Netflix has only the first season of Les Revenants. The second season is a rare bird, indeed, and doesn’t seem accessible through my usual channels of DVD rentals OR streaming. I guess I won’t be finding out answers any time soon.
Finding myself unsatisfied with the partially completed U.S. version of The Returned, I started in with the French version. While The Returned was removed from Netflix streaming, Les Revenants remains available.
At this stage, I am just wrapping up the first season. To a point, the stories track each other nearly identically, so there is little in the way of surprises. Within the first six episodes, while the story remains the same, there are small differences in the details between the two versions and I think many of those differences are enlightening.
One obvious fact up-front is that they are all different actors. In some cases, there is a strong resemblance between the original French actor and the American (mostly) actor chosen for the A&E series. This, however, is the exception, not the rule. What is consistent is that the American actors are, in almost all cases*, much prettier people than the corresponding French actors. It’s not that the French actors are actually ugly – they are probably still better-looking than the population as a whole – its just that they look more “average.” There is something to be said for this. It is strange enough that there is this small town that has its dead returning from the grave. What are the odds that it is also populated by the most beautiful residents this side of Hollywood? On the other hand, we in the U.S. have got pretty used to watching beautiful faces when we zone out in front of the TV for an evening. Is that really so wrong? In any case, to Americans it is probably the French actors that look not quite right, not the overly-beautiful Americans.
Once I got over that, I began to notice other little differences in the story line. In almost every case that nuance added to the story (or took away, given that the American version is the derivative one). As an example, one of the returned, Simon, seeks out the woman he was to marry before he died. After his death, she moved on, at least for the most part. As the series starts up, she is about to marry the chief of the police (a County Sheriff in the American version and a Captain in the Gendarmerie in the French). Said chief attempts to pin murders on Simon, first to keep him away from his fiancee and, later, to justify his shooting the unarmed Simon near (or in, depending on the version) his home. In the American version, finds himself unable to pay for lunch (and the dead, you should know, are always hungry), Simon is guilty of a dine-and-dash. In the French version, Simon viciously assaulted the manager at a diner upon said manager’s refusal to sell him something suitable for the change he has in his pocket. The French crime creates a plausible deniability for our Captain; the known assailant in an assault would, indeed, be a top suspect in another, unsolved, assault. It also poses a question about whether Simon lacks the humanity, after his return, that he had before he died. This is just an example of many small changes, many of which point in this same direction. The French version seems to involve more consistent expression of these themes as well as, honestly, making a little more logical sense.
By Episode 7, however, the two stories depart from each other in major ways. I can no longer hold out the hope that the French series will answer the questions left open by the unfinished American series. It seems clear that, whatever answers are to be had, they will be different between the two. On the original French track it is again this focus on particular themes that would set it apart. The “zombie” genre themes are there; us versus the other and what makes us human and them inhuman seem to be more important in the French. The breakdown of polite society and the survival thereof is also introduced. There also seems to be more importance attached to the meaning of the returns, even if they remain a mystery to the viewer.
Another apparent theme, at least to my American eyes, is the nature of the surveillance State. In both versions, a key plot element is that fact that the police chief has placed surreptitious video cameras in his house to watch his girlfriend/fiancée when he is not home. In the French, version, however, the police also have public cameras throughout the town, manned constantly by police officers. They police can track the comings and goings of anyone they want at any time they want, and yet have trouble finding and catching certain “criminals,” who also happen to be the returned dead. Is this element part of the show because it is normal to have constant surveillance in every small town in France? Or is this a statement about the nature of the police state and its dehumanizing effects? Or is, perhaps, the “eye in the sky” an allegory for something else? Without understand French life in the twenty-teens, I don’t think I can answer that question. Unless it becomes more explicit in Season 2.
With the American version having ended without having gone anywhere particular, it is difficult to compare and contrast. For the most part, the pieces of the French version that A&E left out seem to have detracted from the experience rather than streamlined it. On the other hand, getting away from the more traditional “zombie” aspects of the original should be worth something. Aren’t we all starting to get a little zombied out? Maybe, but let us see where the French series takes us, shall we?
*An exception to the rule that I’ll remark upon is that the “Lena” actress (the present-day Lena) has grown up to be better looking, and better looking than her younger-self. In the A&E version I, at least, found her less so. It seems important to the story that she actually grew up to be beautiful rather than just have that something that her sister says to her. Then again, beauty may be in the eye of the beholder; others may find the American Lena to be more attractive than I did.
