Peaceful Stoner’s review published on Letterboxd :
The undeniable magic of love, the inimitable spark in a relationship, the luscious intimacy of intercourse, the unmistakable connection and the unforced hormonal titillation that one feels with another; it is hard enough to find all of this in life, but harder still is preserving them for a lifetime. The grinding wheels of time induce changes within us, changes that sneak up silently and accrue unnoticeably as the relationship grows older. These changes could be as small as the tiniest, last piece of a Matryoshka doll, but in fact, they are the critical elements which keep the relationship bubbling with spirit, perpetuate its effervescence and protect it from becoming evanescent. It is also the easiest to lose due to the dreary routine of everyday life and the hardest to regain exactly because it is unnameable, spontaneous and inherent to one's character. The loss of this essential scintilla could be due to the socio-economic pressures of running a family, the choices made as to how to cope with that and most importantly, the general human tendency of not looking at one's own faults and rectifying them, instead, investigating those of the other, complaining and longing for the other to change instead of changing his or her own self for the invaluable sake of togetherness.
The loss of this alchemical element of love might happen with or without the knowledge of the subjects involved and it is impossible to say which one is more hazardous, but what's certain is, if either one has been so careless to lose it, their relationship's safety is not guaranteed. If it happens with the knowledge of one or both subjects it is easier to set things right, but it also means that knowingly they have allowed their relationship to devolve to this sticky situation. On the other hand if it happens unknowingly, the chances of making the relationship work are comparatively harder and the possibilities of having circular conversations of who is to be blamed for initiating the downward spiral are that much higher. It is that unique spark, that made you, 'you'; that made the relationship, 'the' relationship of a lifetime; that made her love you and you love her so madly, soulfully and with all your life. That spark is like a God; the person who accuses you of having lost it believes it was there and now it isn't and the person who is accused of losing it believes there was never such a particularly special trait and that he (it is most often he who is fazed with this question, at least as a male I think that is the case) is still the same. Renewing this elixir of love and redeeming what was lost on the way can happen from the most unexpected of situations; sometimes from the simplest of scenarios and sometimes from the most complex ones that are as difficult to explain like that lost element or for that matter love itself.
The One I Love deals with such a complex scenario very much akin to a cosmic aberration, a time warped zone where the memories that each of the subjects in a relationship possess of the other are recreated and presented to them individually and eventually to them both, a point at which a bigger conundrum is presented to the couple; Which one do you choose to live your life with? Will it be the one with all the imperfections, misunderstanding and teary fights, yet the original one that you had fallen in love with? Or will it be the one who is most definitely a simulation but also the summation of only the best of qualities, that had caused you to fall in love? The male doppelganger is projected as being smart, funny, eloquent, realizing and apologizing; he even has a hairstyle that his wife desires and is unspectacled; he is one who would rather give in to the demands of his better half than stretching familial cold war to a point where the tether of their relationship is dangerously close to being cut off. The female doppelganger is shown as one who is more inclined on accepting and understanding the frustrations of her male counterpart. She is willing to provide a soothing presence rather than stirring up a fight for the smallest of issues. Who is the one they decide to continue their lives with? Isn't love about accepting the other with all the imperfections as a whole? Would a relationship be qualified to be termed as love if everything falls into place as expected in terms of character and does not wane away even an inch with substantial amount of time? If that is the case then, isn't it like winning a rigged match, where every move is predetermined and decided? Only, in love it is preordained by fate and by the actions of those involved. Where is the challenge in that, where is the achievement? Loving a person despite all of his/her misgivings is true love, unconditional love. All these questions are brought up and dealt with in the most interesting and ingenious manner in The One I Love.
Coming up with a scenario that has tremendous potential to captivate audiences is just a small first step of the challenge, but dwelling into them, making use of the thought scenario to the fullest extent, shelling out a screenplay that progresses in an interesting manner, employing unnatural twists to the tale and still maintaining a realistic feel, toying with the characters and their natural predispositions, conceiving how they would react if such a situation presents itself during a mid life crisis, looking at a love story from both the point of view of a husband and a wife, envisioning what they expect out of each other, capturing their captious mentality, presenting their petulant yet understandable reasons as to why they had reached such a stalemate and providing a continuum of scenarios that are as brilliant as the premise itself requires great attention and an astute mind behind the script. Charlie McDowell has expertly handled and delivered a love story that is both unique and inquisitive; that is quirky, funny and charming but also poses questions that are relevant to any relationship; a love story that will make you think, a story that can be cited if and when your relationship reaches that point; a love story that is inventive and uniquely enlightening. Charlie McDowell's debut as director and the theme he has chosen is genetically so different from the outrageously controversial but undeniably bold and genius roles, his father, the legendary Malcolm McDowell took upon himself to live in. But the word genius is still relevant to him as it was for his father. A budding genius and I am sure that this is the beginning of a beautiful journey for a wonderfully innovative creator.
I stated in my review of Safety Not Guaranteed that Mark Duplass is as cute as a cupcake. In The One I Love, the viewers are treated to a couple of gorgeous cupcakes. One can be sure that the sweetness, the tartness, the cuteness and the spontaneity are deliciously doubled and the chemistry that Elizabeth Moss and Mark Duplass strike up on screen is pure magic. The lead pair's on screen camaraderie has a very peculiar, affinitive charm that is at once attractive, nuanced and genuine. The One I Love is one of those films where the script demands to be shot in a singular location and the scenario imagined necessitates relieving the presence of any supporting characters. So the focus for the entirety of the run time is solely on the couple or should I say quadruple and if they hadn't found that spark and also simultaneously, the sheer desperation of wanting to replenish that lost spark, the film would not have been half as good as it is now, despite the ingenious concept. Duplass has stated that writer Justin Lader would give him and Moss, a version of the scene the night before it was scheduled to be shot, giving the actors something to stick to. Seems like all the rest of it is the magic of ad lib that has surely lent its hand to the sweetly spontaneous feel of the film. The Moss-Duplass duo are the lynchpins of the film as they support and carry this love story to glory so adorably.
