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The creators of '1899' reveal what inspired the show

Married duo Jantje Friese and Baran bo Odar, the creators of the hit Netflix series Dark, are returning today with their new offering, 1899. The show promises to be just as perplexing as their previous one, with a political backdrop added for good measure.

It’s set on migrant steamship bound from Europe to New York, wherein everyone on it is “running away from something”, with none what they seem. Then, in the middle of their journey, they come across a mysterious ship, the Prometheus, which has been missing for months, drifting lifelessly on the open sea. Things take a dark turn when the crew decides to board the ship, and what ensues is yet another mind-melting plot.

Friese and bo Odar spoke to The Hollywood Reporter for a lengthy discussion about 1899, its origins and how it differs from Dark. One of the most interesting points was how the European refugee crisis inspired it. 

Asked how exactly the idea came about, Friese explained: “Actually, the idea and the spark for it happened years ago. It’s been quite a process getting to here. It was originally a photo that we found. We were doing research for something completely different, I actually don’t even remember what the research was for. But we stumbled upon a picture of a man in a white shirt covered in blood, with a hammer in his hand and a really weird look on his face, standing on top of what looked like an old boat.”

“It was one of those pictures you’re drawn to, where you immediately start asking questions: What did he do with that hammer? Where does he come from? Where’s he going? What’s this all about? Immediately, I had the idea that this might be a migrant on a ship. But what happened on that ship? That was the big question.” 

“At the same time, the refugee crisis was happening in Europe [around 2015/2016] and it was a very unstable phase. We were actually really afraid of what was going on. It felt like unified Europe was slowly breaking apart, like every country was doing its own thing. There were lots of right-wing ideas bubbling up. Brexit happened. All this we sort of incorporated into our story.”

She concluded: “We thought: We really want to take a look at Europe, just take it, put it on a ship, in a confined space, with lots of ocean around, where you can’t escape, and have like a little bit of an experiment, almost like a laboratory experiment. How do people cope with situations when they’re not able to speak the same language? What happens when you have all these different cultural backgrounds, that are put into a space like this? That’s what triggered the process. Then, of course, just like in Dark, we have a big philosophical theme at the center of it all about perception and reality.”