20 Films About Doubles And Doppelgangers

In a culture of cellphone-snapped selfies it’s hard to imagine a time when people might have been afraid of their own image. But Facebook walls and Instagram feeds to the contrary, for the vastly longer portion of human history, to see a perfect replica of yourself was an uncanny event, impossible even, exemplified by the belief shared by some native tribes in the early days of photography, that it could take away your soul. Or perhaps they were just being super cautious about ownership of their brand image.

Whatever the case, there’s a broad term given to the phenomenon—which, like all the best terminology is a loan word from German—doppelganger theory, which haunts this week’s release, Denis Villeneuve’s “Enemy” (our stellar TIFF review here) as thoroughly as it did the José Saramago source novel. Because while occasionally the doppleganger can be of a mischievous or trickster-ish bent, more often seeing one’s own double is a fearful experience, sometimes even the harbinger of death. With such mythic roots, and such a close correlation to the facsimiles that the technology of cinema could produce, it’s perhaps no wonder that the filmic tradition of the doppelganger is so long and so varied. Plus it seems to be experiencing a zeitgeist-y moment right now: after “Enemy,” Richard Ayoade’s equally worthwhileThe Double” starring Jesse Eisenberg will open in a month or so too.

In fact, we were hard pushed to keep this list in any way manageable, and so we really just went with gut instinct on what we did and did not include. So while we attempted to make our selection as eclectic as the canon warrants, really it’s the thematic resonance of doppelganger theory that we remain most fascinated by: the powerful, occasionally philosophical questions it can raise about the nature of identity, the soul and how important it is to our sense of ourselves not just to be human, not just to be important, but to be unique. Here are 20 films good and bad, that comically, dramatically or most often, spookily contend with those ideas.

Vertigo” (1958)
The canonization of Hitchcock‘s classic as Sight and Sound‘s “Greatest Film of All Time” (after it tipped Welles‘ “Citizen Kane” off that particular belfry in 2013) makes it easy to forget just what a deeply fucked-up, fabulously twisted film it really is. Often judged the director’s most personal film, it casts the ultimate cinematic everyman, James Stewart, as the broken, ossifying, resolutely un-heroic Scotty (let’s not forget he fails to save three different people from falling to their deaths over the course of the film). He only connects to the world through a twisted obsession with a woman who is herself not real (she’s a creation designed to entice and intrigue him), and after her death, he happens on her double, and devolves into a monster of control and a slave to his own worst nature (man, does this film writhe around gloriously in the darkest recesses of the psyche). Almost too noir for noir, it is also of course, the ultimate double film, as Scotty goes about remaking Madeleine (Kim Novak, whose slight self-consciousness as an actress works brilliantly here in never letting us forget the schism between Judy and “Madeleine” and even between “Madeleine” and the real victim of the original plot). Perhaps the most brilliant twist of all in this bold film, though, is Hitchcock’s establishment of a tone of creeping dread, which he does so skillfully that even when we discover the mystery does not have the supernatural aspect that’s been teased for so long, we’re so far down the rabbit hole of Scotty’s perverse psychology that we’re pretty much haunted anyway. [A+]

The Double Life of Véronique” (1991)
If the double/doppelgänger genre often comes chock-a-block with creepy, psychological horror overtones exploring identity, the struggle for sanity, and similar mindfuck terrors, then Krzysztof Kieslowski‘s take is the polar opposite. Like Andrei Tarkovsky‘s “Solaris” (and to lesser extent, the remake), Kieslowski’s investigation of duality has a much more metaphysical, spiritual and existential bent (much like most of his oeuvre). Without ever using sci-fi or genre tropes, the Polish filmmaker was always consumed with the mysteries of the universe and intuitive human nature—such as the uncanny sensation behind things like déjà vu–and ‘Veronique’ was no different. His beautiful muse Irène Jacob (who would also star in his final opus “Red”), plays the roles of two women irresolvably, but mysteriously connected, who only briefly interact. One is Weronika, a young Polish singer who dies suddenly, shortly after seeing her doppelganger in a Krakow square. Her double is Véronique, a French music teacher just as suddenly consumed by a crushing existential sadness, that the movie suggests is the unconscious grief she feels when her other half dies. Rhythmically enigmatic, gorgeously elusive and deeply sensual, underneath all the expressive mood, lies a deeply moving and thought-provoking picture. And like all Kieslowski films, the movie doesn’t spell out any of its intentions but leaves the viewer with a wonderfully shimmering and poetic suggestion of the obscure interiors of a human being. A beautiful and hypnotic fable about love, humanity and the self, “The Double Life of Véronique” is one of Kieslowski’s many masterworks about the mystical human unconscious. [A]

