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10 Essential Doppelgänger Films to Watch Before ‘Enemy’ and ‘The Double’

Written by on March 13, 2014 

Partner (Bernardo Bertolucci)

Possibly the only one of Bernardo Bertolucci’s films that could be qualified as a comedy, Partner sees him creating an appropriately absurd response to his international breakthrough Before the Revolution by splintering that work’s protagonist into two different people. Of course, this means that each represents a different ideology; one being the passive student, the other the fervent opponent of the Vietnam War whose means of protest extends towards both violence, and naturally, art. Not just loosely based off Dostoevsky’s novel The Double (which serves as the inspiration for another forthcoming doppelgänger film), the presence of Bertolucci’s mentor Jean-Luc Godard is felt heavily in the film’s color scheme and politics. Yet in this case, Bertolucci uses the double conceit to tend to the ambivalences and personal conflicts running throughout his films. – Ethan V.

Persona (Ingmar Bergman)

The subject of endless imitations, parodies, and pastiches, as well as the source of limitless influence, Persona, which Susan Sontag called “Bergman’s masterpiece,” begins as a film about a nurse who accompanies an actress-patient to an island after she gives up speech entirely. But this simple yet bizarre narrative gradually reveals itself to be a meditation on doubling itself—in the characters’ relations to each other, in the blurring between dream and reality, and in the boundaries and dialogue between film and audience. Indeed, Bergman’s mise-en-scene is exact in every detail, from symmetric lighting on the faces of his two stars to the iconic moment at which point the two faces merge, and in the precise moments in which the stars speak directly into the camera, that it’s of no surprise that the master himself claimed that with Persona he “touched wordless secrets that only the cinema can discover.” – Forrest C.

That Obscure Object of Desire (Luis Buñuel)

The last film Luis Buñuel made, That Obscure Object of Desire is a farewell only the cinema’s preeminent surrealist could ever dream. Here, Buñuel irreverently and ingeniously turns a technical constraint—his lead actress abandoned the film after an argument—into both a source of comedy and one of his best ever statements about desire. Mathieu (Fernando Rey, dubbed by Michel Piccoli) can never quite figure out how to make Conchita (Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina) fall in love with him, but for the viewer, the reason is obvious—he’s rarely dealing with the same woman in consecutive scenes. On one memorable occasion, Molina walks behind a curtain, only for Bouquet to make the return. It’s a doppelgänger like no other, nonexistent in the narrative but impossible to miss for those of us on the outside, and that perceptive disconnect makes the implausible ending—and the film as a whole—unforgettable. – Forrest C.

Solaris (Andrei Tarkovsky)

Andrei Tarkovsky‘s meditative masterpiece is one of the most affecting films when it comes to overcoming loss. Following Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) as he’s sent to check up on an space station that’s orbiting the fictional Solaris, things start to appear not as they seem. The appearance of Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk), a doppelgänger of his ex-wife who committed suicide years priors, disrupts his plans, as our lead must learn to reconciliate her loss. While much of the last act is open to interpretation regarding the physical and mental state of those involved, it remains a powerful experience, and its remake is also one of the few worthwhile of its kind to emerge from Hollywood. – Jordan R.

Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock)

Recently crowned as the best film of all-time by one of the most thoroughly founded polls, Alfred Hitchcock‘s Vertigo is a film I’ve always admired, but it wasn’t until director Rian Johnson brought some context that I fully grasped why it works so well. As he writes, “When I finish watching Vertigo I always feel like I’ve been woken from a nap in a muggy room,” and “you realize this isn’t a mousetrap, it’s a fever dream.'” Much of that feeling can be attributed to the unsettling doppelgänger portrayal (certainly not the first time the director has employed the device), as we follow Kim Novak‘s Madeleine Elster and, subsequently, Judy Barton, with not only a dual performance but a doubling of the narrative across its first and second halves. – Jordan R.

Enemy hits theaters on March 14th, while The Double lands on VOD and in theaters on May 9th.

What are your favorite doppelgänger films?

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