'Stateless' Review: Cate Blanchett's haunting Netflix show questions Australia's faulty immigration policies
'Stateless' will leave its viewers in a state of nerve-racking outrage and they will find it difficult to pick a side throughout
Spoilers for 'Stateless'
What starts off as an anomaly soon turns into a gut-wrenching saga of four lives coinciding within the rigid confines of a detention center that's both eye-opening and haunting. Such is the story of Netflix's latest brag 'Stateless', that is also Cate Blanchett's second feather to her riveting bonnet just this year itself.
Co-created by Blanchett, Tony Ayres and Elise McCredie and based on a script from Elise McCredie and Belinda Chayko, 'Stateless' stars The Handmaid's Tale's Yvonne Strahovski as a mentally ill white woman called Sofie. Yet, it is soon asserted that despite Sofie's arc inspired by the shocking real-life ordeal of Cornelia Rau, she isn't a star of the story. At a confluence of the lives of three other detainees in Australia's Barton Detention Facility, 'Stateless' evaluates both desperation and authority in more than one sphere. Be it the cult-like self-help group that leads to Sofie's breakdown or the barbaric torture some of the seasoned guards at the faculty practice on detainees, 'Stateless', if nothing, will leave its viewers in a state of nerve-racking outrage and they will find it difficult to pick a side throughout. And that speaks volumes about Emma Freeman and Jocelyn Moorhouse's jointly directed masterpiece.
Back in 2004, when Rau, an Australian citizen, was held in one of the nation's detention centers, people were shocked — both the authorities and her fellow detainees. We see the same in Sofie's case once she wakes up in the detainment center, desperate to go back home to Germany even though not much hope is left anyway. Cutting back to what led her to where she is, the non-linear narrative works very well in Sofie's story as she finds parallels between her new life at the detainment center and her life back in the cult called GOPA, run by the rattling husband-wife duo Gordon (an insidious Dominic West) and Pat (an unmissable Blanchett).
GOPA is your regular cult, the way they rope you in with promises of help and eventually break you down once sexual favors are out of the way. Sofie's life is no different after she is explicitly threatened by Gordon that he would ruin her life should she report them. And thus begins her downfall, which somehow emerges as her road to finding herself.
In the initial few episodes, however, Sofie's troubles and tribulations are a little hard to be taken seriously and that is the beauty of the parallel running narratives in 'Stateless'. There's an Afghani family on the run, seeking asylum in Australia, ready to split shoddy motel rooms using a bedsheet, and soon, once they are scammed by locals with the promise of getting them on a boat, they have to resort to begging for a single tomato and pick up roadside scraps for drinking water. Led by Ameer (Fayssal Bazzi), his family of four's story keeps getting more and more tragic. He first gets separated from the rest of them and months later, when finally reunited with her elder daughter Mina, finds out his wife and younger daughter drowned on their way.
The family man's story is not an isolated one in this gut-wrenching saga of people running away from their home and seeking abode at a place that can't wait to kick them out. Be it Rosna (Helena Sawires), a Kurdish woman who was raped by Iranians; or another patriarch (Phoenix Raei) of a family of four; or even Jai Courtney's token prison guard with a guilty conscience, Cam Samford, 'Stateless' constantly evaluates what it means to be a family and the lengths people will go to, to ensure their safety.
In all of this, Asher Keddie's seasoned immigration boss Clare keeps us both captivated and rooting for her, leaving us indisposed when it comes to whose side we should pick. Both Clare and her immediate subordinate at work, Brian, aren't your glorified pillars of law enforcement and authority. The people working under them are and even though they might get away with one of the colossal issues plaguing our planet right now, Clare and Brian are the authentic pawns of a bureaucracy too invested in pointing fingers and pinning the blame on internal departments.
Compelling performances, tasteful cinematography intertwined with emotional backstories that will pull at your heartstrings, and a constant dilemma within its characters that will force the viewer to try and put themselves in those detainees shoes — 'Stateless' is everything 'Orange is the New Black' would be were it to shred every last semblance of comedy from its essence. There's the same confusing anomaly one can't quite understand, neither ignore. There's a burning need to free these functioning human beings, while also trying to root for the boss lady quelling protests, and if all fails, there's Blanchett and West's spine-chilling aura as life-ruining gurus supposed to show you the way. 'Stateless' is enlightening in a way most pedigree productions fail to be.
All six episodes of 'Stateless' are available for streaming only on Netflix.