Money Heist tells the story of 8 bank robbers, who lock themselves up in the Royal Mint of Spain where they proceed to take hostages, while their leader “The Professor” plays a game of cat and mouse with the police.
It’s a simple enough story line, yet somehow the series has captured minds and hearts in countries all across the world. For example, the news site Metro pointed out that the series is “…One of the most watched Netflix series or film of all time in any language and the highest non English speaking show ever.” In the countries like France, Argentina and Spain, Money heist is apparently the most viewed show in history.
The short documentary Money Heist the Phenomenon points to a number of reasons why the series has seemed to catch fire on screens all over the world. I wish to highlight three of these reasons.
Firstly, there are the characters. For example, the Professor the mastermind behind each of the heists, is very much a nerdy figure who can’t talk to women even if his own life depended on it.
There is something endearing, as we watch this criminal mastermind, fumble with his glasses, while at the same time struggle to keep his team alive.
Or take Tokyo, the impulsive protagonist who tries her best to keep her anger under control, only to lose it in the next scene. She is small, powerful woman who makes herself known, no matter the situation she finds herself in.
Perhaps more controversially there is Berlin, who is violent, misogynistic, racist, and oddly enough noble (see the final episode of the first season). It is strange to find that this character was voted in the top three characters of the show.
The series depicts characters, which are gritty, who seem to shine a light not on the way we wish to perceived, but perhaps at a deep down level what we actually are.
Secondly, the series uses epic symbols in its series. There is something about the Salvador Dali mask and the red jump suits which simply strike the imagination.
The series has also made its own, the theme “Bella Ciao.” The song was originally sung against the German and Italian dictators of the Second World War and therefore represents the resistance against totalitarianism regimes.
Here, in an arresting way, the writers have managed to tap into our desires to stand up against structures and systems which oppress the human person.
Finally, the documentary points out that the series is written “on the fly.” The filming of each episode is done side by side with the writing for what comes next. This way of writing and filming creates high stress and high tension for all those involved. Yet, such a space also leaves room for creativity, as it forces all those involved to either “sink or swim.”
Now, ordinarily I would recoil from such high stress environments, but there is something even in my own experience which authenticates this method. It is when I am pushed to my limits, and still say yes, that great new things seem to come.
Through the story line may be simple enough in Money Heist, it is striking to see in the characters, in the symbols, and in the tension, how the series has produced something powerful that resonates with our culture today. Disclaimer: It is still not enough to make me go and rob a bank 🙂