I made it all the way to the end of the Netflix-streamed series The Returned before it was removed. I specifically made it a point not to read up on the show before I watched it, figuring that a large part of the experience was the mystery of the “returned” that was unfolding over the course of the show. Because of this, I had no idea that the show was canceled after the first season leaving only a cliff-hanger ending as the final episode. Maybe you did. If not, you know it now.
I’m still not going to read the summaries, for the same reasons I didn’t before, for the original, French version of the show. I do see it had two seasons of episodes. I’m going to have to work my way through them, now, and hope I end up in a better place.
I recall when the French T.V. series Les Revenants was released in the United States. It has something of a buzz about it and I made a point that I was going to watch it. However, by the time it was released in the U.S., there was already an English language version under development. In fact, I dare say part of the push to talk up the French series was to generate interest for the American version. By the time they made it to Netflix, I had both available to me at roughly the same time.
I wasn’t sure which one to watch first. Should I try to see the original, and then watch the U.S. version be able to judge it as an adaptation? Or should I start it off with the material that was meant for me specifically? Surely setting a show in the Pacific Northwest, rather than France, would make it easier for me to follow some of the more subtle references, assuming there are any? I recently watch The Killing, the U.S. version, without first taking in the Danish series, and it seemed to work out OK. There were certain moments where I became aware that, for example, all the names were Danish or that the landscape, while convincingly Seattle, was an awful lot like Denmark. Culturally, though, it matched my own.
In the end, Netflix has made the choice for me. The U.S. series is being removed from their streaming offerings by the end of the week so I have that long to try to make it through. The show is well done, and so I am certainly happy to give it a try, I’m just not sure I have enough time to fit it all in. It is a short series, only 10 episodes in all. Having not reached the end, I still don’t know yet if all will be revealed. I’ll leave that to you to find out on your own.
Instead, a little bit on the title. The French series was based on a French film from 2004, also with the same name. The film version was translated into English as “They Came Back.” It is also identified as a “zombie film.” It deviated from the “zombie” formula in that the risen weren’t monsters, mindless or otherwise, whose presence threatened the rest of us. They didn’t eat human flesh nor did they pass on their curse to those they came in contact with. Nevertheless, they are “the other,” something not entirely human (as we, the living, define ourselves) and so, perhaps, they are in some other way a threat to our existence. One that we don’t immediately appreciate.
When the series was recreated for the American audience, the translated title is “The Returned,” which is also how it is reference in Amazon for the original, French version. Now, revenent is derived from revenir, meaning “to return” or “to come back.” So the noun form, certainly, implies “They who have returned.” However, in French, le revenent, is also understood to mean “the ghost.” It probably wouldn’t refer to a zombie, where one might expect to see, much as in English, the actual term zombie or perhaps “living dead.”
They concept behind the show, the return of the dead, wouldn’t seem to have much grounding in reality. I wonder, though. It may be a bit of a fringe following, but there are a growing number among us who anticipate, and wholeheartedly believe in, some form of a Singularity. Such is defined as an advance in technology, most often attributed to advanced (possibly sentient) Artificial Intelligence (AI), that would overturn many of the rules by which society has thus far functioned. One of the more sought-after benefits is an end to aging. This could be brought about by advanced medical science that would allow the repair of the aging effects upon our bodies to grant us extended youth and immense life-spans. An alternative possibility is that the advancement of AI would allow humans to transfer their consciousness to a computer, allowing an immortality of mind, if not of body.
For me, this raises a certain philosophical question. Imagine you are offered the opportunity of transferring your mind to a computer. You are assured that, upon doing so, you will continue to live on, forever. Imagine also that this idea appeals to you (although, for many it may not). You are assured, including by those who have undergone the process before you, that indeed your sense of self remains intact through the transfer. However, you suspect differently. In an Invasion of the Body Snatchers type of scenario, you begin to suspect that those advising you are simply clever AIs who want to profit by assuming the identity of living persons, whom they can then eliminate without arousing suspicion. How could you know?
Imagine it this way. What if I told you that every night, when you go to sleep, your mind actually dies. In the morning, a new person, and new
As a character in the show says, “There’s only one way to find out.”