The One I Love
Directed by Charlie McDowall
Starring Elizabeth Moss and Mark Duplass
The One I Love begins in the therapist’s office. Ethan and Sophie (Duplass and Moss) are seeking help for their fast fizzling marriage and while the polite polish is there, her anger is just below the surface. The therapist (Ted Danson) suggests they go to a certain cottage in the country, away from it all, where they can reignite the spark that first brought them together. He says other patients have emerged from similar weekends rejuvenated and passionate.
They arrive at their destination, an idyllic American Gothic compound dressed in the latest upscale country décor, bathed in sunlight and surrounded by rose bowers and magical gardens. Tentatively they begin to relax and before long she can stand to have him touch her. But just for a moment or two.
They’re palpably uncomfortable. We aren’t told why their marriage is in trouble – just a hint dropped but we can certainly feel their estrangement, and that he is trying to make up for something. Sophie’s simmering hostility is well camouflaged but she is smoking a lot of cigarettes and joints.
Sophie hears strange noises in the big cottage one afternoon and casually mentions it to Ethan in the next room. She goes into the guest house to find the source of the noise but she finds somehow Ethan has beaten her there and has crashed out on the couch.
They begin to flirt with one another. Maybe they’re making progress. He has a similar experience, running into Sophie in unexpected places and before long they’re having sex. It’s been years.
Their encounters are too frequent and loaded to ignore. What’s happening?
They’ve stumbled into a parallel universe of some sort, with exact duplicates of one another. It becomes clear that they’re not having sex with each other, but with people – or something – who look and act and move just like them.
The immediate response is to ban further meetings with their “ghost” doubles because that would be cheating. But both go out of their way to do so and have sex and feel passion. The secret meetings seem to bring them peace and acceptance and may be contributing to a renewal of that elusive original passion in real life.
The One I Love is a domestic sci-fi mystery/romance that tests the limit of love, trust and renewal. But let’s face it, there’s something really creepy about it. The enchanted cottage is a familiar film trope. It’s a place away from social norms where wounded souls go to recover. To rebuild love and hope. But if this is what it’s like, where knowing betrayal is present while pretending to heal, it’s a sorry place. It’s tragic. Despite how pretty everything looks, it’s all selfish pretense. And just who was that doctor anyway?
Two hours of watching two faces in tight close-ups, doubled, no matter how pretty everything appears to be is a bit wearing. But oh, how it provokes the mind.