Western Sufism

Western Sufism

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Gurdjieff and The OA

The OA is a much-discussed TV series, or perhaps a movie in eight chapters as Peter Debruge argues, made for Netflix by Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij. With, it seems, some help from Gurdjieff.

One of the central plot elements is the Movements, learned and then taught by the central character, the OA herself (pictured). Asked about their source, the movie's choreographer, Ryan Heffington, refers to inspirations from "the 'skeletal shape' and attributes of various animals" to "face choreography... like ancient African jewelry on the face" (Hillary Busis in Vanity Fair). But they are not "just" dance. Even beyond the name, a similarity with the Gurdjieff Movements is definitely there. According to Marling, "by the time we were doing those movements for two or three months on end, something otherworldly starts to happen in your own body and starts to happen between people who are doing them" (Jean Bentley in The Hollywood Reporter).

Few people have noticed the Gurdjieff connection, but one exception is ColorMySoul88, writing on Reddit, who spotted the visual similarity between an isolated red house in the movie and a painting by Kasimir Malevich, and noted that Malevich was inspired by Gurdjieff (in fact, it seems it was Ouspensky more than Gurdjieff, according to art historian Mel Gooding). ColorMySoul88 also points out that the Movements resemble the Movements.

There may be even more to it than this. The central experience of the OA and her companions is an attempt to access another dimension through intentional suffering--though the intention is not theirs (it is involuntary suffering), and the phrase "intentional suffering" is not used.

The movements may be seen on YouTube, excerpted from the movie, or copied and performed by admirers such as Mohamed Massoud and Natalia Maldini.

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