Antibodies And Agartha In ‘Joko Anwar’s Nightmares And Daydreams’ Explained

Interconnected anthology series always provide a rewarding experience, simply due to the fact that, along with a number of different plotlines, there is an overarching story that ties all the different stories together in a single narrative thread. Director Joko Anwar’s latest horror anthology streaming on Netflix, Nightmares and Daydreams, similarly connects seven vastly different stories to weave its own mythology, based on the fictional world of Agartha. The transition from horror to the otherworldly dimension of Agartha turns out to be well synced, as the director adds his own interpretation to it, which works well in the context of the overarching theme. 


The legend of Agartha dates back to antiquity and has been interpreted across different cultures in the world, which makes Joko Anwar’s version of the myth even more interesting, which needs to be discussed in detail. There is also an unexpected superheroic element added to the narrative that is connected with this particular interpretation of Agartha as well, and we will try to delineate on that. 

Spoilers Ahead


The Legend of Agartha in World Mythology

Theories about the mythical subterranean world are common across several different civilizations and cultures. Conspiracy theories about Patala from Hindu mythology, or elaborate depictions of Atlantis in Plato’s “Dialogues,” all share a common ground as they tell the story of a world underneath the one we live in, where life is quite different from the surface biosphere. Having a possible connection with these legends, Agartha is known as a sprawling ancient underworld civilization that has continued to maintain its prolonged existence through secrecy, and its foundation is built upon the hollow earth theory. Agartha is supposedly connected to the surface world through an extensive network of caves and tunnels, which allows regular and occasionally instantaneous access to different parts of the world. 

The Legend of Agartha has its roots in Eastern mysticism, but interestingly enough, a vast majority of cultures across the globe, not specific to a particular area, mention the existence of Agartha in their myths. In Thai mythology, Muan Lap Lae, aka the hidden city, bears similarity with Agartha; in Tibetan Buddhism, the subterranean city of Agarthi is the abode of Asuras. In the Philippines, the city of Biringan, and in Mizo folklore, the subterranean world of Chhin Lung, both are unique cultural interpretations of Agartha. Zimbabwe, China, Yemen, and the varied cultural beliefs of the Caribbean islands speak of Agartha as a land locked in time and often refer to it as the birthplace of the first human being. The story of Agartha is often confused with the elusive land of Shangri-La or Shambala depicted in Vajrayana Buddhism, due to some of the superficial similarities both fictional places share. 


Aside from being the dwelling place of advanced, unique species of humanoids and bizarre creatures, Agartha is supposedly the seat of the noble supreme being, who holds immense knowledge and power and is known as Brahmatma. Mahatma and Mahanga are two known associates of the supreme being who help him to protect the cosmic balance that exists between Agartha and the surface world. In some interpretations, Agartha is regarded as the land of monsters and hideous creatures of the dark who feed on the negative energies of life itself. Director Joko Anwar combined all these elements to create his unique version of Agartha and added a new twist with his social commentary.

How Did Agartha Retain Its Uniqueness In The Show?

In Joko Anwar’s Nightmares and Daydreams, we find the supreme being revealing herself in front of Wahyu, the loner fisherman, in the form of his mother and bestowing on him divine powers and knowledge. The reason as to why supreme being arrived on the surface world remains unknown, but it can be guessed that she wanted to prepare humanity better for an upcoming conflict with the darker elements of Agartha, as shown through the course of the rest of the episodes. As for the fearsome, evil elements of Agartha, in the first episode, a couple of Lovecraftian or Buddhist monstrous creatures who gather the life essence from their victims are showcased. The legend of Belu, the cannibalistic demonic humanoids with blood-red eyes, might have inspired the vicious humanoids in the anthology series, who possess superhuman powers and take great pleasure in inflicting pain and horror. A shrieking banshee-like spirit who can hypnotize a vast number of people with her cries was encountered by Dewi. Viewers even get a small glimpse of Agartha in the episode titled “Poems and Pain,” and it looks like a technologically advanced hellscape. 


The most interesting part of the director’s interpretation of the mythical land is the way he showcases a clear social and economic status difference through the interactions between the denizens of Agartha and regular human beings. The humanoid creatures of Agartha have an aristocratic background in the human world, and they lure the hapless, impoverished human beings with the promise of a better lifestyle and of hope. Almost all the protagonists of the seven episodes, Panji, Ipah, Wahyu, Dewi, and Ali, belong to a hardworking, oppressed class who, by choice or circumstance, get drawn into the vicious entrapments set by the denizens of Agartha, who hold a powerful, privileged position on the surface world, and ultimately pay a hefty price. 

On the other hand, from the destitute class emerge the defenders of the earth, as shown in the final moments of the anthology. The protectors of humanity, led by Wahyu, who later introduce themselves to Valdya as Antibodies, are dedicated to protecting the surface world from the dreadful creations who have arisen from the dark depths of Agartha. Wahyu had shared the knowledge he had gained with these selected individuals, collectively known as Antibodies, who had witnessed the horrors unleashed by the creatures of Agartha and were willing to save the world by fighting against them. Having their fair share of experience of desperation and hopelessness, the oppressed ones know the true estimate of power, and deservingly, they are given the responsibility of protecting humanity. The director’s take on class bias adds a new dimension to his version of Agartha mythology and allows for strong characterization.

It remains unknown whether the anthology series will receive a continuation in the future, but the storyline has already set the stage for exploration of the world of Agartha. As viewers, we will surely like to see how director Joko Anwar plans to integrate the interesting social aspects further into his version of Agartha mythology, which depends on the success of the anthology in the first place. 

Siddhartha Das
Siddhartha Das
An avid fan and voracious reader of comic book literature, Siddhartha thinks the ideals accentuated in the superhero genre should be taken as lessons in real life also. A sucker for everything horror and different art styles, Siddhartha likes to spend his time reading subjects. He's always eager to learn more about world fauna, history, geography, crime fiction, sports, and cultures. He also wishes to abolish human egocentrism, which can make the world a better place.

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