Dynamics of Progress

In “Get the Rope” -seventh episode of The Knick- Dr. Thackeray and nurse Elkins are attending a policeman stabbed in a street fight. Due to internal bleeding, Thackarey is forced to open him up right on the hospital bed and asks Elkins for some medical equipment. Elkins flies off the room as the camera follows her to a cupboard where she picks up the needed supplies while we watch Thackarey trying to save the man’s life through a window. The camera tracks once again Elkins’ movement as she returns to the room where we encounter an already dead man.

With this master long take, The Knick shows us its cards: movement, dynamism and change characterized the beginning of the XX century, an era of inventions and continuous progress where the workers of the Knickerbocker hospital keep struggling to catch up with their times and to avoid the ultimate change: death.

Thanks to a superb direction by a still-not-retired Steven Soderbergh, The Knick puts into practice its core idea: tracking shots, long takes, zooms in and out, etc. camera and characters seem to dance to the anachronistic electronic soundtrack, they can’t stop moving, they can not take a step back. Cliff Martinez (DriveSpring Breakers) compelling and dynamic OST matches accurately the surgical sequences while it aims, with the use of synthesizers, directly into the future.

A few weeks ago, we discussed in Telethinking this new trend of auteur seriesThe Knick stands out as the greatest example of this model. Soderbergh shot all the 10 episodes at the same time (i.e., every scene within Thackeray’s apartment were filmed in the first 2 days of shooting) which provides the series a cohesive and unique aesthetics. Cinematography is that of a 10 hour movie, the lighting echoes that of Barry Lyndon with the candlelights and bulbs, the colors blend and dialogue with each other: yellow for the intimate, warm, climactic moments; blue for the bold, harsh interactions. They reveal each character’s state of mind subtly and beautifully.


But not only of its impeccable technical virtuosismo The Knick prevails, its portrayal of the technological and, consecutively, social changes proves that we still face the same problems as back in those days: racism, corruption, greed, addictions… Strangely enough the stories told in The Knick are not unknown to us, we even have an outbreak of a potentially contagious disease!

Its characters are rich and complex, and paradoxical, from the abortionist nun to the Irish capitalist ambulance driver, no forgetting the noseless hussy patient. All as full of contradictions as our main character, Dr. Thackeray, played by Clive Owen: the man that has to arrive before anyone else, the man that wants to be at the verge of progress, he’s been dragged by the same cutting edge drugs he longs for in his operation: cocaine and, later, the brand new heroine.

“The devil is in all us”, states Thackeray to nurse Elkins. Fortunately for him, she seems to be the only character not living in a perpetual contradiction. She knows what she wants and how to achieve it, a breath of fresh air in the stuffy hospital halls: she was the one who taught him how to ride.


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