Modern Existentialism with Nathan Fielder

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This weekend, HBO Max premieres the fifth and penultimate episode of Nathan Fielder’s eccentric and -consequently- controversial series, Los Essays -The rehearsal-. The production, which constantly plays to navigate between the limits of documentary and fiction -following the trail started by Jean Rouch in The Human Pyramid-, starts from a premise, already extreme, that it will try to stretch to the limit: ¿ Would it be easier to face our social conflicts if we had the opportunity to rehearse them?

The creator, Nathan Fielder, who finished Nathan for you 5 years ago and produces How to with John Wilson, decides to help the participants of the series -reality show style- by making them repeat recreations identical to the conflict they want to face, with professional interpreters that pretend to be the people involved and a set that replicates in detail the space in which the situation will take place.

It is difficult to conceptualize the proposal due to how surreal and absurd it can be, in a documentary key, but the pilot effectively summarizes the rules of the game that will be developed throughout the season. The first chapter shows a professor who wants to confess to his friend that he does not have a postgraduate degree, so Nathan, to help him, will faithfully recreate the bar they usually frequent, hire extras to fill it, and they will rehearse all possible resolutions with an actress. that may be triggered to try to make the final situation as traumatic as possible.

In the era of simulation culture, this game of mirrors, which easily recalls Charlie Kaufman -and more specifically his Synecdoche, New York-, proposes an even more perverse distortion of Peter Weir’s The Truman Show, in which the action is starred by something like the showrunner who would direct the Machiavellian program that followed Jim Carrey, but characterized by an endearing -and sometimes arrogant- shyness fueled by his paradoxical search for affection.

The series is a macabre staging of what the cognitive-behavioral group calls overthinking or rumination, a Judorowskian psychodrama that plays at twisting the loop to infinity, an exercise in metalanguage that uses ingenuity to delve into human behavior and that, through of the documentary genre, updates the contemporary crisis of reality trying to find truth in the most artificial corners.

The New Yorker criticized The Trials denouncing Nathan’s treatment of his participants, who, seeking help, end up turned into caricatured puppets from La Mirada -in capital letters- of the neurotic protagonist. Nacho Vigalondo, who before being a filmmaker and/or late night host worked on the second edition of Big Brother, commented on the article on Twitter «Why does no one ever say that people who appear in a reality show normally COBRA ?». The series proposes, from its apparent genuineness, an ethical debate on the limits in which it is difficult to position oneself.

Beyond the cruelty or benevolence of Nathan’s social experiment, HBO Max’s commitment to producing such a different proposal is surprising, a rarity whose budget does not seem to have limits either, and manages to materialize the rhizomatic loops of self-awareness in a physical, tangible and especially visual. In two weeks the final episode of The Trials will be released, and it will be possible to discover if the metanarrative chaos is headed somewhere and if Nathan’s goal of encompassing the unapproachable is achieved.


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