In ‘Station Eleven,’ the arts outlast an apocalypse

The 10-episode HBO Max constrained sequence, which came to an conclude this week, is a submit-apocalyptic tale with a deeply affirmative twist, as it is extra about the price of storytelling than it is about the standard dirty survivors battling for resources and electricity. It’s about the part of the arts in our humanity. I have fallen into the demonstrate despite becoming fatigued by the style, and inspite of the simple fact that, with the current pandemic and the local climate disaster, serious existence is presenting us with its individual immersive terrors, and in spite of the simple fact that, because the stop of the globe as we know it on “Station Eleven” is prompted by a lightning-quick pandemic, the premise of the show hits a small also near to household. Primarily based on the 2014 novel by Emily St. John Mandel, and tailored by Patrick Somerville, it’s really a surprisingly acceptable tale at this moment, embracing new everyday living extra than it grieves what has been dropped.

Of program there’s sorrow afoot throughout the bulk of the demonstrate, which is mostly set 20 decades right after Day Zero, the identify for the start out of the nightmare. I don’t imply to advise that the civilization that has survived is cold, with no psychological hangover from possessing shed so many individuals so suddenly, a great deal a lot quicker than the rate of COVID. They are not the walking emotionally lifeless. But their aim is on how to rehumanize, how to forge an existence in a location whose towns are overgrown with weeds. Daily life has become tribal, with small communities of persons caring for one particular yet another, and with a person tribe in unique, a assortment of actors and musicians, contacting on their own the Traveling Symphony.

Mackenzie Davis as Kirsten, an actor with the Touring Symphony, a troupe that performs Shakespeare’s plays in the write-up-apocalyptic society of “Station Eleven.”Ian Watson/HBO Max

The exhibit opens in an vacant, dilapidated theater, then immediately flashes again to a manufacturing of “King Lear” staged there 20 yrs before, in 2020. Ideal from the get started you know that the arts will be a sizeable component of the tale. An actor collapses onstage in the center of the clearly show, triggering a series of functions that depart our 8-calendar year-previous heroine, Kirsten (Matilda Lawler), in the hands of a compassionate stranger just as the pandemic destroys most of the individuals (together with Kirsten’s mom and dad) in its route. In 2040, Kirsten (performed as an grownup by Mackenzie Davis) is with the Traveling Symphony, whose title is a ton grander than its much more rustic reality. They go from tribe to tribe, accomplishing numerous Shakespeare performs and songs, with Kirsten one of the troupe’s most committed actors. When she plays Hamlet at one issue, she is telling equally his and her stories at the identical time, and it’s impressive.

The Touring Symphony is not a smaller part of submit-apocalyptic life in “Station Eleven.” In the show’s vision of rebuilding, the troupe is a bringer of hope as it excursions the Excellent Lakes region, a reflection of the depth and breadth of humanity, and a indicates for unique expression, and audiences hold out eagerly for its once-a-year visits. You’d imagine that the arts would be the to start with factors to go when most of the world’s populace has been felled, but that is not the circumstance in this article. The troupe’s slogan, taken from “Star Trek,” is “Survival is inadequate,” by which they suggest that just obtaining foodstuff is not adequate. Survival is about about observing and knowledge ourselves in stories, it is about sharing individuals understandings with other people, such as long term generations.

“Station Eleven” also explores the energy of artwork by means of the titular graphic novel, which Kirsten has held onto because the globe transformed. It has develop into her bible of types, as properly as her link to the in advance of times, and via it she sees her individual way forward. Lines from it, these as “I recall harm,” are penned on her soul, and its tale, about a lonely astronaut orbiting the planet, speaks directly to her. Even a pet-eared comedian ebook has the ability to very last in a globe in which persons are a ton much less resilient. Art reaches throughout time — a bit like the sequence, which elegantly (as opposed to lots of modern demonstrates) moves among time frames, from right before, throughout, and immediately after the catastrophe.

Confronted with a rogue prophet who would like to erase all remnants of the in advance of periods, the Touring Symphony cling far more than ever to their texts. The arts are their file of the earlier, and, as with the demonstrate “Station Eleven” by itself, their cautionary tales about what could possibly arrive next.


Matthew Gilbert can be attained at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.