Bir Başkadır, (Ethos in English) is a Turkish drama, released on Netflix in November 2020, directed by the talented Berkun Oya. Bir Başkadır is a common Turkish phrase which can be roughly translated as “something different.” There is no doubt that this series is truly something different, with its local and international viewers raving about this new series.
Set in Istanbul, this character driven drama, is a story about a group of unique characters from evidently different socio-cultural backgrounds who meet due to unexpected circumstances. Some characters meet by chance and some by choice.
We meet Meriem, (Öykü Karayel) our protagonist, sitting in a chair, explaining her story to Peri (Defne Kayalar), a Psychiatrist. Very shortly after this first encounter, the audience is made aware of the stark differences between the two female characters. Meriem, and her childlike demeanour, is a Muslim woman, with no formal education and who lives in the countryside of Istanbul with her brother and his family. Peri, on the other hand, exerting her dominance in this scene, is a secular Turkish woman who comes from an affluent background and who is a trained Psychiatrist. Meriem is recommended to see Peri after her unexplained fits she has been experiencing. Hesitant, Meriem begins to awkwardly explain her background and current living situation, and it is through this recall that we are made aware of the characters in the show. As Meriem explains herself, she refrains from speaking about one character in particular, a man, who she is seemingly very taken by. As the story progresses, we slowly get properly introduced to the characters which includes, Meriem’s brother, Yasin, an ex-soldier who is now a bouncer at a club Ruhiye, Meriem’s sister-in law, who is a chain-smoker and who suffers from depression. Then we have the Hodja (teacher) and his daughter Hayrunnisa, who travels between being the daughter of the Hodja and the unveiled party goer who enjoys electronic music. Other characters include a rich but depressed playboy and a middle-class Kurdish family who have to deal with the quarrels of two sisters who have different views on religion and tradition. Finally, we meet a soap opera actress, who befriends the very stern and serious Peri. It is these characters that show us the rich complexities of individuals and societies at large.
Through the excellent portrayal of these different characters, this show depicts the socio-cultural tensions that exist within Turkish society, although these tensions are universal. There is this constant demonstration between the clash between modernity and tradition, religion and secularism, desires and social norms, and conservatives and liberals. Other key themes that arise are mental illness, gendered roles and the power relations between each character and what they represent. Throughout this show, we see the interplay between the acceptance and rejection of certain socio-cultural norms and social behaviours and what it means to be heard and understood.
There are very strong female characters in this show however, one of the criticisms of this show is how they have chosen to portray practicing Muslim women in Istanbul. A few viewers were unhappy with how they portrayed Muslim women, who were portrayed as being uneducated and blind followers of tradition. However, I disagree with this point as this show does not stick to a stereotypical portrayal of these individuals, but illustrates the nuanced identities of each individual and how they respond to their circumstances. This show stays away from any sort of prejudices as there are a few characters who help debunk misnomers and bridge the gap between the characters at odds with each other.
Through each of the individuals life experiences, we come to realize that each character possesses those similar qualities of the “other” they are at odds with. It is said that “the heart is a mirror” and upon arriving at the end of the series, we truly see this play out for each character. This story is ultimately about people’s truths and their experiences. It shows the psyche of each individual and how they come to certain conclusions and life choices.
As the characters embark on a shift in their psychological perspectives, so does the audience. We are made aware about the deep traumas and life experiences of each character and the transformation they undergo. Therefore, upon reflection, the main take away from this show is empathy. Empathy towards those whom we come into contact with and those whom we may only know from a distance. It reminds us to refrain from making immediate judgements about one another and shows us how malleable our perspectives can and should be.
Another film critic said, this series “is like watching art.” And although one might want to roll their eyes when reading this statement, this series is truly an artistic expression. Each frame looks like a photograph. The scenes are stylistic and colour is used to enhance and portray the characters emotion or mental state. The clothing of each character is extremely realistic and again, helps us to identify the ongoing socio-cultural tensions between the characters. We are able to view the beautiful city of Istanbul from a different perspective due to the creative and detailed camera shots.
Along with the dialogue, the music in this series is what helps us drift alongside each character. The soundtrack in this series is made up of different genres of music, from different countries and different eras. We are able to enjoy music by Ferdi Özbegen, Turkey’s own pianist and singer, French composers Francis Lai and Frank Pourcel, and Italian composer Franco Micalizzi, just to name a few.
In my opinion this series is a masterpiece, not just because of its aesthetic value, but due to its ability to address universal and complex issues and portray them in a way that is relevant and interesting to our generation. It shows us that no story is ever complete and that things are not always as predictable as we would like them to be. This show reminds us of our essential humanness, despite our differences and reminds us to continue to be strong, spirited individuals. Individuals that love, listens, accepts, dreams, reflects and desires but also individuals that cry, doubt, question and grieve.