The do-over fantasy: Netflix’s Russian Doll and Happy Death Day 2U
American comedy-drama web television series star Natasha Lyonne. Photo: Universal Television
We’ve all made questionable decisions, sometimes hurting others and sometimes hurting ourselves. The idea of a do-over and making things right is incredibly appealing.
But what happens if you get stuck?
That’s the fascinating concept behind huge Netflix hit, Russian Doll, and this week’s zany movie sequel, Happy Death Day 2U.
The former sees Orange is the New Black star Natasha Lyonne’s chain- smoking, potty-mouthed New Yorker, Nadia, stuck in a Groundhog Day-esque loop, forced to relive the night of her 36th birthday over and over, always dying in various creative ways.
Natasha Lyonne in Netflix’s series, Russian Doll. Photo: Universal Television
A similar set-up occurred to less existential effect in 2017’s Happy Death Day, with a charismatic Jessica Rothe’s character, Tree, murdered over and over again on her birthday and trying to find the culprit as the day resets over and over.
The sequel initially switches focus to Phi Vu’s geeky Ryan, but snatches Tree once more as a time machine gizmo he’s working on knocks them into alternate realties.
US Slasher film, Happy Death Day 2U. Photo: Blumhouse Production
The Monthly critic Craig Matthieson, author of streaming blog Binge-r, told The New Daily we’re drawn to the ‘what if” factor of these time-loop stories.
“The protagonist, whether out of hope or desperation, can get what we secretly yearn for: a second chance, the opportunity to make amends, a means of finding the right way out,” he says.
That dramatic potential is endless, agrees author Emma Westwood, co-host of 3RRR’s film criticism show and podcast, Plato’s Cave.
“It’s something that fascinates us, and can also tie us in knots, because we can never be certain what our lives would be like if we took another path,” she says.
She points to the plethora of options on streaming services, including Russian Doll’s Netflix stablemate Black Mirror and its choose-your-own-adventure episode Bandersnatch.
Blood on Natasha Lyonne’s hands in Netflix’s Russian Doll. Photo: Universal Television
“We’ve been conditioned to think that with more choice comes more opportunity, and more power to us all as individuals, but the flip side of that coin is, with more choice comes more anxiety,” Westwood adds. “What if we are making the wrong choices?”
No second chances
Associate Professor Kristie Miller, joint director of The Centre for Time at the University of Sydney, says that time loops wouldn’t work quite like this.
“If you were going to ask me the most coherent scientific story about what’s going on in these cases, you’d have to look at the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, or the multiverse,” she says.
That means infinite alternate realities co-existing, spinning outwards from every possible decision you could make at any given time.
The problem is, these alternate timelines are all distinct, so Nadia and Tree shouldn’t be able to remember them, because it’s another ‘them’ experiencing it. When they are dead, they’re dead.
Sequel movie, Happy Death Day 2U star Jessica Rothe. Photo: Blumhouse Production
But there is one possible get-out clause, Miller notes.
“It’s probably not what the creators have in mind, but my best stab would be that, given we know that in the multiverse all of the things that can happen, do happen, there could be a massive fluke in that they wake up with incredibly detailed but false memories of the things that happened on another branch.”
You don’t get a do-over, Miller stresses.
“It’s just that on the branch you happen to be on, different things happen. But the screwed up branch is still out there.”
With two further series of Russian Doll mooted, and a third instalment of the Happy Death Day franchise teased, those screwed up branches may yet hit our heroines in the face.