The Prestige” (2006)
If you thought “Inception” was a mindfuck, Christopher Nolan’s “The Prestige” might just have it beat, in a labyrinthine tale of rival magicians and the desperate lengths both will go to for a trick. Based on the terrific Christopher Priest novel of the same name (even having read the book, it took us a couple of go-rounds with the movie to untangle its phantasmagorically complex plot) the film positively teems with doubles and doppelgangers until a final reveal that is, in fact, less intriguing than some of the other twists that have happened along the way. Specifically, the machine built by Nikola Tesla (David Bowie in some of the most “yes, please!” casting ever) to enable The Great Danton (Hugh Jackman) to emulate The Professor’s (Christian Bale) “Transported Man” trick where he disappears and reappears instantaneously on the other side of the stage. While each man has his own double subplot, perhaps the most interesting meta-theme is how these great rivals mirror each other too, especially reflected in their obsessive but callous relationships with their wives and lovers (Piper Perabo, Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson). Rich in period detail, beautifully shot and played, the film does attempt too many somersaults to stick the landing, and some of its themes may be lost as we struggle to figure out which version of who did what, but it’s still a wonderfully layered puzzle-box of a film, with a sci-fi twist that gives it an uncanny tone that is totally faithful to the creepiness of the novel, and yet uniquely Nolan too. [B+]

The Man Who Haunted Himself” (1970)
A prime example of a doppelganger film that gets so entangled in its premise that it has a hard time finding a way out, this Roger Moore curio, directed by prolific British director Basil Dearden has maybe more to recommend it these days for Moore fans (to whom this trailer certainly seems to play), and as a time capsule for its well-shot London locations. As an actual story, however, it scarcely hangs together: a stiff, respectable family man dies briefly but is then revived only to eventually realize, via a whole lot of “but I saw you yesterday!” “No, you didn’t!”-type encounters that he is being dogged by a double. Not only that, but as he increasingly goes to pieces, the double only ever seems to become more urbane and suave (and with Moore involved, our suav-O-meter needle was off the dial at times), boasting a hot girlfriend and a flash car and a knack for at snooker. The pacing is draggy, and the acting, outside of Moore who is game, is poor, but there is enough late-sixties brio to the way the film is put together (lots of red filters and extreme close-ups to denote fragmenting states of mind) to make it diverting enough. Just don’t expect a denoument that properly answers the madness vs. physical double conundrum in anything like a satisfying way. [C]

Femme Fatale” (2002)
Doubles dot the De Palma filmography liberally, (as well as “Obsession” which is on this list, there’s “Body Double,” “Dressed to Kill,” “Raising Cain” and even “Mission: Impossible” has those masks), and he has been known to use them to halfway decent effect, allowing him to channel his Hitchcockian impulses into salacious stories of splintered identities. “Femme Fatale,” however, is not one of those times, with the doppelganger here functioning as a uselessly contrived plot point in an already overstretched narrative that [spoiler alert] mostly turns out to have been a dream anyway. Betraying her team after an involved jewel heist at the Cannes Film Festival, the sexy Laure (Rebecca Romijn) goes into sexy hiding but is mistaken for another sexy woman, who conveniently commits suicide, leaving a passport and a plane ticket outta here. All is well until years later she returns to Paris, now married and monied, and her old gang picks up her trail once more. And then the huge eyerolling twist happens and we’re back to nearly square one on the whole thing before some equally implausible stuff happens and the film decides to end. Contrary to De Palma apologists who insist this is all terribly knowing and therefore great fun, to us the film’s outright blithering silliness just comes across as disrespectful of its audience’s brain, though we’ll admit that Rebecca Romijn’s striptease remains a classic of that dubious canon. [D+/C-]

