Is there any crime scene that has carried more fascination for filmmakers than a twin-bearing womb? There are any millions of monozygotic twins on Earth right now, but the close quarters and literal splitting of a future body and personality still feels uncanny to the modern imagination, more like magic than science. No wonder cinematic twins have such a high occurrence of murder and psychosis — and the introduction of them in a plot almost always signals a turn toward pulp. Part of our brains still hear the line “he has a twin brother” and think, Wow, I’m definitely watching a movie right now. Twins deserve better from the screen, honestly, and I’m not sure that François Ozon’s Double Lover, which is based on a novel by Joyce Carol Oates, does anything to improve representation. But it certainly represents bold new territory for twins and twinlike organisms.
Like a steamy alternate-universe Frasier fanfic, the story follows Chloe (Marine Vacth), a young Parisian woman caught between psychoanalyst brothers who also happen to be twins. She starts seeing Paul (Jérémie Renier) first, who appears to cure her of her depression and anxiety-induced stomach pains — so effectively, in fact, that they begin an affair and eventually move in together. As they’re unpacking in their new apartment, Chloe discovers some old artifacts that lead her to believe that Paul may be hiding something about his past. Then she spots a doppelgänger of his and goes to investigate under the guise of seeking out the services of the twin, who also happens to be a psychoanalyst. This doctor’s name is Louis, and he has a very different approach to analysis; namely berating and insulting Chloe and then having aggressive sex with her on his in-suite fur-covered bed. Chloe lies to Paul about her new shrink, and her stomach pains and anxiety return with a vengeance.
Eventually Paul and Louis’s relation and history are revealed, as well as the fractious dominant-recessive dynamic that eventually led to their estrangement. But I hope it piques your interest to learn that they are not the only set of twins in this story. The film, for the most part, looks and feels like the kind of attractive, conventionally made erotic thriller that Ozon has made his name with. But on more than one occasion, Ozon descends into the kaleidoscopic Freudian world of Chloe’s sex anxiety nightmares, which means we’re treated to the battery-lick of an image of Renier passionately kissing himself (Alien Covenant and Double Lover; one more auto-sexual male love scene and we have a trend) while Chloe splits into two identical selves underneath her lovers.
There are overall more stunts on display, and most of them, if not necessarily successful, are at least entertaining. The film opens with a cross-dissolve match cut between a speculum view of our protagonist’s cervix, and her eye shedding a single tear. A friend of mine, after I reported this cinematic high-water mark to her, observed that it “sounds like a man made this movie.” Yes, extremely true — we also jarringly cut to Chloe’s vibrating vocal cords at one point during sex, which look remarkably like that opening shot, as if to emphasize her status as an orifice. But there’s also an extended pegging scene and a third-act pregnancy that had the body-horror fan in me squealing with delight. Ozon is doing sexual gymnastics all over his uncanny womb-based plot, and somehow it all coheres pretty seamlessly, even at its most ridiculous. Twins — and psychoanalysts — should be insulted and flattered in equal measure.