Written by: Courtney Duncan
Money Heist (Alex Rodrigo, 2017) was the TV series that took over the world, much like the robbers who broke in and commanded the Royal Mint of Spain. Expertly crafted and captivating characters, this series plays on the fragility of the human condition. Set in Madrid, the heist begins to form like a chess game, engaging pawns and setting up the most elaborate and unusual robbery to ever be committed. Except there is a catch, is it truly a robbery if no money is stolen? Instead, the heist takes place over several days and many hundreds of hours in order to maximise the production and printing of money. But perhaps even more impressive than the intricate plot are the robbers themselves.
At the head of the operation is a character known as ‘The Professor’, a bespectacled, extremely clever and shy man. He gathers a group of criminals and misfits named only by cities (Tokyo, Rio, Berlin, Nairobi, Oslo, Helsinki, Denver and Moscow) who each represent a flaw in the human condition. Costumes, lighting and music play an integral role in the formation and portrayal of character developments, and more often their undoing. Firstly, Rodrigo expertly uses the Professor’s clothing to represent his stability and state of control or lack thereof. As seen in the image below, a crisp dark suit and tie are an emblem of the character’s hardworking ethos, strict procedures and detailed organisation. Somewhat ironically, despite the Professor’s mapping and planning of every possible outcome, he fails to consider himself as a potential variable. He shies away from most affection and yet becomes captivated by the Inspector on the case of the heist. As they become closer, the Inspector, none the wiser to who she is really with, begins to chip at his exterior, ultimately bringing the balance of the heist to a tipping point. It is at these moments that the audience becomes aware of the Professor’s internal conflict, exhibited by his absence of a suit jacket and tie. This simple yet profound costume change exposes the Professor literally and figuratively coming apart at the seams, drawn in one direction by his father’s legacy (the heist) and drawn in another by the beautiful Inspector.
Interestingly, Rodrigo mirrors the Professor and his flaws through the Inspector. Both are consumed by their work, having dedicated years to their craft. Yet both are terrified of losing control but end up doing just that through the instability of emotions. Rodrigo chooses a pencil to symbolise the Inspector state of control. Throughout the TV series, she continually uses a pencil to tie her hair, both in an effort to centre her mind but also an action that resembles dressing in armour. Both of these characters embody the fragility of humanity and life itself. A repetitive life is thought to be a safe one, however very few can control emotions which ultimately drive us. Being human is to feel. Emotions, good and bad, are part of the human condition and are a wondrous and terrifying part of having the capacity to respond to others. To let our emotions rule us is drastic, yet the opposite is also true. Rodrigo examines the effect of emotions or lack thereof as a catalyst for change.
Berlin is an enigmatic character. Difficult to read and scarily enchanting, he is the most confronting character of the series. He draws a likeness to the renowned Count Olaf from A Series of Unfortunate Events, from their sneering smiles, disregard of others and shifting demeanours they are the epitome of misunderstood criminals. When Berlin walks into a room the shadows grow darker at the same time the colours grow stronger. Full of contrast, he exudes a cruel, sardonic persona that strikes uneasy fear into those around him. A beast with a wagging tail ready to pounce, jaws wide, teeth glinting, at any moment. Yet, the tangible strain among the characters, and even the audience, somehow makes everything more vivid. Imagine a situation when you have been scared or tense. Suddenly, every little thing around you begins to operate on another sensory level. The ding of a lift sounds like the clanging of a bell. The pound of footsteps draw your eyes as if transfixed and the lights above seem to grow ever brighter.
This is the power of Berlin. His smooth words and gentlemanly disposition draw you in, hanging on to his every word. Heartbeats ricochet in rib cages and the adrenaline of fight or flight exist in tandem. He is charming and dramatic and always leaves the screen with you wanting more. I believe he is the most impressive character I have ever witnessed. Perhaps the shadows that Berlin emits on-screen are symbolic of his deadly illness, one that is set to claim his life and all its vigour in the near future.
Eva Leira and Yolanda Serrano expertly cast all characters within this series. Despite their rag-tag appearance and their unruly actions the audience can’t help but fall in love with them and cheer them on. If anyone is yet to watch this series, I implore you to do so. However, one final note- this is a foreign language series and as such can be watched with subtitles or dubbed, but I highly recommend to choose the former. Not only does Spanish beautifully capture the emotions that run high throughout Money Heist but it also embodies the culture and setting. Take a seat and settle down because you won’t be calm for long.
--- All Photos courtesy of Netflix