Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Prisoner

The PrisonerImage via Wikipedia

The three-night run of AMC's remake of The Prisoner concluded this evening; and I have to say that I don't understand this version any better than I did the original series, which starred Patrick McGoohan. On some levels, the original was easier to understand, in that it "played" in a fairly straightforward manner; at least, on the surface. However, while I have watched The Prisoner many times over the years -- I even own a few episodes on DVD -- I remain frustrated in my efforts to get deeper into the story, to discern what its underlying message may be. The 17th (and final) episode is completely baffling. There is, in that episode (if I remember correctly) a moment when No. 6 get to meet the person in charge, and finds a gorilla -- or, at least, a gorilla mask; which, when he removes it, reveals his own face. The unmasked leader then leaps up, hooting insanely, and runs about the room in which he was found; a prelude to other baffling events.

In that regard, the remake's ending makes more sense -- even if I can't say what that sense is. We find, at the end, No. 6 -- or simply, "Six," as he is called; I have to admit that I didn't appreciate that initially, although over the next two nights it faded somewhat -- has become, in the words of the introduction sequence to the original, "the new No. 2." This calls to mind a bit of (potential) insight into the original series, again drawn from that introductory series of questions and responses between No. 6 and the new No. 2. Toward the end, the Prisoner asks, "Who are you?" He is told, "The new No. 2." Then the Prisoner asks, "Who is No. 1?" The answer is, "You are No. 6." This gives us the conclusion: "I am not a number! I am a free man!"; followed by a loud burst of laughter from the new No. 2.

Who is No. 1? Here's the insight (and I have to say this is not mine; I read it somewhere): Instead of the question being avoided, with the Prisoner being given his number, if one punctuates the reply in a slightly different way, it changes from a declarative that the Prisoner's number is six, and becomes, "Who is No. 1? You are, No. 6." Seeing the Prisoner in the remake take on the role of the new No. 2 at the conclusion seems drawn from that same source -- and sets up another line of questions about the overall meaning of the series in both its iterations.

Who is the Prisoner? Someone with something to hide: the reason for leaving behind a way of life that finally prompted that person to withdraw -- resign, if you will -- to change their way of life. Those who are challenged or threatened by this action want to know why the change has taken place; and there is the clear sense that if the Prisoner reveals the why, not only is the threat removed, but that the Prisoner will, in some way, have betrayed himself, and the very morals or ethics that prompted the decision to resign.

Who are the jailers? They represent the powers that are threatened by the knowledge that the Prisoner has obtained; and who act to preserve their power, even as they seek to co-opt the Prisoner to return him to their service. This is much more clear in the original; but is present in an altered, and intriguing, form in the remake. There is no "turnover" of Number 2's in the remake, perhaps because there were 17 episodes in the original, and only... 6... in the remake. (I just noticed that!) One result is that this very clearly reduces the conflict to make it explicitly between No. 2 and No. 6; and less about the overall system. Anyway, that's how it looks from where I see it...

In a way, I suppose, we are all prisoners. We have something to hide: our sins. We have reasons for wanting to withdraw from the way of life that leaves us helpless before sin, and victims of our passions. When we try to justify our transgressions, we betray ourselves, and become ever more deeply trapped, imprisoned, by our very being. Similarly, we are all participants in seeking the control of others, and so become members of the Village -- even, perhaps, becoming the new No. 2 in someone's life. After all, it is easier for us to give in to sin when we are doing it with others...

I'm going to try to spend some time looking at the additional information that can be found at the website for AMC. Perhaps then I might understand the story a bit more. What are your thoughts?

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