How ‘Shining Girls’ compares to the book

Warning: Spoilers follow for the AppleTV+ series Luminous girls

After reading Lauren Beukes’ 2013 psychological thriller Luminous girls, Silka Luisa knew she had to try to make a TV show out of it. “[The book is] a totally unique take on the serial killer genre,” Luisa told TIME. “For the first time I saw a balance between serial killer and female survivor. It felt really special.” It took five years, but Luisa’s little film adaptation of Luminous girls will finally premiere on April 29th on AppleTV+ – with a few changes to the source material.

The eight-episode limited series is a metaphysical thriller about an aspiring journalist named Kirby (Elisabeth Moss) who finds herself in an ever-changing reality after surviving a near-fatal attack years earlier. After a young woman is found murdered with similar injuries, Kirby embarks on a journey to find the killer who also attacked her. Luisa altered Beukes’ story of a time-traveling serial killer that might surprise fans of the bestseller, including turning Kirby into the series’ protagonist, while the novel focused on multiple female victims, including Kirby, who was injured by the same man. However, she left the most important elements of the story intact. “You can never change the intent of the book,” said the creator, writer and producer of Luminous girls called. “I think Lauren [Beukes] has a very specific worldview of the grief and trauma that she presents, and it was really important to pass that along.” (Beukes, the project’s executive producer, gave Luisa her blessing when it came to making adjustments to her story.)

Luminous girls is a disturbing look at how the fallout of a traumatic experience can impact someone’s life, but Luisa hopes viewers will find hope in Kirby’s journey of resilience. “I always think Kirby has the rabbit heart,” she said. “You can be small, and these forces can seem so much bigger than you, but she keeps confronting what scares her. It just keeps moving.”

Below, Luisa discusses what she kept from the novel, what she changed, and why she wanted viewers to be a little confused while watching it Luminous girls.

Making the series more Kirby-centric

Beukes’ novel Luminous girls follows Harper, a time-traveling Depression-era drifter who murders “the shining girls,” women brimming with potential to survive. Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different character, be it Harper, a brutal serial killer who has stalked women in Chicago over the course of several decades, one of his female victims, or his sole survivor Kirby. Before Luisa even started writing them Luminous girls pilot five years ago, she knew she wanted to filter the story through Kirby. “She was the character I connected with the most,” Luisa said.

By allowing the viewer to focus on a character’s POV, Luisa felt it added to the mystery. “With one character you see all the pieces of the puzzle,” she said. “You kind of go through this maze with Kirby and discover the mystery with her.” The series shares a bit of DNA with Christopher Nolan’s 2000 film memory, in which a man with short-term memory loss (played by Guy Pearce) tries to track down his wife’s killer. Kirby’s confusion over when it happened and where his wife is is part of the solution to the series’ biggest mystery. Viewers might feel just as disoriented as Kirby did – and that was on purpose. “You need to be with Kirby in this fog of recovery,” Luisa said. “You have to understand how hard it is to keep moving forward when you’re constantly being thrown back.”

Disclosure of the killer in advance

The premiere’s opening scene, taken straight from the book, introduces Harper (Jamie Bell) as a charismatic but devious entity who is undoubtedly the villain of this story. It’s an interesting twist on conventional crime where the goal is usually to find the killer, but Luisa argues that Luminous girls “ain’t no whodunnit, it’s a how-they-dunnit.” The real mystery of the show lies in the sci-fi details: why is Kirby’s reality constantly changing, and what does that have to do with this man?

What Luisa loved most about Beukes’ book was that it didn’t glorify Harper but instead focused on the women whose lives he destroyed. “It’s never easy to write a psychopath [character] because hopefully they’re very strangers to you,” she joked. She wanted Harper to be interesting enough for viewers to be intrigued by him, but “we’re not trying to do a sexy serial killer show that makes him the most interesting character.” She credits Bell with the off-kilter character gives nuances. “He brought with him a kind of slight charm,” Luisa said, which might help viewers understand why someone might be attracted to him. “But he’s also very vulnerable and played the insecurity really well,” she added. “That really helped flesh out Harper. His humanity made him almost more troubling.”

Continue reading: There is an ingenious method in Mind-Bending Madness by Shining Girls

make sense of time

Understand how time flies Luminous girls is not always easy, especially since the mechanics differ slightly from the book. But Luisa has come up with a practical way of thinking. “The only way to understand time is as a string,” she said. “When Harper is near the top of the string, his violence spreads and hits Kirby wherever she is.” The series shows how abuse survivors are forever bound to their abuser. “Even if you don’t know where they are, even if you don’t know when they are, you are connected to them by this invisible cord,” she said. “The show is about cutting that cord.”

To keep track of all the time jumps, Luisa and her writing team put together a board that charts each character’s trajectory. “Our approach was to always keep it subjective and look at it from a character’s point of view: what does that person know? What was your minute before that? What was her minute after?” she said. “Once we did that, it became a lot easier to write the story.”

Shooting the script out of order was “the biggest production challenge,” she said. “The show is so detailed that every single person had to be on their toes because Kirby’s world changes in the blink of an eye.”

Luckily, the show’s star didn’t seem to have any trouble keeping up with all the time jumping. “I think Elisabeth Moss enjoyed having that as a performance challenge,” Luisa said. “It’s almost like having Alzheimer’s, you’re experiencing something that’s so all-encompassing and so isolating. She had to be able to show the smallest changes and how Kirby would handle them. It was a real pleasure to watch her figure that out.”

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Justin Scacco

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