“It’ll give you a chance to reset the reset button”
My plan is to not share any huge spoilers where The One I Love is concerned, but just saying that pretty much provides one by admitting there are spoilers to be had. So, like I said with another sci-fi gem this year entitled Coherence, don’t read anything at all if you want an unblemished experience. Honestly, that should be the way you enter all art—at least the ones worth watching due to their having substance above empty theatrics spoon-feeding audiences exactly what Hollywood thinks we want. We could have a never-ending discussion about film criticism and the role “spoilers” play within it insofar as acknowledging that someone writing about art should never censor him/herself. After all, criticism and theorem are meant to spark conversation after the fact, not serve as mere endorsement or, even worse, advertisement.
But that’s a topic for another day because I want to share this film with friends, family, and cinephiles alike by piquing their interest without giving too much of its mysterious appeal away. So I’ll take my chances, make apologies to screenwriter Justin Lader and director Charlie McDowell—both first-time feature filmmakers—in case I let a whisker out of the bag, and attempt to paint a picture of The One I Love above its gimmick and surprises. Don’t get me wrong: it’s still very much both those things. However, when gimmick works you have to dig deeper into why. How does it resonate and allow you to relate to its characters barely treading water in a marriage teetering on divorce? How does the device succeed at exposing their wants and desires, opening a window for your own self-reflection?
The short answer is the human portrayals by Mark Duplass (Ethan) and Elisabeth Moss (Sophie). They lend this implausible story credence through authentic performances unafraid to take the plunge their unique situation affords despite inherent and undeniable reservations (a visceral reaction which actually may not be strong enough considering I’d run away screaming if confronted with the paradox before them). On the surface the movie is one long therapy session prescribed by their psychiatrist (Ted Danson). Willing to do whatever’s necessary to save their relationship, they follow his advice and take a weekend retreat alone with nothing but their thoughts: ready to share what each loves about the other as well as what they can’t stand. Without this dialogue neither can know his/her spouse’s wants. They each must help bring out the best of what their counterpart has to offer.
And that’s exactly what they do—just not how you might expect. We all have two faces alternating between public and private, happy and sad, stressed and calm … the list is endless. When presented with unexplainable circumstances, we choose our reactions. This knee-jerk response might inevitably become our most honest second ever because there’s no time to weigh options or decipher clues. We’re in the moment, diving in and hoping for the best if we cannot actively strive to achieve it ourselves. The conundrum faced by Ethan and Sophie isn’t one we have a real chance of experiencing, but its effects are. While she needs to see it through for rejuvenation from emotional sadness in large part a result of his actions, her ease at embracing this newfound happiness only provides him with paranoia towards its origin.
This contrast is what shapes them in our eyes and theirs and yet both want the same thing: that which they deserve. The difference is she doesn’t see it in him while he does in her. Well they do, but they don’t because they see the person the other has become rather than the version in which they fell in love. That person is also present (or is it the person they wish the other would be) and the truth of their love escapes. Could you say without a shred of doubt you would pick the authentic, tangible, physical form of your love when the idyllic, fantasy iteration is standing at his/her side? Are you truly that saintly? Is it also cheating to love the dream when you barely touch its counterpart in life? We lie best to ourselves.
Lader has crafted a funny, dramatic puzzler about romance’s ebbs and flows by forcing his couple to simultaneously face and become the good and bad. Its high concept allows such via a science fiction scenario never truly explained—to even guess at the how behind it would ruin the surprise. Thankfully, we don’t need a concrete explanation when director McDowell and cast wholeheartedly embrace it as the driving force behind the film’s true worth. It’s the tragedy of our selfishness that we relate to most and I think the majority viewing will know how it must shake out. Life simply breeds a certain cynicism embedding that sense of bittersweet acceptance in our unworthiness to be trusted and inability to trust. Sometimes we know the person we want to spend eternity with too well and ourselves not nearly enough.
courtesy of Fantasia Film Festival