No matter which film Duplass is in, no matter how terrible it may be, he always brings an affectionate, endearing feel to the character he plays and to the film on a whole. Watching him on screen is similar to pleasuring myself with home cooked comfort food. It is not flashy or spectacular, but I could have it for the rest of my life with the same satisfaction. Watching Safety Not Guaranteed or The One I Love gives me a similar cuddly, feel good feeling. I could watch them endlessly and without tiring because of Duplass' soothing presence and because they are heart-warmingly written. By picking up indie scripts with potential, that are a delectable blend of love and science fiction, Duplass has carved a lovable niche for himself and I am keenly looking forward to his next idiosyncratic venture.
The musical score is surely worthy of being praised. It is not a cliched score by any means. It is abnormal and it perfectly complements the abnormality of the events on screen. The tricky situations, the naughty tip toeing of Sophie and Ethan to meet their yang's doppelganger, their incessant discomfort caused by the gloomy possibility of their partner falling for their doppelganger, their unresting need to be better than their reanimated version, in essence everything that goes on screen is beautifully punctuated by the score. It goes a long way in elevating the small surprises and the aura of mystery surrounding the time warped getaway zone. Also to be noticed is how the film cleverly relegates unnecessarily mulling over the inexplicable paranormality and instead chooses to concentrate on its fundamental theme of what happens to the couple. And it does so with a brilliant example. I am not a Gorilla, the doppelganger Ethan says – which indirectly dispels the notion that he cannot be bought or bullied with and that he is certainly better in every aspect than the Aardvark that original Ethan is. The doppelgangers signify pleasant memories and they might be better in all aspects than their original counterparts but they aren't real. Isn't it reality that truly matters in love at the end of the day?
When a couple is inquired as to what caused them to arrive at such a mid-life crisis, not many would be able to pin point where it all started to sway off course. It is easy to notice the rift but difficult to zero down on to a particular moment when things started falling apart. In the same way The One I Love leaves a lot of unanswered questions but these are unimportant when considering the end result, which is either the couple falling in love again or falling out of love once in for all. With who does either of these occur is another question that holds significance until the very end. I am still at loggerheads with myself and ambivalent about my feelings, when it comes to deciding as to who, Ethan or Sophie, is more inclined to keep their original relationship intact. Sophie suggests going back to the retreat which definitely signifies that she is the one who has greater intentions of looking for newer avenues but at the same time has no thought of cheating on Ethan. But, she also cannot remain contented with what he has become especially after having betrayed her with another woman. For her, the events in the retreat form a perfect scenario. She spends considerably more time with the other Ethan and finally even decides not to leave. Ethan on the other hand never spends as much time with the other Sophie which shows his realization of his wrong doing and his stronger intention of making their actual relationship work. He is desperate to come out and apologize for all the things he has done, but he seems to have buried his candid, forthcoming self somewhere down the lane. What Ethan had done was a cardinal sin, but like in criminal justice, shouldn't the provocateur be held equally responsible as the person who commits the actual crime? The other Ethan comes forth and admits his blunder which causes him to rise above the Original Ethan within Sophie's mind. Original Ethan on the other hand illuminates in the end, with sheer desperation, that he is still in love with her despite her imperfections but inquires as to why she couldn't reciprocate the same to him?
Losing the love of your life to an unknown person hurts, losing her to your enemy hurts even more. Losing her to a person who is close to you, a friend hurts even deeper. Losing her to your previous, sprightly self is unimaginable. In that way Sophie was the one who first breaks the 'No Intimacy, No Sex' clause in the doppelganger agreement, although her encounter was with Original Ethan, she thought it was the Other Ethan and so I ask: How is it different from what Ethan had done to her with another woman? After this, she should have realized that her estrangement with Original Ethan for his unfaithfulness would be nothing more than a fallacy. She should have picked herself up to sympathize with, ask for an explanation for Original Ethan's actions in the past and move on with their lives. But she doesn't. She wants the man who captured her dreams. But what is the assurance that the Other Ethan would not turn out to be the same as the Original Ethan as time passes on? Would he always remain faithful to her? Would his zappy self endure the sands of time? If Sophie had reconciled with the Original Ethan then at least she would have earned the solace of having pulled their relationship out of a terrible rut and finding the true meaning of love which is accepting and forgiving. Original Sophie's unalterable plight in the end and how she remains true to her decision of not leaving the retreat, broke my heart.
PS, The One I Love ends on a bittersweet note and is certainly darker than it would seem on a first glance. The ending certainly surprised me as it gave a whole new meaning to the film and its theme of how to approach love. We hope for certain changes from the person we love. Sometimes these changes could be minute and easy to inculcate from the point of view of the person who demands them but they might seem uncomfortably difficult to foster, lifestyle changes to the person from whom it is expected of. But most often, this change will be a forced one, an artificial inclusion to keep the relationship alive and prevent it from crumbling. That final twist and the look on Ethan's face, a mix of bewilderment and somberness, corroborates the following fact: When all that we hope or yearn for from the person we love comes into effect it might not be as sweet as we had expected it to be. Love is about imperfections, about seeing the beauty in the imperfections of the other and whole-heartedly accepting them for what they are. The One I Love impresses upon this truth with a great sense of subtlety, guile, a refreshing dose of impossible schemes and a distinctive originality.