Suture” (1993)
While we’re not usually fans of the style-over-substance movie, there are a few occasions in which the style more or less becomes the substance, and “Suture,” directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel (the team behind last year’s underseen “What Maisie Knew”), and championed early on by Steven Soderbergh, is one such case. Shot in crisp, graphic, occasionally blinding black and white and so carefully constructed that almost every shot feels like a video art piece (a favorite moment of ours is a conversation happening across a car rooftop that is shot from a slowly sinking POV), the film also has the archest of self-aware filmic premises: the two leads play near-identical brothers, whom no one in the film can tell apart but they are portrayed by the black Dennis Haysbert and the white Michael Harris, two actors who are as facially and physically different as they are in terms of skin color. But clearly framing this fascinating idea for use as a fulcrum around which to lever open themes of identity and its social construction, Siegel and McGehee do lose that thread a little, becoming distracted, in the way of the neophyte director, by the noir plot trappings that they also include—double crossings and murders and faked deaths that unfortunately detract a little, in their complexity and also genre familiarity, from the real psychological mystery at the film’s core. Still, this is a hugely inventive arthouse film, that boasts images that have remained alive in our memory for the two decades between first watching it and now. [B+]

Adaptation” (2002)
Directed by Spike Jonze, and scripted by meta-master Charlie Kaufman, “Adaptation” is a multi-layered, multi-plot meta-biography about a screenwriter struggling to adapt a book. That the character is called Charlie Kaufman (played by Nicolas Cage) is the first of the film’s riffs on doubles and identity switches, but having Cage play identical twin brothers is the more central, with brother Donald not only less tortured and less talented than Charlie, but ironically of course, more successful. In fact Kaufman and Jonze here use the double conceit as a means to work through preoccupations with the nature of the creative process, with Charlie representing the self-doubt and insecurity of potential genius, and Donald the id-driven, easygoing, Robert McKee-following dilettante. The ultimate conclusion of course (like so many films that use doubles to explore notions of schism and duality) is that neither and both approaches are right and it is only when a synthesis of the two occurs that Charlie writes his screenplay, which may not be the one he was hired to write, but is in fact the film we’ve just been watching. Which would probably make for the simplest-ever Charlie Kaufman script if that was all there was to it, but of course he also layers in not just the story of the book, but the story of the writing of the book on which his screenplay is (now only tangentially) based. And an alligator attack. Such a complex thicket of truth vs. fiction it’s no wonder it took two of him to write it; we can only guess at the number of alter egos he had to call into being to complete his paralyzingly brilliant directorial debut “Synecdoche, NY.” [A-]

Doppelganger” (1993)
Were we to follow our mom’s instruction that “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” we’d be hard pushed to fill even a quarter of our short word count on this dire Drew Barrymore vehicle, from the heyday of her “not a child star anymore actually a totally sexy bad girl” period. A horrible, terrible, just very bad plot, which ticks off about every single box there is in the sensationalist handbook in no particular order and with no particular logic (child abuse, insanity, murder, sexy dancing, blasphemy, seduction, betrayal, gratuitous nudity, gratuitous wearing of horrible backwards baseball caps) the story involves a young woman fleeing to LA after the murder of her mother, who is pursued there by her murderous double, who wears a slightly darker shade of lipstick, and is super good at lurking. Something something brother who killed their father (or did he?) something something shrink (or is he?) who turns out to be wearing her face, something something she divides into two bloody skeletons and pushes him out of a stained glass window (or does she?) (no really, she actually does). The only joy the film has to offer is in its awfulness, and judged on that matrix, the performance of Dan Shor as the FBI agent (or is he?) takes some beating, a beating that should have been reserved for whoever thought this pile of crap deserved a greenlight. [F]

