hell-or-Purgatory films, like the endless stairs in Black Ops, but it also shows the perspective of those not stuck in the fantastical Sisyphean situation. In fact, it is even more compelling watching Agnes and Ulrik trying to fathom the depths of the universe than Morel’s crew compulsively following the rope. Still, the contrast between the mysteries of science and the mysteries of the cosmically inexplicable distinctively bifurcates and dramatically distinguishes The Rope from its predecessors.

Jakob Cedergren (who starred in the original
The Guilty) is terrific as Ulrik and Jean-Marc Barr is rock solid as Morel. Together, they dependably anchor both strands of The Rope. Planitia Kenese adds acutely human dimensions as the earnest, spiritually searching Johannes, but the notion of being stuck on a hiking trip with a moody, bickering couple, like the one played by Christa Theret and Tom Mercier, literally looks and sounds like Hell on Earth.

Regardless, the giant telescopes and the surrounding grounds also provide an intriguing setting. There is a lot below the surface in
The Rope, but with only three episodes, it never gets too bogged down in extraneous melodrama or philosophical doubletalk. Highly recommended for fans of cerebral sf and fantasy, The Rope starts streaming Thursday (9/8) on Topic.