There are two familiar faces on the poster for Gemini Man. They look different, but fundamentally the same. They both belong to Will Smith, who stars in Ang Lee’s new action‐packed film.
The director, best known as the master behind Oscar‐winning films such as Life Of Pi and Brokeback Mountain, now turns his gaze towards the explosive genre of action. Lee does this with a twist though; Will Smith’s character Henry Brogan is under threat from a younger version of himself.
And this isn’t the first time doppelgängers, and different versions of the same character, have been the source of conflict and danger.
Notable examples of this fascinating sub‐genre, often found within thrillers and horrors, are Rian Johnson’s Looper, Jordan Peele’s Us and Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy, all dealing with our worst fears taking the form of ourselves.
Looper famously brought in Bruce Willis playing an older version of Joseph Gordon‐Levitt, but it still works within the same theme; what if we are our own worst fear, the thing that will take us down?
Doppelgängers have been present in art and popular culture since the beginning of time. They’re known as the bringers of bad luck and on the silver screen, they often represent a different side to us; a darker, more primal side that wants to take over. One that we’re scared to give control to in the fear it will devour our true, good selves.
Look at the classic Nicolas Cage and John Travolta film Face/Off; while it isn’t a film that utilises doppelgängers as a plot device, the horror and conflict stems from the bad guy wearing your own face, seeing your own features become the source of evil.
Earlier this year, Us explored duality with the doppelgängers which were forced to live underground until their rose from their tunnels, and began wreaking havoc around the country.
The film follows the Wilsons as they try to escape their doubles, who have no compassion and don’t show mercy. The doubles, led by Red, were a terrifying version of ourselves in the sense that they looked like us, but they were more animalistic, more feral and more violent.
They’re barely human, yet they’re exactly like us. There are themes about nature and nurture here; what happens to two identical children who live and grow under different circumstances, one loved and one discarded from society? Towards the end, Peele complicates the narrative by raising doubts about Adelaide and Red’s past.
In Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy Jake Gyllenhaal is bothered when he discovers his doppelgänger. The story grows increasingly bizarre and threatening, but much like the other films, Enemy also boils down to the question what if? What if the doppelgänger is born out of me? What if it’s born out of everything wrong with me?
Doppelgängers are uncanny; they’re our clones, but something is off. We usually can’t quite put our finger on it. They’re The Other, something to be feared, precisely because they can pass off as us.
Look at The Invasion Of The Body Snatchers; aliens are taking over the bodies of regular citizens who keep functioning just like their human counterparts, but again, something is a little off. The film explored themes relevant in America at the time, but the terror remains in 2019.
Similarly, The Stepford Wives sees housewives being replaced by much more submissive and well‐behaved version of themselves.
Gemini Man takes a different approach, and dedicates time for both versions of the same character, one younger and one older.
Much like Looper, it explores our anxieties about growing older. Brogan might be the best hit-man in the world, but as is often pointed out, he is 51 years old and not getting any younger. Gemini Man complicates the traditional clone/doppelgänger narrative by offering us a much more nuanced point of view.
Rather than introduce one as evil, Lee asks us to see the two different perspectives, two different characters. It highlights how we change not only physically, but emotionally and mentally. Our body grows wearer and weaker, but our minds mature and we become wiser and better. Or at least, that’s what we want to happen, to become better versions of ourselves.
Doppelgängers, clones and such may represent the worst in us and they are to be feared, but they have proven to be effective narrative devices, clever ways of showcasing and exploring our own anxieties.
They force us to look within ourselves and examine what makes us human, what makes us good. They’ve proven to be a meaty subject for filmmakers to sink their teeth into, and we can be sure to see them in cinema for years to come.
Gemini Man will be released in UK cinemas 11th October.