Dave” (1993)
While there’s almost something of a subgenre of doubles movies detailing the replacement of a political leader with a lookalike (“The Great Dictator,” and “Kagemusha” are both elsewhere on this list, while “Moon over Parador” is another riff on same) for comedic purposes our favorite is probably this Ivan Reitman-directed, Gary Ross-scripted film starring the insanely likeable Kevin Kline and the perfectly frosty-but-thawing Sigourney Weaver. It’s wish-fulfillment nonsense, of course, a kind of fantasy vision of the decent, ordinary guy trumping the ingrained corruption and cynicism of the Washington power structure, and even winning the love of a good woman in the meantime, all while perpetrating the most outrageously undemocratic fraud on the American people, but the jokes are silly enough when they’re not sly to let the whole thing bounce along pleasantly nonetheless. And really it’s Kline’s film, and he’s so good as the sweet-natured, decent Dave, that we don’t even mind that the contrast with the philandering, lying bastard of a President he replaces (and also plays) is rather too exaggerated for comfort. Frank Langella plays the chief of staff and chief manipulator (decades before he’d get to play Manipulator-in-Chief Richard Nixon), while Ben Kingsley has a small but sympathetic role as the VP in what is mostly a hugely enjoyable frothy comedy, but one that does occasionally bare its anti-conservative fangs to good effect. [B]

Lost Highway” (1997)
Much of David Lynch’s latter-day output has been concerned with doubles, shifting identities and performers conflating with their roles, so much so that both “Mulholland Drive” and “Inland Empire” could easily also figure on this list. However, we value our sanity too much to write about all three and so have chosen the first of his forays into this territory and in many ways the most frequently overlooked. For a filmmaker never exactly wedded to the notion of narrative linearity, “Lost Highway” represented the first real shot across the bow for where he’d be heading in future, and while it might not attain the same level of richness, texture and feeling that “Mulholland Drive” would, it’s still a pretty fascinating exercise in mindfuckery if you’re Lynch fans like us. Here Patricia Arquette takes on a dual role (Renee/Alice), while Bill Pullman (Fred) and Balthazar Getty (Pete) play different men who at various junctures, transform into each other. The heavily stylized, circular, noir-influenced plot involving Fred being sent to death row for the murder of his wife Renee, only to turn into Pete in his cell who is then released, and embarks on an affair with his boss’ mistress Alice, is so intricate and enigmatic that it can be frustrating for anyone looking for a more immersive experience. But from another perspective, the unusually clinical tone Lynch brings to bear here is also appropriate for what is mostly a cerebral exercise in genre deconstruction, and a clever one, if you’re willing to invest. [B-]

Dead Ringers” (1988)
Identical twins have been a staple of storytelling since Shakespearean times (viz the hi-jinks of “The Comedy of Errors” and “Twelfth Night”) right up to the modern soap opera trope of bringing back a popular actor after his character has died via this handy twist. But what makes this Cronenberg film a necessary inclusion here is not the twin aspect as much as where the director, with his trademark chilly cerebrality, brings it—into the realm of blurred identity and fragmenting/coalescing personality, the realm of the double. (“The Parent Trap” it ain’t). In some ways the apotheosis of Cronenberg’s detached style married to the most sordid of material, here Jeremy Irons plays the twins, both gynecologists, which frankly is already the oogiest of concepts, even before they are revealed to be pulling frequent switcheroos on sexual partners and devolving into hallucinatory insanity (the “gynecological instruments for operating on mutant women” have to be among the most disturbing props ever developed for a movie). Their sickening symbiotic relationship, which becomes ever more destructive when tainted with their involvement with a certain woman (Genevieve Bujold, appearing for the second time on this list) should really be the stuff of potboiler melodrama, but Cronenberg’s tight icy tonal control makes this far more insidious than its salacious logline might suggest, delivering a seedy plot that somehow reeks not of blood and gore, but of antiseptic. And we love the smell of antiseptic. [B+]

“Obsession” (1976)
With “Obsession,” De Palma and screenwriter Paul Schrader went to work reconfiguring “Vertigo” as an expansive, generational Southern Gothic thriller, full of murder, intrigue and possible incest. When Cliff Robertson‘s wife and small child are killed during a botched kidnapping, he becomes riddled with guilt, but twenty years later, something miraculous occurs when he encounters a woman who could be the exact double for his dead wife (played by the same actress, Genevieve Bujold). He falls in love with her, but falls victim to a kidnapping plot eerily reminiscent of the original operation that got his wife and child killed. (In Schrader’s insane original draft, there was a third section where the events were replayed yet again, set in the near future.) While De Palma’s original version pushed foregrounded the big twist more (SPOILER the new woman Robertson has fallen in love with is in fact his daughter) the released version was tempered by the implication that the incest angle was a dream. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but it certainly fits in with the movie’s diffused, dreamlike aesthetic (achieved mostly by Vilmos Zsigmond‘s hazy cinematography and Bernard Herrmann‘s sweepingly romantic score), and got a film with an incest plot a PG rating. The doubles in “Obsession” are the very literal representation of the sins of the past being revisited in the present, and they act as a shorthand to connect De Palma’s work with Hitchcock’s masterful original. While it frequently gets overlooked, “Obsession” is a solid entry in De Palma’s canon, where it’s hard to figure out what is real and what is just dark ink on the mirror. [B]

