“Keep Breathing” is a Netflix survival drama series that adequately puts forth its thoughts on human life and the various complexities of the human mind, but does not really come off as profound as it wants to be. Focusing on a sole protagonist, a woman named Liv, it tells the story of her survival in a dense Canadian forest after she lives through a plane crash. As much as this premise sets it up as a survival story, though, “Keep Breathing” is actually equally invested in Liv’s life before the accident and how she now tries to break through the inherent barriers of her character. Melissa Barrera’s performance is commendable, and together with the overall cinematography and crisp editing, “Keep Breathing” makes up for its comparatively unconvincing writing at times, and is a fairly nice watch.
‘Keep Breathing’ Plot Summary: What Is The Miniseries About?
Liv waits in a small airport in Canada for her flight to Inuvik, or at least some information about it, when her office colleague Ruth calls her up to check if everything is fine. It seems that Liv has left her busy New York lawyer life very suddenly, with only a hasty email to her law firm notifying them that she will be away for two or three days. It is clear from Ruth’s words that Liv is absolutely not one to take such breaks from work, especially such a hasty one, and she tries to make sure that her friend is alright. Liv is soon informed that her flight has been canceled due to bad weather and that she would have to wait an entire day till it is rescheduled, and the woman is terribly disappointed at this. Although we are still not told why Liv is visiting Inuvik, her reasons seem very urgent, and when she overhears two men talking about flying over Inuvik, she does not want to miss the chance. Going over to them, she at first requests them to fly her to her destination, and when they dismiss her, she promises to pay them a thousand dollars each, even ready to digitally pay them right away. After some more discussion, they finally agree, and Liv gets acquainted with the two men, Sam and George, who fly their small private Cessna plane towards Inuvik. Aboard the plane, Liv makes light conversation, checks her phone for a message from Danny, who happens to be a colleague with some romantic angle to it as well, and then dozes off listening to relaxing podcasts.
When she wakes up, though, the situation is tremendously different, as their plane is crashing into a forested area, and the men order her to put on her seatbelt. The aircraft ultimately crashes into a lake, and as Liv manages to unbuckle herself first, she helps the other two as well. Sam gets off fast and tries to swim away, despite not knowing how to swim, while George’s foot has been impaled by a lever, and Liv is unable to save him. Managing to survive the rising waters herself, Liv swims out and helps Sam to the shore. She then tries getting the man back to consciousness and trying to get any signal on both their phones, but none of it works. Earlier, Sam had told her that he was a National Geographic photographer going over to the Northern Territories to document caribou, and Liv was confident that the highly reputed magazine would surely send help when their photographer went off the radar. However, shortly after, Sam wakes up and breaks all such illusions; he says that he is not a photographer and has only lied about it, and that nobody is coming to get them. With only this short and cryptic rambling, Sam dies, leaving Liv as the only survivor in a large forest spread over thousands of miles around.
How Does Liv Use Her Past To Survive Her Present Situation?
Liv’s first reaction after Sam has passed away, and it is already the next day after their crash, is to swim down to the drowned plane and retrieve their bags and any other communication equipment or supplies from there. Although struggling with the terrible coldness of the water and also the depth of the lake at first, she manages to swim away with the support of a thick tree branch and finally brings to shore all their bags. Other than her own backpack, which contained her laptop, charging equipment, and makeup, along with a fat stack of postcards, she finds some more bags clearly belonging to the two men she had flown with. Opening the bags, she finds small jars full of drug pills in some, and the rest are filled with stacks of dollar notes, probably all summing up to some millions, maybe. Liv is not fazed by the money, though, and she soon uses the notes to light herself a fire to keep herself warm and also to save herself from wildlife, particularly a bear that had appeared at her makeshift camp earlier and tried to drag Sam’s corpse away. Liv soon takes the body away from her lakeside campsite and buries it in a makeshift grave, and puts away Sam’s wristwatch as a sort of grave headstone. Basic needs like thirst and hunger quickly catch up with the woman, and despite having no experience whatsoever of spending time outdoors, she uses memories of various lessons that she learned during childhood and overall throughout her life to combine with practical sense and help her situation—collecting small metal plates from the plane crash and turning them into utensils in which to boil water and make it drinkable. She also goes around looking for food, as all her energy bar food stock has been eaten up by the bear, and finds herself berries of three different kinds. Confused about which ones she should have and which ones might be poisonous, she tries her luck, eating the tastiest ones and throwing up soon after, falling sick. She then messes around in the bear’s droppings to figure out which berries it had, and identifies them by the pits left behind. She herself has the same ones and finds out that they actually do not make her sick, so therefore, Liv now goes around looking for more food. For some time, she had followed a path to reach the top of a nearby hill, one that looked over the lake and towards all the forest that was around, and on one such visit, Liv spotted a light that made it seem like there might be people living in the area far away from her. Determined to find help and support, she decides to walk her way towards the location, a distance she calculates to take around four or five days of walking, and sets off with all her gear.
