Icelandic Television Series, Katla thematically lays down that even after a mortal body perishes, the memory of the loved ones stays with us. As humans, we keep reliving those memories in our heads. Sometimes, create our perceptions or versions of the events. Luckily, such manifestations remain in our charge. But what if they get personified into living beings?
Katla is Netflix’s first Icelandic series created by Baltasar Kormákur and Sigurjón Kjartansson. The series is set in a deserted freezing town of Vik, located near an Icelandic volcano, Katla. With a chilly aura around, the series leaves behind certain dark riddles, which I would like to decipher in this article.
Due to the volcanic unrest of Katla, almost all the residents of the nearby town, Vik, moved to Reykjavik. The remaining individuals carried out the necessary activities to keep the city alive. But trespassing in the area was strictly prohibited.
Things were happening at their usual pace until geologist Darri Hansson found pyroclastic flow from the volcano. He arrived in town to research further and learned about ash-caked humanoids/ changelings suddenly appearing from the depths of the volcano. Most of these humanoids were considered dead, but their sudden resurrection fumed a baffling mystery.
Where did the changelings come from?
Geologist Darri initially thought that the resurrection of humans was a phenomenon connected to Kalta’s folklore that might have a basis in reality. But his initial theories were defied when he discovered that it was not about people coming back from the dead. The first changeling, for instance, was a younger Gunhild Ahlberg, who already existed. The speculation was confirmed when a humanoid version of the protagonist, Grima, appeared. Grima, like Gunhild, was already alive, and thus, whatever magic/mystery was causing the resurrection was not only connected to dead people.
After a series of lab tests of the rock sample extracted from underneath the glacier, Darri conceptualized that a meteorite could be causing the awakening of the ash-caked changelings. When Katla erupted, small fragments of the meteorite came to the surface. These pieces were spat in the air and fell across the glacier, thereby affecting people living nearby, especially the residents of Vik. The meteorite gave them the ability to personify their thoughts into humanoids or changelings.
How changelings were created?
The affliction towards the lost ones persuaded the residents that the ash-caked changelings were real. However, many of them were blinded by their desires and remorse, like Grima never recovered from her sister, Asa’s disappearance. The meteorite played with their minds and gave them the power to personify their thoughts.
Darri theorized that meteorite could sense their thoughts. And it knew what they were missing. Thereby, it created people based on the thoughts and feelings of those close to it (residents of Vik). But these changelings were not the absolute personality of the lost ones. They were instead a manifestation of their thoughts and everything they were going through. For example, Darri’s son Mikael showed signs of psychopathy because it was all Darri remembered about Mikael. Darri blamed his son for his divorce, which for Darri was a phenomenon similar to death.
A similar layer could be perceived in Grima’s case, who resurrected her sister Asa through her thoughts. Grima never recovered from the disappearance of Asa and kept on playing with the memories. Because the thoughts were affectionate, the changeling image of Asa acted moderately. Yet, she lacked a purpose in life because her creator Grima had none in mind.
The single-white feathered raven that kept on appearing outside Thor’s workshop was a recreation of Thor’s thought. The raven was found dead and buried by him. Still, it resurrected into a changeling because Thor wasn’t able to stop thinking about it.
‘KATLA’ Folklore – Farm Maid at Hjorleifshofdi
Darri confirmed that the resurrection of changelings is not something new in the lands. These things have been going on for centuries. Always after an eruption under the glacier, the villagers noticed hidden people coming out of the depths. But because the explosion wasn’t frequent, the phenomenon became stories for people and found its place in folklore.
Vik hotel owner, Bergrun narrated the long-standing folklore to Darri during his stay. When Katla erupted in 1625, 23 farms in the area were deserted. The following winter, a poor maid at Hjorleifshofdi gave birth to wedlock. She left the child to die on the sand but never forgave herself for what she did. She became obsessed with the child she abandoned. When they were rounding the sheep in fall, they found an infant in the middle of the highlands, frozen to death. And this happened every following year. Without fail, when they went in the fall to round up the sheep, an infant was found alive up in the highlands. But the farm maid recognized her child. And one autumn, she decided to get ahead of it and find her baby. And she found it. Alive and well, only days old. But the village people said it was a changeling and not her actual baby. The farm maid wouldn’t hear of it, and when the boy was 13 years old, he killed his mother while she was sleeping and vanished.
‘KATLA’ Ending Explained
The folklore was vital because it gave an insight into the origins of the changelings suddenly appearing in Vik. When Bergrun said the changeling vanished, she meant that the changeling would disappear when their purpose was served. A similar case could be witnessed in the unusual disappearance of younger Gunhild from the hospital. Speculatively, the changeling of Gunhild could have been created by Gunhild, who blamed herself for her son, Bjorn’s genetic disability. In her thoughts, she desired to move back in time (20 years ago when she was pregnant). Gunhild wanted to rectify the pain she caused to her child due to her carelessness and thoughts of abortion. In the end, Thor told her it wasn’t Gunhild’s fault. The unborn baby of changeling Gunhild had a similar syndrome that caused malformations of the arms and legs. The syndrome was genetic, and therefore Gunhild had little to contribute to Bjorn’s defect. In her last visit to the hospital, Gunhild learned about the disappearance of the changeling. She looked in the mirror and smirked. Gunhild untangled her hair to look like her younger self, suggesting that she finally came out of the remorse. The purpose for which the changeling was created was fulfilled.
Asa’s changeling committed suicide by drowning herself in the ocean. The scene was similar to their mother’s death and disappearance because Grima held that memory close to her heart. Her creation Asa lived the memory and, in a way, served the purpose. Grima later accepted the fact that Asa’s changeling came into her life to help her cope with her disappearance/death in the first place.
Darri’s son Mikael was killed by the couple. The action brought them together, which indirectly fulfilled Darri’s thoughts, who blamed Mikael for his divorce.
Police Chief Gisli Einarsson tried his best to find his wife and her changeling. He blamed himself for everything. But the last episode, “I Am You,” suggested that the changeling was created by Gisli’s wife. She made the humanoid out of the memories of her past when she was not bedridden. The suggestion was confirmed when the two embraced each other in the car.
The last changeling was of the protagonist, Grima. In my opinion, Grima was created by her husband, Kjartan, who wanted to feel the warmth of Grima again. Out of his memories, he made Grima’s changeling before the disappearance of Asa. Hence, Grima’s changeling was much more happy and affectionate because the tragedy never struck her. Grima was conscious enough to realize this and thus mentioned the same to her sister and Darri. In the end, she confronted her changeling and challenged her for a game of Russian roulette. Unfortunately, the original Grima didn’t survive the game. Her changeling took her place with affection, warmth, and gentleness without anyone noticing the difference. Original Grima’s dead body was covered with ash and buried outside their house.
The closing shot of Katla visualized a bunch of ash-caked changelings coming out from the depths of the volcano. In Katla season 2, the conflict will continue. In my opinion, the residents, with Darri’s help, will try to figure out measures to destroy the meteorite to stop its deadly recreational effect.
KATLA is a 2021 Icelandic Science Fiction Series created by Baltasar Kormákur and Sigurjón Kjartansson. Season 1, encompassing eight episodes of 1 hour each, is streaming on Netflix.