Black Swan” (2010)
For all of its hallucinatory imagery and jarring narrative turns, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan” concentrates a swath of clichés into a very direct result; it’s an exploration of untethered mental illness on the level of Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion”—if all the ambiguity of that film dissolved and you were left with Catherine Deneuve shrieking its themes to the world. But Aronofsky’s thriller still ultimately succeeds because of how intensely, and masterfully, it presents its gothic conventions: the haunted heroine (Natalie Portman’s ballerina Nina Sayers), the parasitic mother (Barbara Hershey), and of course, the doppelganger. Mila Kunis enters the picture early on as Lily, the professional rival to Nina and her committed dance career, and that she may serve as Nina’s darker half—liberated, impulsive, predatory—is no narrative secret to Aronofsky. As Lily slowly infects Nina with paranoia, desire, and an even greater need to attain perfection, the director utilizes every reflective surface around to convey Nina’s repressed emotions, now externalized in front of her. The visceral nature of Aronofsky’s filmmaking, coupled with Clint Mansell’s driving classical score, renders Nina’s gradual transformation as grand, grotesque and (thankfully) occasionally humorous; it’s Portman’s committed performance that makes it intimate and tragic. [B]

Possession” (1981)
Andrzej Żuławski‘s wild, mad, horrifying 1981 psychological horror monstrosity, is actually a film with double doubles: Isabelle Adjani plays Anna and Helen, inexplicably identical-looking women both involved with Sam Neill‘s character, who himself is confronted with his mirror image by the end of the movie, but not before a copious amount of psychosis, betrayal, bloodletting and remarkably graphic sex with tentacled entities of uncertain and unsettling extraction: describing the plot as such is a slightly pointless exercise, since this is mostly an exercise in mood, atmosphere and psychological evocation. A French production, it really owes more to Żuławski’s native Poland and is set in Cold War-era Berlin: it’s a very Eastern European story of spies, paranoia, and nameless, grinding dreads, like the demented, tentacled lovechild of Kafka and le Carre. That Eastern bloc bleakness comes out too in the colours, washed-out greys and blues providing the background to numerous sprays of appallingly vivid blood. “Possession” is unusual too for achieving one other, rare act of doubling: it is both a highly effective piece of psychological, mental horror and an incredibly powerful instance of visceral, physical horror. Few film-makers before or since have crossed that divide as well as Żuławski, and so he can be forgiven for the fact that the film is more or less constantly overblown and overplayed, and frequently tends towards absurdity: it’s more effective that way. [B+]

“Schizopolis” (1996)
The film that saved Steven Soderbergh’s career—the filmmaker had been increasingly frustrated with his work followingSex Lies & Videotape,” and went on to his greatest successes after this palate-cleanser—“Schizopolis” was the most idiosyncratic and experimental film by Soderbergh up to that point. Financed pretty much entirely by the director, the project also stars Soderbergh himself as both office drone Fletcher Munson, who works for an L. Ron Hubbard-type guru, and Dr. Jeffrey Korchek, a dentist who’s having an affair with Munson’s wife (played by Soderbergh’s own ex-wife Betsy Brantley). We don’t really want to give the impression that the film has an actual plot—it’s a digressive, restless piece of work, playful yet academic, and obsessed with language over and above anything else (the first section sees the Munsons speak entirely in descriptions (“Generic greeting.”/”Generic greeting returned”), while the third act replays some of the action in Japanese or French. As such, the doubling plays a relatively small part of the whole, but it’s still fascinating to see in action, in part because of the way it’s layered in throughout (Mrs. Munson also gets her own double, who Korchek also falls for), and partly because the way those doubles are cast: by playing the doubles himself, Soderbergh seems to be digging into the duality of man, and himself, even more explicitly than others in the genre. [B+]

