Themes of 'The OA'

13 September 2023
In the vast realm of science fiction television, few shows have managed to captivate, challenge, and mystify audiences quite like "The OA". Created by the visionary duo Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, "The OA" is a testament to the power of storytelling that seamlessly blends elements of mystery, fantasy, and drama. Marling, who also plays the protagonist Prairie, and Batmanglij have previously collaborated on projects that challenge conventional narratives, and with "The OA", they have crafted a tale that is both intricate and profound.

The show delves deep into concepts that have long fascinated both scientists and philosophers: dimensions, the multiverse theory, and the very nature of reality itself. But beyond its sci-fi trappings, "The OA" is a poignant exploration of human experiences—trauma, healing, identity, and the innate human desire for connection and understanding. Each theme is meticulously woven into the narrative, offering viewers a chance to not just watch, but to introspect and question.

As we embark on this discussion, it's essential to acknowledge the creative genius behind the series. Marling and Batmanglij's unique approach to storytelling challenges viewers to look beyond the surface, to question their perceptions, and to engage in a deeper dialogue about the nature of existence. Their ability to craft a narrative that is both complex and accessible is a testament to their prowess as storytellers.

Shame Netflix canceled one of their best shows...

brit marling actress IMDB
Brit Marling, star of The OA

Dimensions and Multiverse Theory in "The OA"

"The OA" delves deep into the concept of dimensions and the multiverse theory. The series posits that there are multiple realities or dimensions, each with its own unique set of circumstances and events. Prairie, the protagonist, has the unique ability to "travel" between these dimensions, a skill that becomes central to the unfolding narrative.

The idea of a multiverse has been a topic of fascination in both science and science fiction (Marvel has gone crazy for it!). The theory suggests that there are infinite universes, including the one we live in. Each of these universes contains different possibilities of one's life, meaning every choice one makes creates a split in reality, leading to multiple outcomes. 

In "The OA", this theory is brought to life through Prairie's experiences. For instance, in the second season, Prairie finds herself in an alternate dimension where she's not the blind adopted daughter we met in the first season but a wealthy Russian heiress named Nina Azarova living in San Francisco. This shift in reality showcases the vast differences between dimensions and how one's life can vary dramatically based on certain events. Another example is when the character Homer experiences a different life in another dimension, emphasizing the fluidity and unpredictability of existence across dimensions. 

Near-Death Experiences (NDEs)

NDEs play a pivotal role in "The OA". These experiences, often described as a phenomenon where someone close to death or suffering cardiac arrest experiences a range of sensations, are integral to the story. Several characters, most notably Prairie, undergo NDEs, granting them unique insights and abilities that are beyond the realm of the ordinary.

NDEs have been reported by many across the globe, with common elements such as a feeling of peace, seeing a bright light, or meeting deceased loved ones. In "The OA", Prairie's first NDE as a child takes her to a mysterious, ethereal space where she encounters Khatun, a spiritual guide. 

This meeting not only introduces Prairie to the concept of multiple dimensions but also sets her on a path of discovery and purpose. Khatun's realm, often depicted as a starry expanse, represents a space between life and death, a liminal zone that holds the secrets of the universe. Another poignant moment is when Scott, another captive of Dr. Hap, has an NDE and returns with the third movement, proving the transformative power of these experiences.

Blindness and Sight

Prairie's journey from blindness to sight is symbolic of her path from ignorance to enlightenment. Her blindness, both literal and metaphorical, represents a lack of knowledge or understanding. However, as the series progresses, Prairie's eventual recovery of her sight after her second NDE becomes emblematic of her newfound awareness.

Sight is often used as a metaphor in literature and film to represent knowledge, clarity, and understanding. In "The OA", Prairie's regained vision is not just a physical recovery but also a spiritual and emotional one. It signifies her deeper comprehension of her purpose, the mysteries of the multiverse, and her place within it. This transformation is evident when Prairie recognizes the patterns in her premonitions, connecting them to real-life events, showcasing her evolution from a blind girl to a visionary.

