Double Trouble, by Bob Connally

28 Apr

Whether or not it ever becomes a reality, the ethics of human cloning have long been the subject of debate and a popular premise for science fiction stories. But imagine a society where it has been established as a way for the dying to have themselves replaced in order to prevent their loved ones from having to say goodbye. Now, imagine the original person doesn’t die after all and he or she is forced to fight their clone to the death because, by law, there can’t be two of them. This is the premise of writer-director Riley Stearns’ dry, dark satire, Dual.

Sarah (Karen Gillan) is a socially awkward woman who struggles in her relationships with her partner, Peter (Beulah Koale), and her mother (Maija Paunio). When she learns she is terminally ill, she almost robotically questions, “Why aren’t I crying?” Unable to face telling her mom the truth and not wanting Peter to be alone, Sarah chooses to undergo the cloning process. Sarah’s Double, as she is known, will spend time with the original Sarah, getting to know her likes and dislikes and absorbing her personality and life history “like a sponge.” Things go a little too well, however, with Peter and even Sarah’s mother taking to the double more than Sarah herself. Sarah also notices how her double’s hair shines in the light “better than mine” and her double’s lack of love handles or cellulite. Her double has a different eye color as well, which leads the cloning facility to give Sarah a 5% discount on the procedure as a way of apologizing. Nearly a year later, Sarah’s doctor informs her that she is in complete remission and with Sarah’s Double not wishing to simply give up the life she has taken over, each must now prepare for the court mandated duel to the death.

Written and directed by Riley Stearns (The Art of Self-Defense), Dual features some of the driest humor in a movie since Christopher Guest’s underrated For Your Consideration. Gillan plays the shades of both of her characters personalities wonderfully and while both Sarah and Sarah’s Double are odd, somehow Sarah’s Double is able to connect with people and the world around her far better than the original ever could. But even as she loses both her partner and mother to her clone, Sarah is determined to survive the battle and move forward in her life, unsure of what that will mean. She can’t worry about what comes after yet.

Sarah learns how to fight from her “personal combat trainer,” Trent (Aaron Paul) and it is in these scenes that Dual hits its highest highs. Paul has a knack for the so dry it’s almost crusty delivery Stearns is looking for and he and Gillan click tremendously, bringing the best out of each other. Their slowed down hand to hand combat sparring session is hilarious and demonstrates just how rewarding it can be when such unusual humor really works.

Like The Art of Self-Defense, Dual has a handful of laugh out loud moments, but it’s more a movie you smile through in between moments of existential horror. Stearns doesn’t address the ethical question of human cloning head on, opting instead to examine how it would effect an individual, her clone, and their shared loved ones, which is ultimately far more effective in getting the viewer to think about it. It’s just a fact of the world these characters live in, as is the law dictating that in order for an original or a clone to live, the other must die. Even those performing the procedure don’t seem to give the morality of it all much thought, which feels quite believable really. Stearns also does a fine job of hinting at the strange ways in which Dual’s universe contrasts from our own while being completely recognizable in so many other ways. It’s just the right amount of subtle world building to get us to buy more fully into the concept.

Premiering at Sundance earlier this year and now being given a small theatrical release with a virtually non-existent marketing campaign, Dual is a movie that deserves much better in terms of being able to connect with its audience. While it doesn’t fall into the category of “weird art house crowd pleaser” that Everything Everywhere All At Once does, it’s a film that will be embraced by those who appreciate dry comedy and its intriguing what-if premise. Having been the only attendee of a Sunday matinee at the only theater it is playing at in Seattle, it’s apparent 

Dual faces an uphill climb for its audience to find it. Catch it if you can so you can tell all of your friends what movie they have to watch on Hulu 6 months from now.

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