SIX OF THE BEST #20 – FILM DOPPELGANGERS
While I haven’t seen it yet, I was slightly intrigued by the release of Will Smith’s action film, Gemini Man (2019). Any film which examines the nature of the double or doppelganger always interests me. As you may be aware the word doppelganger is of German origin. It means “double walker” or “double goer” and I just love it. I love the way it sounds and the mysterious connotations it conjures up. It kind of sounds evil as well; like nothing good can come of it.
There have been many films, books and television programmes featuring doubles. They can occur for various reasons such as: twins, clones, shape-shifters, split personalities, mental breakdown and ghostly or other fantastical elements. We must not forget time-travel or inter-connected timeline plots either. Different versions of the same character existing simultaneously in alternate or exact timelines are very prevalent in fiction also.
In this occasional ‘Six of the Best’ series, I would like to consider six “double” or doppelganger films which are definitely worth watching. To make it interesting I would like to consider the more symbolic, fantastical and unexplained kind of films out there. I cannot avoid the twin or clone plots in certain examples, but the temporal double stories have, sort of, been explored here in an article about time travel films.
***CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS***
THE ARMY OF DARKNESS (1992)
Having done some online research of films featuring doubles, Sam Raimi’s riotous Evil Dead 3: Army of Darkness (1992), is cruelly missed from many of those lists. In this gory and over-the-top medieval horror romp, Ash (Bruce Campbell), finds himself in battle against hordes of Deadites. This is all because he gets a spell wrong and splits in two. He then comes face-to-face with his vicious double, Evil Ash. I hate it when that happens – don’t you! While not the deepest of the films listed here, it’s worth watching because you get TWO Bruce Campbell’s for the price of one!
THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE (1991)
The antithesis of the genre joy that is Army of Darkness, can be found in this profound study of identity, directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski. It concerns two identical women, Weronika and Veronique (both Irene Jacob), who live in Warsaw and Paris, respectively. Aside from one fleeting moment they never meet, but somehow, telepathically, artistically and emotionally, they are connected to each other. A beautiful, yet obtuse narrative, allied with Kieslowski’s poetic style make this a difficult film to understand. However, it contains fine symbolic power and is open to a myriad of interpretations.
Denis Villeneuve’s directs this adaptation of Jose Saramago’s book called The Double or The Duplicated Man. In it Jake Gyllenhaal plays both a college professor, Adam Bell and his exact lookalike, actor, Anthony Claire. Their two lives become entwined and that’s not the weirdest thing about the film. Part Kafkaesque nightmare and part Freudian examination of the subconscious, this film quietly unhinges the viewer with a slow pace and collection of striking visual motifs. Gyllenhaal is as mesmerizing as ever in this existentially challenging urban horror tale.
THE PRESTIGE (2006)
The doppelganger trope is integral to the story here and uses both twins and clones in its compelling thematic and visual system. Yet, these are not revealed until the very end, as the screenwriters Jonathan and Christopher Nolan literally dissect the characters’ souls within the fascinating world of magicians and their mysterious secrets. At the heart of the story we witness the tricks of warring magicians, portrayed by Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, and the lengths they will go to amaze an audience. By the end, the film becomes a chilling and fantastic warning about the dangers of obsession and rivalry.
The incredibly talented Jordan Peele delivered one of my favourite films of the year. It did not contain just one (or is it two) doppelganger(s), but a whole family of them. Working in the horror genre is an ideal setting for the “double” thematic, as the fantasy elements coalesce perfectly with the psychological ones. Symbolically the film is very strong. It can be interpreted on many levels, including as a critique of the United States (U.S. = US – get it?); and a powerful exploration of split identities. Indeed, in Us (2019), the lead protagonists battle external and inner demons, both political and personal, which can plague all of us during our lives.
Alfred Hitchcock’s classic psychological thriller is very complex and actually reflects the directors’ obsession with the moulding of an individual to look a certain way. On the surface, the story of a burnt out cop, Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) attempting to overcome his fear of heights, while tracking a friend’s wife, is initially quite simple. But in Hitchcock’s and his writer’s hands it become a tour-de-force of mistaken, double and theft of identity. A tragic figure, Scottie Ferguson is exploited and left bereft of love and comfort as he attempts, like Hitchcock himself, to find that perfect, yet elusive, blonde.