John Seven | Viewer's Discretion: Mysteries worth unraveling

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'THE MIRACLE' (TOPIC)

You've probably never seen anything quite like this Italian series, which mixes an iconic miracle of religious belief with dark drama in a way that defies expectations.

The story begins when Italian law enforcement enters the compound of a mob boss and find the premises covered in blood and the gangster nearly comatose and out of his mind. When a Virgin Mary statue that is crying blood is discovered in his possession, it's isolated and guarded, and the prime minister (Guido Caprino ) is called in to decide what needs to be done about the statue.

"The Miracle" is less concerned with establishing how or why the Virgin Mary is crying blood than how such a discovery affects the people who swirl around it. There's the prime minister's family, with his miserable, unfaithful wife (Elena Lietti ) battling daily with their nanny, who secretly instructs the children in some strange religious sect's teachings. There's the disgraced priest (Tommaso Ragno), addicted to gambling and drugs, and being threatened by a local gangster to whom he owes money. There's the lab worker in the statue's compound (Alba Rohrwacher) burdened with caring for her mother, who lies in bed with a coma, and who becomes obsessed with analyzing the blood pouring from the Virgin. There's also the General (Sergio Albelli ) the no-nonsense military man in charge of the operation who delves further and further into the mystery but is constantly exasperated by the behavior of those around him who view the statue as a source for their own desired miracles.

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The stories of these people continually circle around the statue, their trajectory pulling apart whatever stability they started out with, and even as their perceptions might achieve clarity, it's still up against a desperate quest for truth that continually shatters their comfort and creates further struggles.

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"The Miracle" mixes character drama and dark comedy with surrealist flourishes as it examines the human factor in religious thought, the necessity of having supernatural symbolism interpreted by fallible mortals, and understanding that's the important part of the equation — not the divine meaning, but the human one. "The Miracle" is surely the best TV show that you didn't even know existed.

'WHAT DID JACK DO?' (NETFLIX)

It's a pleasure and, at this point. a rarity when director David Lynch releases some film work into the world. Last seen with his sprawling, cryptic "Twin Peaks: The Return" series, this short film is the exact opposite of that work in many ways — a fraction of the length, with only two human actors, one set, and a single plot to follow. At the same time, despite the surface simplicity, it may actually be more elusive than the entirety "Twin Peaks: The Return."

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The set-up is simple: Lynch plays a detective who confronts a suspect in a train car. Entering into an extended interrogation, details of the mystery are referred to conversationally without ever spelling anything out, and the audience is left to put the pieces together from the patter they encounter. Oh, and the suspect is a monkey named Jack.

As a foil for Lynch, I can't imagine anything better than Jack the Monkey as they spar with various spoken cliches and Jack tries to evade Lynch's attempts to maneuver him into the truth. The dialogue provides a number of good belly laughs amidst the absurd situation, but the grafting of a human mouth onto the monkey through digital tricks might seem corny, but it's strangely effective, particularly as the monkey's natural head and body movements are meticulously chosen in context of the conversation. It all culminates in an unnerving presence for Jack and a good example of the kind of work Lynch should be pursuing instead of courting bigger, longer productions. As with anything Lynch concocts, it's up to the viewer to decide what this all means, if it means anything at all. Meaning might be entirely unnecessary in this case.

John Seven is a writer in North Adams who has never been satisfied by movies and television that are easy to come by. He likes to do some digging. Find him online at johnseven.me


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