Netflix’s Russian Doll (2019) puts a thoughtful, modern twist on the classic Groundhog Day (1993) premise.
When Nadia Vulvokov (Natasha Lyonne) heading home with a stranger from her 36th birthday party, she is unexpectedly hit by a cab. To her surprise, she immediately finds herself back in her eccentric friend Maxine’s bathroom, with Harry Nelson’s “Gotta Get Up” blaring from the party outside. She eventually finds that she can’t make it through the day without somehow dying and waking up in Maxine’s bathroom.
This sets Nadia on a quest that is simultaneously hilarious and devastating: to find out why she keeps dying. As she traverses the streets of New York alone, searching for answers, it becomes clear that she won’t be able to find the answers in material objects.
The series’ title is a reference not only to the many versions of the same day that Nadia lives through, but also to the layers of her own personality, which she is forced to remove to address the trauma at the core of her being.
Halfway through the series, Nadia discovers that she is not alone in this phenomenon — a man about her age, Alan (Charlie Barnett), who lives in her neighborhood, has been reliving the same day over and over again as well. For Alan, it’s the day that his girlfriend Beatrice broke up with him as he was about to propose. That night, he jumped off a building while inebriated and has been reliving the day ever since. It’s when Alan and Nadia discover each other before dying in an elevator accident that the series noticeably increases momentum.
While Alan’s problems are more immediate, and are obviously tied to his identity of self lying solely in Beatrice, Nadia’s conflict is much more involved. The root cause of her dilemma is the trauma she has been suppressing involving her relationship with her mentally unstable mother, who also died at 36 years old.
Russian Doll’s Emmy-winning cinematography successfully conveys the confusion and angst that surround Nadia and Alan without the characters themselves describing what they’re feeling. The blurred stoplights and shiny pavements coupled with the artificial warm overtones generated by New York City streetlights evoke the hopelessness and inner turmoil felt by both characters.
Ultimately, Nadia and Alan turn to their relationship to each other to solve their existential crises. Nadia must learn to form a meaningful, committed relationship, while Alan learns to balance the relationship with his own self-interest. The two perfectly compliment each other’s character defects and teach each other how to make themselves whole. When they accept these changes and develop a renewed will to live, they are finally able to escape the loop.