The Atlantic

The OA and the Dark Side of Science

Brit Marling discusses the folklore and real-life research that went into her trippy Netflix series.
Source: Myles Aronowitz / Netflix

In the month since it premiered on Netflix, Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij’s series The OA has inspired close analysis from viewers intrigued by the scientific, philosophical, and religious implications of the show’s trippy sci-fi exploration of near-death experiences and faith. On Reddit and elsewhere, you can read dissections of The OA as a Christ tale, as biocentric, or as descended from Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

On Thursday, I spoke with Marling, the show’s co-creator and star, to ask about the research and abstract thought that went into the show. This conversation has been edited.

Spencer Kornhaber: Were you reading any religious or philosophical texts when creating The OA?

Brit Marling: Not necessarily any religious texts. I think we were reading a lot about near-death experiences themselves, like Raymond Moody’s book Life After Life and Sam Parnia’s research. It’s fascinating as storytellers to find this area where the science is largely being conducted through storytelling. Near-death experiences are difficult to measure, record, or find definitive scientific proof of, and yet there’s a convergence across so many cultures, so many different religious backgrounds, of similar types of sensation.

If people are having these out-of-body experiences—they can remember the details of hospital rooms and spaces that they couldn’t possibly have seen—is something leaving the body? Where does it go? How does it return? That area felt really like an interesting place to set a science fiction landscape in.

In terms of philosophy, later as we were

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