Our life is a sum of the small decisions that we make on a day-to-day basis. Every action, no matter how trivial it might seem, leads us down a specific path. And any sort of straying from this path can steer us towards a completely different journey, an entirely different life. Netflix’s latest release, ‘Mirage’ (‘Durante la Tormenta’, in Spanish), is based on this mechanism of the universe. After the success of ‘Russian Doll’, another story that makes use of time as a plot device, this film further cements the sci-fi undertakings of the streaming service.
In the easiest term, one can say that time is a delicate thing. While it might seem something utterly natural and very much ingrained in our existence, the fact that we don’t, yet, fully understand it is not an unshakeable fact. So, when a film explores its constructs, it takes the risk of not being foolproof. There’ll always be some glitches in the storyline, some loopholes that you can’t straighten out because the more answers you find, the more questions will emerge in return. In the end, for the film to work, you have to decide what its driving factor will be. For Oriol Paulo’s ‘Mirage’ that factor is a murder mystery and a mother’s love.
Summary of the Plot
The story begins with a thunderstorm in 1989, the night of the demolition of the Berlin Wall. Nico Lasarte is a young boy, taping himself while playing the guitar. When he hears some noise from the neighbour’s house, he quietly goes over there to find out the lady of the house, Hilda Weiss, dead and her husband, Angel Prieto, holding a bloodied knife. In fear, Nico runs out into the street. Distracted by the man following him, the boy doesn’t see the car coming towards him and is hit by it, dying on the spot. Twenty-five years later, another family moves into the Lasartes’ house. Vera is settling into the new house with her daughter, Gloria, while her husband, David plans to join them later. While exploring the house, they discover an old TV set and a collection of Nico’s tapes.
At dinner, they invite their long-time friend, and now a neighbour, Aitor Medina and his mother, Clara. Aitor tells them that Nico was his best friend and when he begins to tell them about Prieto, his mother becomes agitated and tells him to stop. Later, David finds out more about the case on the Internet, especially the fact that Prieto had planned to bury his wife in the slaughterhouse that he owned. A minor conversation about David’s smoking habits ensues, but before it can turn into an argument, it is jokingly dissolved by him.
In the middle of the night, Vera wakes up to the sound of the TV set, which is airing the news from 1989. Suddenly, the news stops and is replaced by Nico on the screen even when no tape is being played at the moment. As Vera tries to figure out how this is happening, on the other side, Nico sees her on his TV set. Vera realises that their sets are connected and that it is the night when Nico will die. As they talk, Nico hears the sound coming from Prieto’s house, but before he can go there, Vera tells him everything and prevents his death. The next day, she wakes up in the hospital, the same place where she works, and within minutes, learns that her life is not the same anymore. She is a neurosurgeon now, something that she had left in her other life. Her husband is with his ex, Ursula, someone he had left for Vera. And above all, her daughter doesn’t exist anymore. How will she get back to her now?
The Knotted Timelines
The moment Nico’s death is impeded, a whole new chapter begins for everyone in the story. We see Vera struggling to figure out her new life and find out some way to get back to her original time. On the other hand, we see Nico’s life moving forward, as he comes to terms with the fact that only last night, he had been saved by a woman from the future on his TV. This further magnifies the case of the murder and sheds light on the stories of the people involved in it.
One of the better things about this film is its meticulous planning. Apart from figuring out a way to keep the timeline as minimally botched up as possible, Oriol Paulo also kept his characters very true to their nature. So, when a secret was revealed, it didn’t seem too far-fetched. Every emotion, every reaction was minutely controlled. While for those paying close attention, it made the story a bit predictable, it also made it very believable. You knew that every event was rooted in the way the characters behaved and the twists weren’t just added out of nowhere. The director also kept in mind to not make it too complicated, something that time-travel/time-loop movies struggle with. The grander the scheme, the harder it is to keep the plot on a comprehensible plane.
Before we discuss the seamless flow of one timeline into another, there is another important plot point that we should go through first.
The Murder and Its Aftermath
Angel Prieto was married to Hilda Weiss, and he was having an affair with Clara Medina. Hilda became suspicious of it, and the night the Berlin Wall fell, she decided to use it as an excuse to leave the house and let her husband think that she wouldn’t return for a couple of days. Her plan worked. She called her husband, from right outside their house, and said that due to the thunderstorm, she’d be spending the night elsewhere. Angel took this opportunity to plan a romantic night with Clara. In the middle of it, Hilda came back and caught them red-handed. Angered by her husband’s betrayal, she launched at him with a knife. In the struggle, Clara stabbed her by mistake and she died. Angel decided to handle it his way and asked Clara to leave.
