1899 – A Hidden Viewing Masterpiece

Four years ago Netflix released “The Haunting of Hill House,” which absolutely destroyed me emotionally. I immediately added it to my top ten tv show list and even wrote an essay-long column about it. The show was an examination of pain and grief and still stays in my brain to this day.

I was fully convinced that they would never release another show as good as it again.

So imagine my surprise when I randomly decided to watch a new show called “1899” last night as a cure to my boredom but then ended up going to sleep at 4 a.m. because I binged the entire show.

Yes. It was good. Great, even.

1899 is an 8-episode Netflix show about a ship encountering another that was reported lost for four months. Once the captain decides to interact with that other ship, strange things start happening. 

Created by Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese, makers of another popular Netflix show Dark, 1899 surrounds multiple immigrants as they try to escape their past as they all conveniently have sad backstories. 

An interesting selling point to me is that this show did not conveniently make every passenger speak English. A ship sailing to New York under the terms of encountering the “new world” would undoubtedly have passengers from all over the world. 1899 explicitly shows that, with characters from various cultures, ranging from Chinese to Polish.

It’s especially funny when characters have entire monologues, breaking down from memories of their past, and the opposing character has no idea what they’re saying. It’s realistic and entertaining.

At the show’s core, it seems to be a commentary on historical philosophy. Specifically, Plato and his theory on reality. He once said, “Reality is created by the mind. We can change our reality by changing our mind.”

If I am to believe the dialogue given in the show, our main character is revealed to have been obsessed with his philosophy since a young age and has seemingly altered her entire life around it. The show seems to want us to question how we know the reality we are currently living in is actually real. How do we know it’s not something we made up?

They touch on this idea in the later episodes. Even though it took quite a minute for things to get going, I appreciated the slow build. It’s fun to go back and rewatch things now with the full ending revealed. 

And it is important for me to mention that at some moments, certain characters felt disposable to me. I could care less about the Spanish snob and his fake priest lover, or the English female pimp, or madam as they’re called. 

Actually, upon further evaluation, I suppose the part that interested me so much was the philosophical perspectives.

I don’t know why but I’ve always been obsessed with the word “paradox” and things like it. 

Schrödinger’s Cat, möbius strip, ——. Ever since I was truly able to understand abstract concepts, these have always stuck with me. Perhaps in another universe perhaps I was a philosopher or scientist.

I guess this is why 1899 captivated me so much. It fed into the side of my brain that believes in these advanced theories. The plot is not the main attraction. The concept is. Just as The Haunting of Hill House touched on sadness, 1899 touches on acceptance.

Their reality in the show is not real and yet it is first believed because it is something they’ve accepted. And when confronted with contradicting ideas, these characters choose to ignore them, boxing themselves up in this fake world that they chose to be real. It stimulates my brain and that’s why I enjoyed it. It sent me down a rabbit hole of philosophers and the basics of science. 

I often think about what a world with supernatural elements would be like. That’s why I enjoy these shows. What if this reality is something I’ve chosen and my subconscious is blocking me from accepting something bigger? This show will stay with me for a while and I hope it stays with you too, should you choose to watch it.

As if I needed another concept that makes me question my reality.