I’d heard a little bit about this film from a variety of places, none, though, that I can clearly remember. Podcasts, people talking, mentions on websites or in comment threads. I’d heard, specifically, that there was a weird sci-fi element to the film that seemed conspicuously left out of the marketing, and this intrigued me. So when the wife and I were looking to take a break from a marathon Arrested Development binge I suggested we try out The One I Love.
I’ll lay out the basics while trying to be spoiler-free. The One I Love is about a husband and wife who are going through some problems. The opening scenes take place in a couple’s therapist office, the couple on the couch are Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss), and they’ve been having trouble connecting since Ethan’s infidelity–I don’t think that’s much of a spoiler, since it’s heavily hinted at in the first ten minutes of the movie. They’re drifting apart, for obvious reasons, and through the therapy montage we clearly see how separate they’ve become from one another. As a last ditch effort, their therapist suggests that they go away and spend a weekend together, in fact, he knows just the place. He hands them the information for a vacation getaway, an estate, and says that every couple that stays there has left happy. Willing to do whatever it takes to save their relationship, Sophie and Ethan oblige and go away together.
When they arrive Ethan rambles the property, and discovers a pool, a recording studio and a guest house. On their first night they have some dinner, smoke some pot and goof around with each other–things are going great…
..and here we enter spoiler country, because this is where things get weird and can’t really be talked around. They’re having a great night until Sophie explores the guest house and finds Ethan. Ethan, who she just left in the main house. Ethan, calmer, sexier and more relaxed than we the audience have seen him thus far. Sophie loves the change and the two finish off their great night by listening to records, eating grapes on the floor and making love. They plan to spend the night in the guest house and Sophie scoots off to grab a change of clothes. When she gets to the main house she finds Ethan sacked out on the couch, fast asleep.
Things only get weirder from there.
The guest house contains doubles of both Ethan and Sophie. When Sophie enters the guest house, she finds the Ethan double. When Ethan enters he finds a wide-eyed and pliant Sophie double. When they enter together the place is empty. When one enters without the other, the doors and windows are locked. The doubles can’t leave the guest house.
So, here we’re faced with the premise of the film: if you were able to gain access to the most perfect version of your partner, in a limited capacity, without your real partner being there to influence the situation, what would you do?
Sophie and Ethan, after at first freaking out, decide it would be a good idea to explore this phenomena further and agree to take timed sessions in the guest house with their double. Sophie uses this time to feel the love and attention that she’d been lacking from her real husband, as well as to find out why it is that Ethan cheated on her in the first place. Ethan uses his time to try to figure out what the doubles are, and what their purpose is.
As we find out more about the doubles the film starts to fall apart a bit. You see, they’re not ghosts, they’re not spirits or magical entities really–they’re cursed people. Cursed, presumably by the therapist, to inhabit the guest house, to become the next couple that visits the estate, and to try to seduce one or both of them into falling in love and staying on the grounds. As they get closer to their goal they have more power, they’re able to leave the guest house and interact with both members of the couple freely. There’s a pretty great scene where Ethan and Sophie have dinner with their doubles–Ethan is skeptical and wants his wife back, Sophie is falling deeper under the spell of Ethan’s double. What happens? Watch the movie.
The premise is completely original.
The acting was fantastic. Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass switch gears between their main characters and their doubles with a subtlety that’s just amazing.
As I learned more about the weirdness it became less interesting. I would have preferred it if the doubles were something overtly magical–spirits or djinn, than cursed people. It presents a strange problem at the end, because one of the doubles ends up leaving, and one of the real couple ends up staying. So, the person who is now living in the real world with the double of their spouse is really just living with a person who looks like their spouse and has *some* knowledge about who they’re supposed to be–it’s explicitly shown that the doubles are taught about the people they’re impersonating. That might make for an awkward Thanksgiving.
I also wanted to see Elisabeth Moss do more. She’s got some good stuff, but It didn’t feel like she was on screen as much as either of the Ethans. It seemed like the perfect version of Sophie was just to be wide-eyed, docile and cute when interacting with Ethan(s), but territorial when interacting with real Sophie. I have a great sense of what the perfect version of Ethan is like, but less so with Sophie.
So, this concept, to always have the best version of your partner on hand, is it a seductive one? The more I think about it, the less I think so. What would that mean? The best part of relationships is having a partner to grow with, to challenge you, to push you and to make you think about things in a different way. To think outside of your own wants and needs. It’s when we get lazy and complacent in our relationships–intimate or otherwise–that they tend to fall apart. In the film Ethan strayed from his commitment to Sophie, he promised one thing and delivered another, and he let his own self disgust mar any growth he could have gained from that experience. He ignored his partner and brought this magical doom, this curse upon them.
In fact, the more I think about it, the more the resolution seems like an extension of the curse.
So, y’know, listen to your partner and learn from your mistakes.
And watch this film and let me know what you think.