Undone is an Amazon Studios animated series developed with the rotoscope technique that follows Alma, a 28-year-old woman who, after an accident, finds out she possesses a very unique talent: she can bend time to her own will.
Darkness, silence. The alarm clock going off. Breakfast. Shower. Leaving the house and going to work. Lunch, dinner, going back to bed. Darkness again. Waking up, breakfast, shower. Another day and then back to bed. Falling asleep, waking up again and everything is exactly the same as the day before. The same routine, the same circle. A cursed merry-go-round that never stops spinning, it goes on and on. The landscape is always the same, sometimes there’s a new face and then everything starts from the top again. Time keeps passing relentlessly, and something in you screams because you want to get off the ride but nobody can hear you. The merry-go-round doesn’t stop.
But what if you had the ability to stop it? What if you could put a brake on everything, if you could go so far as to reverse time’s direction, go back and change the events while you go? Is it madness or an extraordinary ability?
To best understand Undone, we need to take a small leap beyond common beliefs, beyond the world as we usually perceive it, and distort the lines and the rules of space and time.
Undone is a well-rounded, animated show that explores the elastic nature of reality through its protagonist, Alma, a 28-year-old woman who lives in San Antonio, Texas. After a traffic accident that almost cost her her life, Alma finds out she has a new relationship with time and develops this ability with the aim of finding out the truth about her father’s death.
Talking about a series like Undone isn’t easy. Part of the reason why is the very subject it deals with, but also the general point of view that it tries to convey. However, that won’t stop us from trying to do so in the right manner, taking care not to overlook the innumerable details it is comprised of.
The animation technique
The series is actually composed of a mix of several techniques that intersect with each other in a perfect combination. Consisting of eight episodes each twenty minutes long, Undone‘s protagonists are actual, in the flesh actors who are transformed into animated characters. They are filmed in real life while playing their roles over an empty background. A series of cameras, all positioned in strategic locations, film the actors from an array of angles so that they can later be inserted in the context of the scene. The characters are then drawn over the movements and expressions of the actors, delineating them through their main lines to give more strength to their visages and their emotions. There are a few moments, throughout the story, where the viewer forgets what they’re seeing are drawings because the brain assimilates the lines and brings forward what’s underneath them, while, in other scenes, the illustrations take over and warp the perception of the entire story, creating an instant of disorientation that gives value to the whole sequence, for reasons we’ll explore later.
When it comes to the settings, they’re a series of paintings, hand-drawn and then added to the 3D-made scenery. This process is explained in depth in the extras of the show by showing a sequence where Alma runs through a corridor and hides in an elevator where she meets herself. Through these images, we can clearly see the amount of work and mastery that the crew behind the series put into it.
The oneiric realm in Undone
Time travel in Undone is almost seen as part of a dreamlike realm. The natural setting that surrounds the protagonist in the moments in which she meets her father drags her outside of what would be considered common reality, the reality that everyone else experiences, and drops her in a world where neither space nor time exists, and everything is shaped according to a series of convoluted rules that we’re not really privy to. The world and time itself enfold upon themselves and we end up back in a previous day, a previous week, and maybe even in previous years.
The animation perfectly encapsulates all this. Maybe it is the illustration technique itself to give more depth to this peculiarity. The characters sometimes come across as amazingly solid and real, other times end up seeming so far away. Real life’s colours are dusty, tired, almost opaque but when the universes warp, everything changes. And nothing makes sense while making an extreme amount of sense at the same time. A rip in the universe. Is it real or is it a dream?
Alma: alienation, schizophrenia, or paranormal abilities
If there’s something that is immediately obvious about Alma right from the first few scenes, it’s her tendency toward apathy. Her monotonous and dull life tires her. Alma lost part of her hearing when she was still a very young child. The dimming of one of her five senses created a distance between her and the world, almost isolating her. Alma develops a cynical personality. She faces life through sarcasm, erects barriers even with those who want to be there for her. She hurts others so she doesn’t get hurt because she’s already been wounded too many times. She feels her father’s abandonment keenly, the same father who mysteriously makes a reappearance in her life after her accident. A father who, however, she’s the only one able to see. Exactly the same way as she’s the only one to notice the temporal jumps. The people around her don’t understand her. Does Alma really possess extraordinary abilities or is it all a result of mental illness?
We won’t answer this question here but we can, however, say that the subjects of schizophrenia and of mental illness in general – whether it be depression, anxiety, social isolation – are approached with extreme care. The series guides us to look at the world through Alma’s eyes. The greyness and cynicism that belong to the real world. That feeling of always being in a rush on a merry-go-round that doesn’t ever stop and where every day is the same as the one before. The feeling of being wrong, of being the only ones not to understand how the world can just keep going when we don’t even seem to be able to take a single step. As if letting the world in means getting swept up, as if we risk losing ourselves if we look for others. And at the same time that feeling of living life from the outside, as if we’re the only ones who are able to see the truth while everybody else is just playing a part.
Final thoughts on Undone
I personally really liked this show. In the beginning, the animation style kind of confused me but I’m pretty sure that was the intended purpose to jumpstart the plot; little by little, as the story went on, I started appreciating and even loving it. We can definitely define the style as innovative. I found it profound and perfectly structured. It’s obvious that all the professionals involved in the project gave it their absolute best. I recommend it to anyone who’s interested in seeing the world from a different perspective than what we’re used to. And as for me, I can’t wait to see the second season.