Jonathan (Baby Driver‘s Ansel Elgort), the protagonist of Duplicate (aka Jonathan), is a straight-laced, hard-working wannabe architect, held back from career success only by an idiosyncratic insistence upon leaving his firm early every day (supposedly to look after an ailing relative) and, after filming a video diary, going to bed – and straight to sleep – by 3pm. This video, it turns out, is for himself. For every evening at 7, he wakes up as his brother, the more fun-loving, work-shy John, and goes out (sometimes on the town) until 3am. So it is a case of two brothers timesharing one body, and communicating only through filmed messages that they leave for each other every day. They are, inevitably, close (although never too close), and the maintenance of their relationship requires strict adherence to a set of rules that ensures they remain physically health, and removed from any emotional entanglement with other people. The one exception is Dr Marina Nariman (Patricia Clarkson), the mother figure and ‘genius’ who first diagnosed their peculiar schizophrenic condition, and devised the 24-hour system that enables them to lead separate, if symbiotic, existences.
All this has run like clockwork for years, until John breaks one of their rules and starts secretly dating Elena (Suki Waterhouse). This fundamental breach of trust ramifies into more, as Jonathan hires a detective (Matt Bomer) to investigate his own nocturnal movements, and John angrily breaks off all video contact with his brother. Things get even more complicated when Jonathan, now isolated and confused, turns to Elena, engendering a bizarre love triangle in which he is sexually betraying both his brother and himself. Something must give, before these feuding siblings tear each other apart.
It is to the great credit of director/co-writer Bill Oliver that the expected violent split never quite happens. For while Duplicate is certainly operating in terrains of fraternal factionalisation akin to those found in David Cronenberg’s Scanners (1981) and Dead Ringers (1989) and in Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case (1982), here the connection between Jonathan and John is less Jekyll and Hyde than Jekyll and Jekyll, as both brothers prove decent, if different, people struggling with the psychological fallout of their strange condition. The story is always focalised through Jonathan, with John’s narrative presented merely in palimpsest and requiring detective work from the viewer for its reconstruction, given that both brothers lie, at least by omission, in their video testimonies. Of course any physical damage that one accrues, whether by accident or design, must also be borne by the other, whereas the mental scars of each remains his own. The result is a tragic tale of love, brotherly and otherwise, in which Oliver always anchors the out-there MPD plotting to a real emotional intelligence that keeps us fully engaged.
© Anton Bitel
Duplicate is available on DVD and Digital HD from 28th January, 2019