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Doppelgängers, Doubles and Twins: 8 Must-See Dual Performances

Doppelgängers, Doubles and Twins: 8 Must-See Dual Performances

Patricia Arquette in “Lost Highway”

Appearing as both the wife and mistress of Bill Pullman in Lynch’s mind-bending neo-noir rabbit hole, Patricia Arquette plays two divergent women: A raven-haired devoted wife and a platinum blonde ex-porn actress. Following little logic outside of the requisite dreamy Lynchian ties to draw the characters together, the dual reality of Arquette as bombshell Alice and wifely Renee float in and out, slowly revealing her husband’s/lover’s tenuous grip on reality. A maze of mistaken identity and unclear characterization, “Lost Highway” is difficult to talk about in realistic terms, preferring instead to exist in dreams and nightmares. But Arquette, who at this point in her career was more “True Romance” beauty than “Boyhood” mom, perfectly embodies both takes on the vixen in this Lynchian classic.

Julie Christie in “Fahrenheit 451”

Most notable largely for its fumble with the trope, the Truffaut-helmed Bradbury adaptation saw Julie Christie as two ends of “Fahrenheit 451’s” extremes as both the revolutionary schoolteacher Clarisse and the largely brainwashed, disaffected housewife Linda. Bradbury himself has identified the “mistake” in Truffaut’s adaptation as the decision to cast Christie in both roles, which was similarly unpopular with critics; TIME Magazine identified Christie’s two performances as “differ[ing] only in their hairdos.” Nonetheless, the thought and theoretical promise behind casting the dichotomous woman is a convincing emotional play that proves Truffaut’s English-language debut has brains to spare, though some of its more effective moves might have gotten lost in translation.

Olivia de Havilland in “The Dark Mirror”

An effective, if dated, psychological thriller, “The Dark Mirror” stars Olivia de Havilland as both halves of a pair of twins: One appropriately demure, the other a psychotic killer. Though the film employs some questionable science, it is one of the earliest films to employ the split screen to allow the same actress to occupy two places on the screen. De Havilland stars as Terry and Ruth Collins, the inconsistent and shadowy siblings whose faulty personalities and misleading alibis confuse a murder investigation and lead to the film’s shocking climax. An unpretentious but stylish film noir, “The Dark Mirror” offers a satisfying performance from De Havilland and an early exploration of the role of technology in uncovering the complexity of being. 

Jeremy Irons in “Dead Ringers

With an elevator pitch that could include the words “identical twin doctor”” and “custom gynecological tools,” it seems clear that “Dead Ringers” could only come from Cronenberg, and the Jeremy Irons-starring psychosexual thriller certainly sees the body horror king at his disconcerting peak. Irons stars as Elliot and Beverly Mantle, twin gynecologists who prey on women at their most vulnerable in order to sleep with them. When Beverly, the polite and quiet twin, falls in love (and into drugs) with one of their patients, the twins’ perverse quid pro quo breaks down, leading to an inevitably dark and violent spiral. But what is most impressive is Jeremy Irons’ Jekyll & Hyde take on the darkly moralistic tale, encapsulating both malevolent darkness and childlike loneliness in his heartbreaking and doomed duality. 

Jesse Eisenberg in “The Double”

Timid Simon (Jesse Eisenberg) is comfortably milling about his increasingly depressing life in a government job when he finds his world disrupted by the arrival of a suspiciously familiar co-worker. The new hire is James, Simon’s physical double but social antithesis, a well-liked and quickly embraced lothario who quickly wins the affections of Simon’s bosses and his workplace crush. But when his double begins showing signs of callous evil, Simon is forced to reassess his life and challenge his smarmy doppelganger’s rule on the office and his life. An engaging follow-up to Richard Aoyade’s similarly quirky “Submarine,” “The Double” is a fun and existential rumination on self-denial with a great opportunity to see Jesse Eisenberg at either ends of his range as both diminutive mumbler and reviled wise guy. 

Nicolas Cage in “Adaptation.”

A labyrinth of self-reflexivity, Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze’s “Adaptation.” stars Nicolas Cage as the Kaufman brothers, Charlie and Donald, two identical and divergent siblings of the same parentage. Charlie, the character most clearly based on Kaufman’s real-life persona, is the oft-sweaty, always nervous artistic screenwriter challenged with the prospect of adapting an infamously narrative-free book for the screen. Donald is Charlie’s confident and impossibly lucky directionless other half, often seen lying on the floor in an attempt to align his aching back. Introduced without much explanation and dispatched in a wildly climactic ending considering the film’s understated tone, Cage acts much of the film against himself and with aplomb, allowing Kaufman to explore the duality of humanity while mocking the very method he employs in the process. 

Jake Gyllenhaal in “Enemy

After a man spies what looks to be his identical twin in a film, curiosity leads him to discover a man that is his physical double, though their respective lives couldn’t be more divergent. One is Adam, a solitary and bookish married man and the other is Anthony, a passionate actor with a beautiful French girlfriend (Melanie Laurent). But when the two begin to slowly slip in an out of each other’s life, fooling their significant others, their lies spin a web of death and destruction (complete with appropriately terrifying spiders) as the two men slowly meld into one.

Peter Sellers in “Dr. Strangelove”

Holding the unofficial title for the most ridiculous names in a single feature is Peter Sellers in “Dr. Strangelove,” whose trio of roles in Kubrick’s classic black comedy include President Merkin Muffley, Group Captain Colonel Mandrake and the titular Dr. Strangelove. But rather than use Sellers’ multiplicity for the purposes of a psychologically deep rationale, “Dr. Strangelove” exploits the actor’s chameleonic abilities in what amounts to a totally forgivable attempt to cram maximum Sellers-y goodness into one hilariously dark nuclear package.

Legend” is now playing in select theaters.

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