Humankind has led a complicated history. Our legacy sits in balance between horrible bleakness and remarkable beauty, and the weight is continually shifting between these two directions. Netflix’s new historical drama, “The Dig,” explores the dual nature of human existence with an elegant sense of style. The film tells a simple, yet historically significant story. The movie’s opening scenes are captivating, and it remains this way throughout, leaving the audience with big ideas to consider long after the credits roll.
Based on John Preston’s novel of the same name, “The Dig” depicts the true story of the excavation of Sutton Hoo, an Anglo-Saxon burial site located in Suffolk, England. The site dates back to around 575 A.D. The project, led by Basil Brown and Charles Phillips, took place between 1938 and 1939. The cemeteries of Sutton Hoo are considered to be one of the most important archeological discoveries of all time.
What stands out immediately when watching “The Dig” is director Simon Stone’s expert cinematography. The camerawork in this movie is honestly breathtaking. The wide establishing shots displaying the British countryside give it a sense of wonder, and the shaky hand-shot footage gives the impression of actually being on the ground getting your hands dirty while the excavation team works. Additionally, Stefan Gregory’s score provides an adventurous energy to the ordeal.
The movie does an excellent job pulling the audience into the excavation. It gradually reveals more of the mystery behind Sutton Hoo as the film progresses, and makes each new discovery feel like an accomplishment, one that demands the characters search for more.
The story of scientific discovery is also accompanied by more character focused narratives. “The Dig” is a deeply human story. All of the characters are genuinely interesting, and their interactions with one another feel realistic. Almost all of these interactions are simple and quiet. The film is able to portray emotional depth, as well as some truly heartbreaking moments without the need for big, dramatic altercations between characters. These elements are supported by phenomenal performances by the entire cast, with Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes as excellent leads.
The setting gives the story another layer of depth. The ever-present threat of the coming world war gives the entire film an eerie sense of dread, and the effect this has on each of the characters is interesting to watch unfold. At its heart, “The Dig” is about a group of people banding together during a terrifying moment in history through a shared passion for scientific discovery. This, above all else, is what makes the film so compelling. It tells an uplifting story set against the backdrop of one of the bleakest moments in human history. And it is based on true events.
“The Dig” asks what it means to be human. It gives an impressively grounded take on this larger-than-life concept, delivering a hopeful message about mankind. It reminds us that we are all a part of something bigger than ourselves: something beautiful. And it does so without shying away from the ugly aspects of human nature.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Thumbnail photo courtesy of @Netflix on YouTube.