From here, the events were decided by the timeline they fell in.
In the first, Nico entered the house just as Angel was descending the stairs with the knife in hand. He was startled by the boy’s presence but he didn’t mean to kill him. You could clearly see the guilt in his expression, as he watched Nico die on the road. Because everyone saw him on the street with a bloodied knife, he was caught for his wife’s murder. In order to prevent the police from making further enquiry, which could lead them to Clara, he decided to take the blame on himself by giving them the detail that he had planned to get rid of the body by burying it in the slaughterhouse. This answers David question: “Who confesses something he was going to do but didn’t because he was arrested first?” Because he was not a common killer. This also clarifies why Clara was unsettled when Aitor began to tell his story to Vera and David.
In the second, Nico was stopped from entering Angel’s house, so he had ample time to deal with the situation. With the help of Roman, Aitor’s uncle, Angel came up with a plan. He got rid of the body the way he had planned to originally. To throw everyone off the scent of the crime, a fake passport was made with Hilda’s name but was used by Clara to book a flight for Berlin. The story was such that Hilda had left Angel for someone in Berlin. This way, she wouldn’t be declared missing, and because there’d be no corpse, there’d be no reason to suspect murder. There was a slight hiccup when Nico informed the police about his crime, but the fantastic story of a woman from the future didn’t help the boy’s case. Angel married Clara and they lived a happy life until finally, Nico’s story came full circle. Here, all three- Angel, Clara and Roman- were arrested by the police.
The third timeline followed pretty much the same chain of events for Angel and Clara as it did in the second one.
In a similar manner, the whole film can be broken down into three parallel storylines and here’s how it went down. To keep confusions at bay, I have further separated every timeline from the perspective of Vera and Nico.
The Original Path
Nico: The summary section of this article covered almost everything that was supposed to happen to Nico originally. He was hit by a car and died on the spot. His mother went away and 25 years later, the house was sold to Vera and David.
Vera: Vera and Nico’s path had collided a long time before she chatted with him on a conference call across time. While she was still studying medicine, she daily took the same train where she met Aitor. He liked her but kept his feelings to himself. Their friendship led her to David, who was with Ursula then. They got married, had Gloria and moved into Nico’s house. Both Angel and Nico were dead in this storyline. Also, David was having an affair, and from the evidence that shows up in all three timelines- the matches from Arabesco, we can say that it was with Monica, Vera’s colleague whom he had met after his meningioma operation.
This timeline was interrupted when Vera caught a connection with Nico and prevented his death.
The Butterfly Effect
Nico: Young Nico had been taping himself when suddenly a woman appeared on his screen. At first, he imagined her to be something on the TV, but then she began responding to his questions and he found out that she was from the future. While talking to her, he heard some voices from Angel’s house but before he could go to enquire, the woman pleaded him not to leave. She told him that if he did, he would die and that the next day, his school would be suspended because the lightning would have hit the clocktower. Missing the car that would have killed him by a close margin, Nico was saved that night. The next day, exactly what Vera had said happened. This convinced him of everything she had said, and also made him suspicious about Angel. He waited for her to make another attempt to talk to him, and for a very brief moment, he even saw someone on the other side, though it did not appear to be a woman. However, the connection was broken.
The same evening, Nico saw Angel leave his house, and taking advantage of his absence, he broke into his house and discovered his wife’s dead body, along with the passport and the money that had been arranged for Clara. Before he could leave the house, Angel came back from the slaughterhouse with his equipment. Nico hid under the bed where he found Clara’s watch with the engraving CM. He saw Angel cut his wife’s body into pieces and put into a briefcase. After the man left, Nico went to the police with his story and gave them the watch. However, his story backfired when Angel complained of a break-in and stealing of his watch. Because no one believed his story, the boy was forced to return the watch and apologise. However, he wanted to prove his story, if not to everyone then at least to his mother. But then nothing came from the other side, which led everyone to believe that he was mentally ill.
His mother went with the story to Professor Karen Sardon, to see if her son’s story had any shred of reality, to see if something like this was even possible. The professor couldn’t solve her problem, but Nico’s story gave an idea for a novel, which she named ‘Mirage’. All the while, Nico had been going through all sorts of treatment, and after witnessing everyone’s disbelief for his story, he decided to give in. He accepted that he had fabricated it and after some time, he was declared mentally healthy. In reality, Nico never let go of what had now become an obsession with Vera. He knew of Valpineda, and he knew she would show up there one day. So, he waited for years, which paid off one day. But then, he realised that it hadn’t been 25 years yet and since the storm hadn’t arrived, she wouldn’t know about him. An encounter got him acquainted with her, and life took a different turn when they fell in love with each other. Nico knew that one day, her memories of their previous encounter would come back. But, he didn’t know exactly how. Then the storm came and she forgot everything about them.