The Great Dictator” (1940)
Released just a year into WWII, Charlie Chaplin subsequently said that had he known of the horrors of the concentration camps at the time, he never would have made “The Great Dictator” which at the time may have seemed to exaggerate the inhumanity of the Nazi regime for comic effect, yet in retrospect actually falls far short of the unthinkable truth. But it’s still a prescient film, especially given its timing—in fact, during production Chaplin had been told that the film would be banned in Britain as they were still pursuing their policy of appeasement with Nazi Germany (in any event it was heavily promoted there and extremely successful). Playing the dual role of Adenoid Hynkel, the megalomaniac dictator with a fondness for Wagner, and the Jewish barber who so resembles him that they are mistaken for each other, Chaplin also wrote and directed the film, his first proper talkie. And while the knockabout doubles plot relies on the same contrivances as latter day riffs like “Moon Over Parador” and “Dave” the pointedness of this endeavor is still breathtaking and occasionally, when the satire meets its match in silliness, very funny, like in the pidgin German translated curtly by a BBC-style narrator. That all the food fights and belt-burstings and fallings over culminate in a stirring, minutes-long speech which is an eloquent plea for tolerance and peace that doesn’t seem to come from the barber-dressed-as-Hynkel but directly from Chaplin to the people of a war-torn world, leaves us in pieces even to this day. [A-]

The Tenant” (1976)
If there ever was a master of the intersection between creepy horror and wry comedy, it might be Roman Polanski during his late ‘60s to mid ‘70s run where he delivered such serio-comic-horror masterworks as “Repulsion” and “Rosemary’s Baby.” Near the end of this fertile period “The Tenant” arrived, described as the third installment, after those two aformentioned, of his psychologically claustrophobic “apartment trilogy.” Co-written, directed by and starring Polanski himself, it centers on Trelkovsky, an unassuming, naïve young man who rents the room from hell in an spooky building. Just a few days before, the unhinged former tenant had jumped out of the second-storey room in a hysterical attempt to commit suicide, and upon this discovery, Trelkovsky visits her in the hospital; she dies shortly thereafter. At that point he starts to become obsessed with her—her story, her habits—and while the other neighbors treat him with suspicion and contempt Trelkovsky becomes increasingly paranoid, until madness overtakes him and a cross-dressing personality double emerges. If the first two films in the trilogy exploited psychic/emotional breakdowns and social alienation, then “The Tenant” employs these themes with a delirious edge of humor, that Polanksi arguably pushes farther even than he did with “Rosemary’s Baby,” and while it was poorly received at the time (many either not being able to grasp its tonal dance or feeling it compared poorly to “Rosemary’s Baby”), it has latterly secured its place as a cult classic (and Criterion, if you’re going to release the rather dry Polanski picture “Tess,” what’s the hold up here?) [B+]

“Kagemusha” (1980)
After a relatively quiet decade (1975’s atypical masterpiece “Dersu Uzula” was his sole film in the preceding ten years, having been crippled by depression for much of the time period), Akira Kurosawa came roaring back with his eye-meltingly stunning return to the samurai epic, one that kicked off a productive final period of the Japanese master’s work. An Eastern take on a familiar plot that runs from “The Man In The Iron Mask” to “The Prisoner Of Zenda,” it sees an unnamed thief (Tatsuya Nakadai) step in to replace the dead warlord to whom he bears a striking resemblance, in a bid to hold the clan together. The kagemusha takes unexpectedly to the job, but soon more or less loses his mind as a result. For a three-hour film, it’s a relatively simple tale, but Kurosawa finds real psychological realism in his title character—it’s one of the more compelling looks at what it is to walk in another man’s shoes, thanks to a stunning performance by Nakadai (who replaced “Zatoichi” star Shintaro Katsu, who left after the first day). And, of course, it’s truly spectacular. Cleanly and colorfully shot, Kurosawa had spent years planning it with storyboards and paintings, and it shows with battle scenes of a scale and scope that dwarf Kurosawa’s previous samurai pictures (only the subsequent “Ran,” which serves very much as a companion piece to this, can outdo it in the genre). It’s perhaps a little less beloved among the general public than the very best-known of Kurosawa’s pictures, but though it’s occasionally as uneven, we find it just as nourishing. [A-]

