Top 10: Films About Doubles
The double/doppelgänger genre often comes accompanied by creepy, psychological horror with overtones of exploring identity, the struggle for sanity, and mind-bending terrors; however, there are a few exceptions to that majority. Though there are many great films to choose from, after careful consideration, we’ve slimmed down our favorite films about doubles down to just 10, which we’ve listed below for your entertainment.
10: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)
Although this is a remake of the 1920s version, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is one of the earliest uses of the double in cinema history, and Rouben Mamoulian’s version is far more tense and shuddering, with a fantastic performance from Fredric March in his dual role. The film tells the tale of a man who takes a potion which turns him from a mild-mannered man of science into a homicidal maniac. The transformation sequences in particular pack a spectacular punch. It’s a little slow and a bit anti-climatic, but it’s a classic nonetheless, with innovative special effects, atmospheric cinematography and deranged overacting.
9: Lost Highway (1997)
Bizarre and hauntingly hypnotic, David Lynch’s Lost Highway employs the use of the double in the kind of mysteriously surreal way you’d expect from him. The film follows wailing saxophonist Fred Madison (Bill Pullman), who is convicted of murdering his wife a peculiar chain of events. At about the center of the story, Fred begins to convulse and writhe around, transforming into auto mechanic Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty). The rest of the film is a Lynchian mystery involving voyeurism, deviant sex, betrayal, a lot of Rammstein, and a chilling Mystery Man (played to perfection by Robert Blake). Not only is the twin-like nature between Fred and Pete strange, but Lynch also uses actress Patricia Arquette to play Renee Madison and Alice Wakefield, suggesting that they may be one and the same. A pitch-black and off-kilter ride, Lost Highway is a complex, hallucinatory, and subversive slice of experimental cinema.
8: Possession (1981)
Andrzej Zulawski’s cult classic horror film uses the double with Kafka-esque precision. Isabelle Adjani plays Anna and Helen, inexplicably identical-looking women both involved with Sam Neill‘s character, who himself is confronted with his twisted reflection by the film’s end. On the surface, the film is a break-up film of bonkers proportions that slowly unfolds into an unsettling undertow of physical and mental horror. Perplexing and incendiary, Possession is a singular experience into madness and insanity, punctuated by violence, sexuality, and tentacled creatures. Elevated by phenomenal performances from Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani, the film will rattle your nerves in all the right ways.
7: Moon (2009)
Duncan Jones debut film, Moon, is a masterpiece of low budget sci-fi offerings. Practically a one-man show for Sam Rockwell, who shines ever so brightly, Moon is an atmospheric and cerebral throwback to 70s sci-fi. The film is about Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), an isolated astronaut on Earth’s moon who’s spent the last three long years in isolation. At the lunar station Sarang, mining helium-3, Sam only has the AI computer GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey) for companionship. Until he finds his doppelgänger unconscious in a crashed rover, that is. This simple, yet intellectual and unpredictably audacious sci-fi stunner continuously unfolds in intriguing ways, building to an emotional conclusion that’s sharp and thought-provoking. To this day, it’s still Jones’ best work.
6: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Infamously chilling and effective with its use of the double, Don Siegel’s The Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a thinly-veiled examination of McCarthy-era hysteria. The film has birthed countless iterations, from remakes to reimaginings like The Faculty, World’s End, or The Fourth Kind. It also informed other greats like John Carpenter’s The Thing with its invention of a monster that looks eerily just like us. The film follows Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy), a California doctor who arrives at a San Francisco hospital in near-hysterical condition, raving about an alien invasion. His story, told in flashback, focuses on Bennell's home in tiny Santa Mira, where he discovers an alien plot to take over earth by methodically replacing humankind with zombie-like pod people. One of the best political allegories of the 1950s, Invasion of the Body Snatchers still packs a wallop with its suspenseful grip.
5: The Double Life of Véronique (1991)
Krzysztof Kieslowski’s take on the double/doppelgänger involves a heaping dose of magical realism and visual poetry. His investigation here is bent in a much more metaphysical, spiritual, and existential way, much like most of his filmography. Full of gorgeous cinematography, the film is about an unexplained connection between two strangers, Weronika, a Polish choir singer, and Véronique, a French music teacher (both of which are played by Irène Jacob). Enchanting and enigmatic, Kieslowski brings beauty, wonder, and mystery into the Quotidian with masterful effect. Easily summarized, but only truly understood when experienced, The Double Life of Véronique is a splendidly poetic fable about love, humanity and the self.
