The One I Love is the feature film debut of director Charlie McDowell and stars Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss. It was released in 2014. Although the film begins as a reasonably straightforward getaway for Ethan (Duplass) and Sophie (Moss) at the advice of their therapist (Ted Danson), the story quickly takes a quirky turn, giving it the feel of an episode of The Twilight Zone produced for the big screen.
The first scene makes it clear that at some point prior to the movie, Ethan cheated on his wife, Sophie. Flashbacks show the start of their relationship when everything was fresh and exciting as well as their failed attempts to rekindle those feeling. After listening to them, their therapist offers them access to a country house where they can rediscover each other in a secluded environment, noting that several of his patients have successfully made use of the house.
Upon arriving at the country estate, Sophie and Ethan discover there is a main house and a guest house, both of which they have full access to. After a first night getting used to their surroundings, they begin to explore separately. They also notice some oddities, for instance, Sophie prepares a breakfast of bacon and eggs for Ethan, who comments that she hates it when he eats bacon. Things get even weirder when Sophie mentioned how great the sex was the night before and Ethan has no recollection of having sex with her.
It quickly becomes apparent that there are doppelgangers of both Ethan and Sophie living on the estate and interacting with them, although neither of the originals sees their duplicates. The doppelgangers offer Sophie and Ethan what the originals can’t, with the duplicate Ethan being more in touch with himself and able to show Sophie the concern and vulnerability that she seeks from him. The duplicate Sophie offers the original Ethan the acceptance and trust that the original can no longer offer.
The viewers are aware of the situation before the characters are, which allows them to watch as the original Ethan and Sophie begin to piece the situation together. While Sophie eventually accepts the oddity of what is happening to them, Ethan strives for understanding, questioning the duplicate Sophie and trying to figure out how to meet his own duplicate.
The One I Love uses the strangeness of the situation to explore questions of fidelity, love, and identity. While Ethan cheated on Sophie before the film started, can Sophie be considered to have cheated on Ethan when she was having sex with his doppelganger, not yet knowing that there was the possibility that it wasn’t Ethan? Later, the doppelganger accuses Ethan of cheating on Sophie again by pretending to be the doppelganger.
While Sophie and Ethan are the co-stars, Sophie’s characters, both the original and the doppelganger, are more accepting of the situation. The doppelganger Ethan also seems to simply be playing out the role assigned to him by fate. The story really belongs to the original Ethan, who realizes something is going on and objects to it, trying to figure out what is happening, and thereby becoming the voice of the viewer who has many of the same questions Ethan raises.
The film is a deep look at a failing relationship and the opportunity to fix it, backed by elements of the fantastic. Although there are numerous special effects shots throughout the film as Duplass and Moss have to act opposite themselves, they are subtle special effects show, not the sort of CGI that draws the viewer’s attention. While chromakey shots date back to the 1890s, more than a century of use has made the merging of shots seamless, allowing it to be used in stories like The One I Love without distracting viewers from the story itself.
Although the film does come to a reasonably satisfying conclusion, it is not entirely free from ethical issues and gives the viewer a chance to question the film and their own values. The question of how the doppelgangers are achieved is never addressed in the film, although their therapist is implicated in their creation, causing him to take on some of the qualities of Fantasy Island’s Mr. Rourke (played in the 1998 remake by Malcolm McDowell, the director’s father) or even Danson’s own later character, Michael from The Good Place (and Danson is the director’s step-father).
It would be nice to have a more complete explanation for how the doppelgangers arose, rather than the explanation of their purpose and some hand-waving to explain how they came to be. It is quite possible that McDowell and writer Justin Lader haven’t figured out the mechanism behind it and don’t really care. The duplicates are merely the MacGuffin that allows the story to be told. However, without any sort of rationalization or explanation beyond the hand-waving that the film does, it creates a sense of dissatisfaction with the film, although the film succeeds admirably on other, non-science fictional, levels.
The One I Love is currently streaming on Fubo, Showtime, DirecTV, and Spectrum. It can be rented or purchased on Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, Vudu, Microsoft, and Redbox. It is also available for purchase on DVD and BluRay.
Steven H Silver is an eighteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW, NESFA Press, and ZNB. His most recent anthology is Alternate Peace and his novel After Hastings, was published in 2020. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7.