What becomes as important in ‘Keep Breathing’ as Liv’s trials and tribulations in surviving the forest is her mental state and psyche owing to the experiences she has had since her childhood. Liv was the only daughter of a passionately loving couple who seemed to lose much of their romance after the huge responsibility of rearing a child entered their lives, and both of whom themselves had certain mental struggles to live with. This was particularly the case with her mother, an Argentinian painter who suffered from a range of internal issues, all of which affected her young daughter terribly. The mother would often passionately focus on herself, blinding herself to everything around her, to the extent of leaving her daughter hungry and unattended. She also seems to have suffered from anxieties and insecurities about her own self, lashing out red or black paint over every figure’s face that she painted, and she had done the same while painting a portrait of young Liv as well, which dealt a huge blow to the little girl’s own confidence as well. The woman’s biggest problem in life was trying to fit into the role of a mother, which invariably meant surrendering her role as an individual, and finding it difficult to balance both. She left a huge dent in Liv’s character, particularly when she left her family one day. Liv’s father, a poet, stayed behind with the girl, giving her the nurturing support that she craved, but he too would sometimes get impatient and frustrated with life and shout at his daughter, which would again affect the young child negatively. From a very young age, Liv tried to live her life away from other humans, and she showed no interest in making friends at her primary school, and this trait remained strong in her till the present time. Grown-up Liv’s greatest fear was also to get close to anyone, always fearing that they would ultimately leave her. With an array of internal worries, including commitment anxiety and depression-induced alcoholism, Liv had learned to live her life only surrounded by her profession, with hardly any personal life. Her loving father had passed away from some terminal illness too, some time ago, and it was only around this time that one day the woman found a stack of postcards that her mother had apparently sent her from around the world, the last of which had been sent very recently and mentioned that she would be in Inuvik till September. It was for this that Liv had rushed to the place, as she still craved the love and attention of her mother, while a confused rage started making its way in her mind as to why her father had not told her about these postcards.
In her personal life before leaving for Inuvik, Liv had recently met a charming man about her age named Danny, who was a newly appointed lawyer at her firm. Despite keeping all her defensive walls straight up and intact around her, Danny’s charm and unending interest in her did lead to Liv sharing moments of intimacy with the man. However, after the first night came her crushing fear of being left behind again, and she wanted to cut all ties with him. But it was also true that she was feeling emotions, feeling loved and looked after by Danny, and ultimately they did see each other again, with Danny most definitely wanting to start a relationship with her. But Liv could never rest easy with this thought, as she constantly feared that she was only getting herself attached to a person who would leave her in the end, much like her mother, and she had gone away from New York without informing the man where she was going. Some days before her journey, though, Liv had also found out another truth that brought on a barrage of worries in her head—that she was pregnant. The woman’s greatest issues in life had been in relation to her mother, and now that she was about to become a mother herself, her fears and insecurities manifested, and she had said nothing of this to Danny. Now, at present, when Liv makes her way through the forest, she recalls all these memories, and “Keep Breathing” nicely spreads all these timelines over each other, showing scenes of the present in relation to their connections with Liv’s past. When she thinks of poisonous berries, we see her being warned by her gynecologist about what to consume and what not to, at the end of which the doctor casually says that Liv is surely going to be a great mother, to which the woman harshly retaliates. When she loses her way in the forest and makes a compass on her own, she does so by remembering the lessons she learned during a girl’s scout outing, on the same day that her mother had never arrived to pick her up from school and she had to walk the entire way home by herself.
