The Year of Movie Doubles: Why Is Hollywood Suddenly Trying to Creep Us Out?

There's three movies coming out this year about people encountering their dopplegangers. What gives? 

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This week sees the release of Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy, a psychological thriller about a man (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) who discovers that he has an exact double. The trailer is light on plot specifics, but it’s pretty understandable that this bizarre revelation just prompts creepier and creepier questions that cannot be easily answered. It looks moody and creepy and got decent notices out of the Toronto Film Festival.

Then in May comes The Double, a black comedy directed by Richard Ayoade (Submarine) about a Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) who comes up against his mirror image, James Simon, who looks just like him but has the opposite personality. I say it’s a comedy because it’s billed that way and that's been Ayoade's forte so far, but it also looks dark, intense and unsettling to boot.

And just a couple weeks ago saw the limited (and largely ignored) release of The Face of Love, a melancholy romantic drama about a woman (Annette Bening) who loses her husband (Ed Harris) and then meets another man that looks exactly like him. This one’s less creepy, seeing as Vertigo took that angle already, but the weirdness is definitely still floating around in there.

So what gives with all these doubles movies? It’s been a not-uncommon trope in Hollywood ever since they figured out how to have one actor play two people on the same screen (the original Parent Trap was the first movie to really milk it). Or else you could go back to Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper. The best is obviously the whimsical comedy Dave, which asks, “what if looking like someone was used to commit a coup d’état?”

Then there’s the non-identical double movies, like half of Eddie Murphy’s career in the ‘90s (the Nutty Professor films and Bowfinger), the double that exists only in our protagonist’s mind (like Black Swan), and pretty much every film Brian de Palma ever made (that’s only a slight exaggeration).

But the weird similarity of Enemy and The Double just seems like one of those coincidences, like Volcano and Dante’s Peak coming out in the same summer. Ayoade would be the first to say his is hardly a new take on the genre: The Double is based on the similarly-titled 1866 novella by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Enemy, meanwhile, is based on a 2002 novel. Its title? You guessed it. The Double. Something truly evil that Hollywood cannot fully understand is obviously at work here.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.