Strange Impersonation” (1946)
An earlyish entry in the filmography of Anthony Mann, who would go on to tbe more closely associated with the western genre including “Winchester ‘73,” “The Man from Laramie” and Best Picture winner “Cimarron,” “Strange Impersonation” sees Mann tackle the film noir genre with initially intriguing but ultimately stupidly overwrought results. Almost LOL-worthy nowadays for the thrust of its story which is basically an extended cautionary tale about how women, no matter how professionally talented, should get married as soon as they possibly can, otherwise Bad Things will befall them, the film follows beautiful, smart chemist Nora (Brenda Marshall) as she falls victim to the scheming of her trusted assistant Aline (Hillary Brooke) while separately being blackmailed by a third woman, Jane (Ruth Ford) whom she kills in a scuffle. Falling (hilariously) straight on her face, Jane is mistaken for Nora, which suits Nora who then has surgery to look like Jane and plots her revenge on the duplicitous Aline who is now married to her ex-fiance. All clear? No? Well it gets even sillier from there, with the horrible untrustworthiness of the women only slightly offset but the sheer dopiness of the men, especially the fiancé/husband figure who pings between all available females like a pinball. In fact you may be just about to throw in the towel when the film does exactly that with its risible final twist. Not everything noir is classy… [C-]

Moon” (2009)
One of our favorite sci-fi films of recent years, “Moon” is also emblematic of another subcategory of the double film—the clone movie. But we’ve chosen to include it over other examples like “The Island” or “Never Let Me Go” because here the clone-doubles meet face to face and spend some time interacting, calling into question the kind of ontological questions about identity, humanity and memory that the best doppelganger films always touch on. Making the most of a beautifully stark, retro-futurist production design which does a lot on a tight budget, Duncan Jones’ film follows Sam (Sam Rockwell) a lunar astronaut engaged in a three-year contract mining on the far side of the moon. When an accident occurs, Sam wakes up with no memory of it, but pieces clues together until he goes out to discover a slightly older version of himself, unconscious but alive at the crash site. The relationship between the two, prickly and mistrustful to begin with but developing over time, is beautifully and subtly played in both roles by Rockwell, and even the slight letdown of the film’s epilogue can’t wholly destroy the lovely, human loneliness and yearning that the rest of the film evokes so movingly. Deceptively simple, it’s proof that oftentimes with science fiction, it’s the stillest waters that run deepest, and it’s the highest compliment we can pay when we say it deserves to take its place alongside other such out-of-world meditations as “Silent Running,” “2001” and “Solaris.” [A-]

Honorable Mentions: Among the titles we considered for inclusion, recent history turned up Mike Cahill and Brit Marling‘s “Another Earth” and the Dominic Cooper vehicle “The Devil’s Double” as films that have played with the conceit. Otherwise, better-known fare includes 1960s Disney classic “The Parent Trap” and its Lindsay Lohan-starring remake, swashbuckler “The Prisoner Of Zenda,” various adaptations of “The Prince And The Pauper,” and multiple takes on Alexandre Dumas‘ “The Man In The Iron Mask” (the 1998 Leonardo DiCaprio-starring take probably being the best known, though emphatically not the best).

Preston Sturges‘ great “The Palm Beach Storyfeatures some doubling up, as does the 1988 comedy “Moon Over Parador,” with Richard Dreyfuss as an actor who doubles for a South American dictator, along with Frank Oz and Steve Martin‘s excellent “Bowfinger.” Bertolucci‘s 1968 “Partner” (not one of his better films, it should be said), adapts the same Dostoyevsky novel that inspired Ayoade’s “The Double.” Finally, we also considered Robert Altman‘s “Images” and Ingmar Bergman‘s “Persona,” but while they’re tangentially related, they’re not strictly doppelganger movies, being more about the conflation of personalities, which, if you’ll watch this space, we may run a whole separate feature on someday soon. But feel free to let us know what films, if any, have made you jump at your own reflection after watching. —Jessica Kiang, Oli Lyttelton, Rodrigo Perez, Ben Brock, Charlie Schmidlin and Drew Taylor

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