Liv finally makes progress through the forest and keeps heading towards the north, that is, the possibly inhabited region, when she suddenly falls into what seems like a natural trap with a deep hole covered by plants and bushes. Down in this cavern-like structure, she remains stuck underneath a big rock for many hours and now has a direct imaginary confrontation with her mother. The mother says a number of things to her from her perspective, one of which is that Liv should stop trying to survive and instead overdose on the drug pills she had been carrying with herself from the crash-site and kill herself before things get any tougher. But Liv fights back, and along with the sad and depressing memories of her childhood, happier ones spent even with her mother seem to give her encouragement, as she uses a small rock to bang against the larger one and finally breaks it down to pieces, making herself free to move again. She had earlier had a similar imaginary confrontation with the dead Sam, who kept trying to tell her that she would get lost inside the forest, and she ultimately told him off and made her way forward. In essence, it is basically all of Liv’s own inhibitions and insecurities about herself presenting themselves one after the other, and in a similar manner, she fights off her mother’s imaginary words too, and finds a way out of the hole. Coming out of a cave high on a cliff, she loses her footing, and falls on a tall tree, and then to the ground, gravely injuring herself and possibly even breaking a leg. Liv still refuses to give up, and uses a long stick like a crutch to walk as she keeps moving through the forest towards the north. She now has another imaginary confrontation with Danny, who first tells her that she should have told him about the baby, even though it might not have changed her feelings about their relationship, and then assures her that she would indeed be a good mother, and Liv finds comfort in this. After some distance, she hears swooshing sounds like cars on a highway, and going toward the sounds; she sees a wide, fast-flowing river rumbling through the middle of the forest towards the very direction that Liv has been heading to.
‘Keep Breathing’ Ending Explained: Does Liv Make It Out Of The Forest? Is She Dead Or Alive?
As Liv sits beside the river’s shore, she imagines her father appearing beside her, and by this time, she has had perhaps the biggest imaginary confrontation that she longed to have. Imagining herself in her bedridden father’s room, she asks him why he had never told her about the postcards her mother would send for her, along with short messages for her, and her father replies that the mother had never meant the words she had written, and she had done the entire practice to satiate her own self, to convince herself that she was a good mother despite abandoning her child, and not to actually reach out to Liv. In response, Liv says that he was nobody to judge the intentions, and that she would rather prefer being abandoned than being forgotten; the presence of the letters meant that her mother had not forgotten her, as Liv used to believe. Ultimately, at present, Liv understands her father’s reasons too, and she forgives him and learns from him the greatest lesson—the need to let go, and to dive into the only visible solution when stuck in a major crisis. Liv accordingly jumps into the roaring river, and holds on to a tree branch and the stack of postcards as she is swept away. At one point, she loses hold of the branch and finds herself terribly overpowered by the river’s current, and now she lets go of the postcards too, which immediately scatter away. As the woman seems to be dangerously pushed away by the river, two men pull her out of the water and try to bring her back to consciousness. Despite looking pale and possibly dead initially, Liv finally wakes up, gasping for breath.
It is certain that Liv survives her time in the forest and also manages to get back to human civilization, but what is perhaps more important is the fact that by now, she has managed to get rid of the inhibitions and insecurities that she had about herself. In the sequence while being swept away by the river towards the end, “Keep Breathing” shows Liv going through the process of childbirth in a New York hospital with Danny by her side, and the two then lovingly hold their baby together. This is not the future that we see, but rather what Liv imagines her immediate future to be. It can also be seen as Liv’s wish for the future, as she still does not know whether she will survive. Finally, when the woman does live through to the end, Liv will probably surely try to return to her known life and now readily get back with her newfound lover. “Keep Breathing” tries to tie together external and internal strife that the protagonist has to go through, but at certain points, the survival genre looks bleak, as the plot of Liv crashing into the forest and trying to survive out of it seems only superficial. Nonetheless, the series does manage to keep itself short and interesting enough to touch upon some thoughts, even if they are not always very convincing.
“Keep Breathing” is a 2022 Drama Thriller mini series streaming on Netflix.