#language & literature
The Netflix adaptation of Jacek Dukaj’s novel ‘The Old Axolotl’ is a betrayal of both the literal and metaphorical aspects of the original work. The philosophical take on cyberpunk turns into a conventional thriller – full of adrenaline, but lacking depth.
Into the Night, advertised as an adaptation of Jacek Dukaj’s work, is perhaps one of the strangest contemporary adaptations to grace the Internet. The six-episode production quickly turns into the complete opposite of its source material. Whilst The Old Axolotl prioritised philosophical discussions about technology, souls and the future of humanity above its plot, the Netflix series elevates action above all else. The original book, which was an experiment in narrative form, has been stamped into a clichéd and conventional series.
The source material seemed an unlikely candidate for such a heavy-handed treatment. The Old Axolotl debuted in 2015 on Allegro solely in the form of an e-book, a sign of the technological revolution that was upon us. Apart from the text, there were also visual elements, ‘interactive’ footnotes and even schematics that would allow the reader to print out the book’s futuristic technologies with the help of a 3D printer.
Into the Night I Official Trailer I Netflix
The Old Axolotl only appeared in digital form; this was not an accident, rather a deliberate bit of performance art. In his novel, Dukaj wrote about a world in which people, killed by powerful forces of nature, live on – their consciousness uploaded to cyberspace and downloaded into humanoid robot ‘bodies’. Dukaj took us on a journey through a post-apocalyptic land, though he strayed far from what we might expect of the subject matter. Instead of danger, he studied nostalgia. His heroes kept trying to return to something that had long faded into oblivion. Their world, new and unimpressive, was a poor shadow of human tradition. The best of the worst worlds.
In the series, there is no trace of this nostalgia. Dukaj’s story, originally taking place in a world of humanoid robots, is turned into a classic survival movie, broken up into a six-part series.
Its heroes are a group of aeroplane passengers flying to Moscow. Before everyone even has the chance to board, the plane is hijacked by a psychotically unstable Italian soldier (Stefano Casetti). The story continues upon a well-worn track – the passengers and crew make alliances and enemies, and individual motivations aren’t as clear as one might assume. Eventually, all the heroes unite in a single goal – to escape before the lethal rays of the sun.
This motivation is secondary in Dukaj’s novel, but it is one of the few threads linking the series and the original work. Instead of exploring a post-apocalyptic world, the Netflix team chose to weave a tale about those who try to survive the end of the world. The characters include a Turkish gangster (the charismatic Mehmet Kurtulus), the pilot (Laurent Capelluto) with family problems, a young widow in mourning (Pauline Etienne) as well as a Polish mechanic with the last name Kieślowski (Ksawery Szlenkier).
Into the Night is a pan-European story and project, meant to appeal to the whole continent. Each character is an amalgamation of the vices and stereotypes of his country, and the relationships between characters highlight different cultural, racial and religious differences.
The Polish thread is one of the most important. Not only because the series is based on a Polish novel, but also because it is co-produced by Tomasz Bagiński, who has once more proven his chops under the Netflix logo. It also stars Polish actor Ksawery Szlenkier, who is perhaps one of the biggest winners of Into the Night. Szlenkier, who has already played many multi-faceted roles in Polish cinema, builds one more intriguing character on the small screen. His character, speaking mainly in French, gains the audience’s sympathy but also seduces with his ambiguous nature. Into the Night will surely launch Szlenkier to greater heights.
The real creator of the adaptation is Jason George, Netflix’s man for special jobs. Ever since he showed up on the scene as the screenwriter for The Blacklist – the popular US thriller – the stewards of the world’s largest streaming platform quickly scooped him up. George became the go-to for foreign productions. He helped produced Netflix’s first Arabic-language series, Jinn, as well as The Naked Director in Japan, and Sintonia in Brazil – a crime drama for teenagers. He co-created Ingobernable for Netflix, and later Narcos – as well as two large Turkish productions: The Gift and The Protector. He stands behind Into the Night as well.
Into The night
the old axolotl
George consciously rejects elements of Japanese manga and cyberpunk comics, which were foundational for the Old Axolotl, in order to mould it in the style of American science fiction. He makes references to Lost, as well as the teenage drama The 100. He poses questions well known to all sci-fi fans: about the nature of power, whether freedom is more important than safety, and where our civilisation is headed. Yet he elides Dukaj’s nuanced philosophical musings.
Into the Night turns out to be a painfully by-the-numbers creation, built out of half-measures and tried-and-true narrative tropes. Whilst fans of science fiction series may find it to be a pleasant, if not intellectually rich offering, fans of Dukaj’s work are likely to be disappointed.
- Into The Night, prod. Netflix. Screenplay: Jason George, Jacek Dukaj, based on Jacek Dukaj’s The Old Axolotl. Directors: Inti Calfat, Dirk Verheye. Cast: Mehmet Kurtulus, Laurent Capelluto, Pauline Etienne, Ksawery Szlenkier, Stefano Casetti. Premiere: 1st May 2020.
Originally written in Polish, translated by AZ, 12 June 2020.