The One I Love
What a find! I have concluded that if you want to see good science fiction in the movies, you should walk right past the multiplex showing the latest $250,000,000 Avengers-style dumbfests, movies that measurably lower your IQ as you’re sitting there, and seek out the low- or no-budget little ones, like Primer, Predestination, Safety Not Guaranteed, or this one. They get made because someone loves the idea, and is willing to work very hard to make it happen. In this case, they have made the perfect Twilight Zone episode for the new century. Here’s the set-up:
Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elizabeth Moss) are married, but they are in trouble. Ethan had an affair, but beyond that, the magic has gone out of the relationship. A marriage counselor-therapist (Ted Danson) recommends that they spend the weekend at a retreat, a house north of the city, to try to rekindle the romance. It is a terrific house (more on that later), big but not ostentatious, low to the ground. There is a small pool, nice grounds, and a guest house that in itself is bigger and nicer that any house I’ve ever lived in. It is all totally furnished in great taste. They move in, and strange things start to happen. Sophie makes love to Ethan in the guest house … then finds him stretched out on the sofa in the main house, asleep. He has no memory of the love-making. She thinks he’s running a sick mind game on her.
But they soon realize there are two identical copies of themselves in the guest house. At first they flee … but it’s an intriguing situation. They go back and begin to explore it. Sophie begins to realize that Ethan2 is, in a lot of ways, a better version of Ethan, at least as far as her concerns go. He listens better, he can explain his feelings and apologize for his shortcomings. He tells her everything she needs to hear at this point in her life. Ethan1 begins to get alarmed because, though Sophie2 is cheerful and tractable, almost a Stepford wife in trying to please him, he sees he is losing the actual woman he loves. And that’s all I can say, plotwise. But it was satisfying throughout, even to the ending, which is so, so hard to do in SF. In fact, I highly recommend this movie.
Now, as a writer of (mostly) “hard” science fiction, I am always tempted to ask how this happened. How is it that the others look exactly like Ethan and Sophie? How is it that (as it develops) they are unable to leave this … test tube? Petri dish? Is this an Under the Dome situation, with aliens doing experiments? Who is the mysterious therapist?
This movie does not concern itself with any questions like that. This is the situation. Accept it. That’s the deal we make with them. Most Twilight Zone stories were like that. There’s a Polaroid camera that takes pictures five minutes into the future. How does it do that? No friggin’ idea, it just does; now can we get on with the story of what happens next?
When I’m dubious about a proposition like that, I always think of Stan Freberg’s great commercial for Sunsweet pitted prunes. (No, really! I have a point to make here!) A guy eats one, says it’s great that it’s pitted, and how do that do that? Freberg, in a very bored voiceover, says “They do it.” So that’s what I tell myself with stories like this. They do it. With that out of the way, I can now enjoy my pitted prune.
Interesting side information: The first-time director, Charlie McDowell, is the son of Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen, and now the stepson of Ted Danson. And the lovely, lovely house and grounds and guesthouse they filmed in is actually Danson and Steenburgen’s home in the country near Ojai, California. I’m sure that kept the filming costs down.