Captivity and Freedom

A recurring theme in "The OA" is the dichotomy between captivity and freedom. Prairie, along with several other characters like Homer, Rachel, Scott, and Renata, finds herself imprisoned in a glass cage by the enigmatic Dr. Hap. This captivity, both physical and psychological, symbolizes a loss of freedom, autonomy, and self-determination.

The glass cages in Dr. Hap's underground lab are not just physical barriers but also represent the mental and emotional shackles that bind the captives. Their attempts to communicate and connect through the "movements", a series of intricate dance sequences, become a symbol of resistance, hope, and their yearning for liberation. These movements, while seemingly abstract, hold the key to traveling between dimensions, further emphasizing the theme of breaking free from one's constraints. The climax of the first season, where the group performs the movements in the school cafeteria, is a testament to the power of unity and collective action against adversity.

Faith and Skepticism

"The OA" constantly blurs the lines between reality and fiction, challenging viewers to question the veracity of Prairie's tales. 

Is she a reliable narrator, or are her stories the product of a delusional mind? 

The tension between faith and skepticism is palpable throughout the series. The group of five (Steve, Buck, French, Jesse, and BBA) initially approach Prairie's tales with doubt. However, as they delve deeper into her world, they grapple with their own beliefs, eventually placing their faith in Prairie and the power of the movements. This journey from skepticism to belief underscores the human need for connection, understanding, and the willingness to believe in something greater than oneself. A pivotal moment is when French discovers books under Prairie's bed, leading him to question the authenticity of her stories, highlighting the constant tug-of-war between belief and doubt.

Side note - The Leftovers is a three-and-done season show that shares similar thematic ideas of faith, grief and loss. It's terrific.

Identity and Self-Discovery 

Characters in "The OA" are on a perpetual questfor self-discovery. They grapple with questions of identity, trying to understand who they are in their current dimension and the potential of who they might become in others.

Identity is fluid in "The OA". Buck, a transgender teen, exemplifies this theme. He navigates his identity not just in terms of his gender transition but also in the context of the larger mysteries of the show. His journey is emblematic of the broader quest for self-understanding that all characters undergo, highlighting the complexities of identity in a multiverse. Another example is when French sees his reflection as Homer in a mirror, suggesting the interconnectedness and fluidity of identities across dimensions. 

Connection and Community

Despite their individual differences and struggles, the group of five forms a tight-knit community. Their bond underscores the importance of human connection and the innate human desire to belong.

The group's commitment to practicing the movements, even in the face of skepticism and doubt from outsiders, showcases their unwavering faith in each other. Their bond transcends the ordinary, highlighting the idea that when individuals come together with a shared purpose, they can achieve the extraordinary. This is evident when BBA, despite her initial reservations, chooses to stand by the group, emphasizing the strength of their bond.

Trauma and Healing

Many characters in "The OA" bear the scars of past traumas. The series delves into their individual and collective journeys towards healing, emphasizing the resilience of the human spirit.

Prairie's traumatic experiences, from her childhood abduction to her captivity under Dr. Hap, form the crux of her character development. Her traumas, both physical and emotional, shape her worldview and her interactions with others. However, it's her resilience, determination, and hope that drive her forward, showcasing the human capacity for healing and growth even in the face of adversity. The group therapy sessions led by BBA provide a safe space for the characters to share their traumas and find solace in each other's company.


The theme of sacrifice, whether it's for a greater good or for the well-being of others, is woven throughout "The OA".

Sacrifice in "The OA" is multifaceted. Prairie's decision to return to Dr. Hap's captivity, despite the dangers, to protect the others is a testament to her selflessness and her commitment to a larger purpose. Her sacrifices, both big and small, underscore the idea that true heroism often lies in putting others before oneself. Another poignant example is when Steve chases after the ambulance carrying Prairie, showcasing his willingness to sacrifice his freedom for her well-being.



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About the author Jimmy Jangles

My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

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