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Would Patrick McGoohan have recommended to swallow the blue pill?
on 15 October 2013
This miniseries had not been heralded as a reboot or a remake but as a re-interpretation, so I gave it the benefit of a doubt and tried to restrain myself not to compare it too much with Patrick McGoohan's original and timeless television classic.
The presentation in terms of filmmaking quality is impeccable (and enjoyable to watch on Blu-ray). The "new" Village is a fascinating variation of Portmeirion (a major inspiration which compelled McGoohan to create his "Prisoner"), and I sympathize that it was tempting to use the location in Namibia to create this re-interpretation.
Of course the new Number Six equally tries to leave this Village but where the original series had episodes featuring themes that stood on their "own feet" the re-interpretation is apparently story-arc and mystery driven, trying to captivate the audience to learn what it's all about but also trying the audience's patience. I found the new Village to be much more dystopian, where it often seemed that everybody was spying on its neighbour. And already a little nonconformist act brought the cruel and merciless Number Two (excellent performance by Sir Ian McKellen) and the whole Village apparatus down on the offender. This was much more "1984" than the original series.
But even as a re-interpretation the inevitable question has to be what is there to justify the allusions to the original series?
Patrick McGoohan himself stated in later years that while the Village was some metaphor for society and how the nonconformist individual copes with it, most important was how Number Six (and all of us) dealt with the worst enemy which is not society but the Number One in each of us, hence the strange and metaphorical last episode "Fallout" of the original series.
During "Schizoid", the fifth episode of the new series, it seemed that McGoohan's last intention had been considered. But that didn't really become clear, and eventually all the previous flashbacks of the world outside the Village came together with the real time events to some sort of conclusion and explanation.
Personally, I found it debatable and considering the 1984-dystopy we had come to see and experience previously in the Village rather contradictory. I don't think anybody with a choice, regardless of state of mind, would want to live in such a place (better suited as punishment for criminal offenders than others).
In Tarkovsky's original SOLARIS (1972) the main protagonist had come to accept responsibilty for his actions or inactions and had mostly sobered up by the end of the film, while in the remake he ended in a fake dreamworld as if the George Clooney character had decided to swallow the blue pill instead of the red one.
In that sense THE PRISONER re-interpretation reminded me too much of the SOLARIS remake. I can't imagine Patrick McGoohan would have participated had he known how this prisoner would end.
Beautifully photographed with fine actors it has good and enigmatic, chilling moments. But where the original series offered debate potential on how to interpret the actual ending with imagination, the interpretation of the ending in the new series is rather clear, yet the outcome is debatable in terms of credibility and ethical behaviour previously displayed by the protagonists.