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TV Review: ‘The Wordmaker’ Probes Sleeplessness, Memory, and Meaning

People assign a certain power to what they experience while they sleep, even if they’re not entirely sure if it’s relevant to what happens in real life. Being able to wake up from a nightmare and know that what has transpired can be forgotten and dismissed without a worry is a privilege that not everyone has. Sleepwalking and parasomnia have been featured regularly in cinema and often associated with sinister implications, which is logical because the notion of not knowing capability during unconsciousness is indeed frightening. How accountable are those who do bad things while they are asleep for those actions?

The Israeli series The Wordmaker, coming to Topic this week, presents a fascinating protagonist, Dr. Ari Milus (Adir Miller), whose field of research involves the science of sleep and who suffered from his own recurring parasomnia as a child. When he experiences another incident as an adult and cannot remember leaving his home during the night, he becomes unnerved and seeks out the help of a doctor friend, leading to an unsettling trip back into the secrets of his past.

This show features plot points that feel distinctly specific to Israel, where the religious community is so interwoven with the secular world that it is nearly impossible to separate the two. Lior Ashkenazi, an Israeli actor recently seen in TV series like Our Boys and Valley of Tears, plays a renowned rabbi whose Kabbalistic followers revere him as “The Wordmaker,” and whose disappearance in the present has left his devoted flock honoring his memory almost as if he was a messiah. Ari is not religious but his father leads that group with the help of the Wordmaker’s devoted daughter, who shares nostalgic memories of a friendship with Ari when they were children.

The intersection of religion and science proves very interesting and not nearly as contradictory as might initially seem like the case. Dreams may not be the typical manner in which these spiritual characters believe they will receive messages from God, and their treatments for disorders might be more faith-based than reliant on actual research and trials. An investigating detective casts equal doubt on the sleep theories Ari posits and the devoutness espoused by those he is interviewing, suggesting that they may have more in common as questioned ways of thinking than they do as incompatible opposites.

This series is a mystery content to follow its characters on their slow roads towards answers, inviting intrigue along the way as they confront minimized moments of their past to better explain their present. Fans of other Israeli imports like Losing Alice (from Apple TV Plus) and Possessions (from HBO Max) will find a similar tone and pace here. Originally aired in 2015 in Israel, this cast also includes Shira Haas, the breakout star of Netflix’s Unorthodox, playing the younger version of the Wordmaker’s daughter in a relatively small part, and Haas’ costar Alena Yiv from Israel’s official Oscar submission for Best International Feature from last year, Asia.

Its immersion into two distinctly different worlds is mesmerizing and foreboding, suggesting that the acceptance of a theory or way or life as potentially valid invites it to have an influence on a person’s everyday activities. Being open to something that has previously seemed inaccessible because it was incongruous with logic or reason doesn’t mean the world operates differently but that someone will move through it in altered manner. This series offers a ticket to that way of thinking and an appealing, engrossing rabbit hole to explore with its characters and their stories.

All six episodes of The Wordmaker will be available to stream exclusively on Topic on Thursday, April 15th.

SCORE: ★★★


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Written by Abe Friedtanzer

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