Music 286R Listening, Creativity, and Imagination

Abstract: Referentiality and Temporality in Netflix’s Dark (2017)

            Dark (2017) is a German-language science-fiction thriller in which the disappearance of a child sparks a series of events that reveals the intricacies and mysteries of four families. Taking place in the fictional German town of Winden, the series follows Jonas Kahnwald and others as they grapple with current events and what those events reveal about their lives. A central element of the series is time-travel, with events unfolding in 2019, 1986, 1953, among others. As such, the musical score and sound design play a two-fold role in the series: they help the viewer distinguish between the different years while simultaneously unifying the viewing experience across long spans of diegetic time.
            This project considers three aspects of the musical score and sound design in the first season of Dark. The first of these is the role of unseen sound. In many cases, this sound is diegetic; for instance, the Winden Caves are a hotspot for unexplained noises. However, both diegetic and non-diegetic voiceover and narration are also prominent throughout. The second aspect is that of aural wayfinding and musical topics. This section focuses on small-scale musical and sonic aspects that help a viewer distinguish between scenes taking place in different years, and also establishes a set of musical topics that function within the series as checkpoints for the viewer. The third and final aspect reads the large-scale sonic elements of the series as one element of the web of symbols present throughout. From relatively obviously placed visual imagery to more obscure allusions that rely on a viewer’s prior knowledge of religion and mythology, Dark is saturated with both internal and external references. In this section, I argue that music and sound are pieces of a larger puzzle that might help the viewer piece together what’s really going on in Winden.

Figure x: Episode 1x04, “Doppelleben/Double Lives,” 36:39. Jonas discovers a map of the Winden Caves made by his father. Screenshot by author.


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