He took her to Doctor Fell and thought that his explanations would bring her back. He even tried to make a connection to the past, by breaking into what was now David’s house, retrieving his TV set and the tapes but decided midway to abort his attempt. (This was the brief moment where young Nico thought he had seen someone on the other side.) He had to make his peace with the fact that she thought herself from another world, chasing a life that didn’t exist in this one. He didn’t know how to tell her the truth so he prodded her in the right direction by leading her to himself. Alongside this, she led him back to Angel and he was finally able to prove the truth that he had tried to tell everyone all those years ago.
When Vera’s memories of this world came back, things didn’t go as he had expected. He asked her to let go of that life but her love for her daughter was too strong. She jumped off the building, leaving him no choice but to alter his own past one more time.
Vera: Vera’s original path had been changed the moment Nico was saved from that accident. His obsession to find her led him to the train station. His meddling didn’t allow her interaction with Aitor and so she never met David, never had Gloria. Instead, she met Nico and started a life with him. Because she didn’t have a child, she didn’t abandon her career and continued with medicine to become the best neurosurgeon in the hospital. Meanwhile, David went his own way with Ursula, married her, met Monica during his operation and began an affair with her. When the storm came, her timelines merged. The memories of her first timeline took centre stage while the memories of this life were suppressed, only coming out when she made physical contact with anyone. Finding her life as a doctor, without David as her husband and her daughter non-existent, Vera came to the conclusion that she had saved Nico and what was happening to her was the effect of that action. Surprisingly, she found the inspector very amiable and helpful to her, even if he didn’t believe her.
Inspector Leyra’s demeanour around her gave viewers the impression that he knew what she was talking about, that this wasn’t the first time he was meeting her. The way he reacted to the story she told about the young boy from the television, you could tell that he was Nico himself. If he were investigating the case, he would be involved in the interviews. However, he stayed back everywhere, allowing her to ask the questions, make inquiries. It was as if he knew everything beforehand. Step by step, Vera came to know about everything, from David’s infidelity to the story of her new life. When Nico asked her to stay, she decided not to, even when she knew she was happy with him, more successful even. Her love for Gloria didn’t allow her to accept this happiness without her. She left it in Nico’s hands, to end his obsession with her, to not allow her to rule his entire life, to let things be as they were supposed to be.
The third timeline was carved when older Nico communicated with his younger self just before the storm was about to end. In this timeline, Hilda was killed by Angel, Nico broke into the house and witnessed everything, reported it to the police and was rebuffed. But, before he was diagnosed with mental illness, the person from the future responded. The woman didn’t come back, but he got a chance to talk to his older self who persuaded him to give up on his quest to find Vera. This set Vera’s timeline as it was originally supposed to be. She met Aitor, married David, had Gloria and moved into Nico’s house. Young Nico too went on with his normal life, though he must have moved away because he didn’t continue his friendship with Aitor. His memories of Vera were something of a distant past.
When Vera woke up next to David and found Gloria as she had left her, she realised that Nico had done as she asked. Angel was free and with Clara, and the matches revealed that David was still cheating. Just to confirm everything, she went to the slaughterhouse and discovered Hilda’s bones. The police were called and Nico came back, but this time, without any memories of her. Vera’s reaction to seeing him indicated that she intended to make him remember things. It wouldn’t have been too hard a task anyway. All she needed to do was touch him, and his memories of another life would come back.
The film clears up pretty much every questionable event except one. How is Vera able to remember her other life when she is not in that timeline? As Nico wonders in the second timeline if things have changed, how can she remember Gloria? How does she have memories of someone who doesn’t even exist anymore? This can be explained away by the theory that Vera and Nico had a connection. They were the only ones who had communicated with someone from a different time. They were the only ones who had handled the TV set on the nights of the thunderstorm. The energy that connected that TV sets might also have connected their fates! The thunderstorm lasted for 72 hours each time. In the second timeline, according to Nico, Vera begins to have memories from the first timeline when the thunderstorm approaches. In the third timeline, David tells her that she has been acting weird for the past couple of days. So, it is this time window of 72 hours that is doing the trick. It is creating the connection between parallel universes(?), and this is why the memories are staying for Vera, and not changing as they are for others.
When it comes to time-travel or time-loops, one often gets caught up in paradoxes. The question of the memories threatens a paradox for ‘Mirage’. Fortunately for itself, the storyline isn’t too convoluted and simple explanations suffice. You’ll not be caught in the infinite loop of going back and forth the same thing over and over again. It is this ease of the film that makes it better.