4: Solaris (1971)
Andrei Tarkovsky’s contemplative and engaging sci-fi epic Solaris is a well renowned staple of slow cinema, and it uses the double, similarly to The Double Life of Véronique, to explore the metaphysical, spiritual, and existential side of duality. It ultimately questions the unreliability of reality and the power of the human unconscious. It’s heralded by many, including Akira Kurosawa, who famously wrote: “[Solaris] is no ordinary science fiction film. It truly somehow provokes pure horror in our soul. And it’s under the total grip of the deep insights of Tarkovsky.” The film is about a psychologist, Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis), who is sent to a distant space station stabilized above the mysterious planet Solaris. The cosmonauts at the station have not made communication in some time with Earth, and Kelvin finds them all psychologically out of sorts. He soon discovers that Solaris materializes human forms based on theirs and his’ memories from Earth, which conjures up the double of his wife, Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk), who committed suicide several years ago. Surreal and tender, Solaris is not just one of Tarkovsky’s greatest films but one of sci-fi’s greatest offerings.
3: The Great Dictator (1940)
You aren’t the only person who thought that Chaplin’s tramp character looked strikingly similar to Hitler. Nope, Chaplin himself could see the visual symmetry, and he made the bold choice to use his aesthetic to mock and ridicule Germany’s führer in the early phase of his tyranny. In the film, a Jewish barber in WWI (played by Chaplin) fighting for the army of Tomania is stricken with amnesia after an attack. 20 years pass and the fictional country of Tomania is overtaken by dictator Adenoid Hynkel (Chaplin again), who hates the Jewish people and regularly wreaks havoc on their ghetto, where the Jewish barber now resides. As the story progresses, the identities are swapped, allowing the Jewish barber to make a speech in place of the dictator. In a brave and touching finale, Chaplin drops character and becomes himself, delivering an impassioned plea for peace, tolerance, and humanity. Courageous, cutting edge, touchingly human, and downright hysterical, The Great Dictator is a classic double dose of Chaplin antics.
2: Persona (1966)
Perhaps Ingmar Bergman’s finest cinematic achievement, Persona employs the double in a far more psychological way. The story revolves around a young nurse named Alma (Bibi Andersson) and her patient, well-known stage actress Elisabet Vogler (Liv Ullmann), who has suddenly stopped speaking. They move to a cottage, where Alma cares for Elisabet, confides in her and begins having trouble distinguishing herself from her patient. Bergman wrote the film with Ullmann and Andersson in mind for the lead roles and the idea of exploring their identities. With elements of psychological horror, Persona has been called the Mount Everest of cinematic analysis, creating countless interpretations and fueling much debate. Equal parts challenging and rewarding, its themes of duality, insanity and personal identity will give any viewer a lot to chew on while being dazzled by Bergman’s stunning lensing and a tour de force performance from Andersson.
1: Vertigo (1958)
Considered by many to be one of the greatest films ever made, Alfred Hitchcock’s late-50s masterpiece Vertigo has one of the most iconic uses of the double in all of cinema history. The film is an unpredictable and chilling thriller that doubles as a mournful meditation on love, loss, and human comfort. The film stars James Stewart as former police detective John "Scottie" Ferguson. Scottie is forced into early retirement because an incident in the line of duty has caused him to develop acrophobia (an extreme fear of heights) and vertigo (a false sense of rotational movement). Scottie is hired by an acquaintance, Gavin Elster, as a private investigator to follow Gavin's wife Madeleine (Kim Novak), who is behaving strangely. After saving her from suicide, Scottie begins to fall in love with her, and she appears to feel the same way. However, tragedy strikes, and with each twist in the film’s second half our preconceptions about the characters and events begin to alter. Accompanied by Bernard Herrmann’s hypnotic score, vibrant cinematography from Robert Burks, and masterful direction from Hitchcock, Vertigo is our pick for the greatest film involving doubles.
Did we leave any of your favorite off our list? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!