A doppelganger is an apparition or double form of a living person… Most doppelganger movies feature a ‘mirror’ version of the protagonist, who is somewhat like an ‘evil twin’. Truth is, this is too sharply polaristic in real life, since the average person is neither extremely good nor evil. Yes, as the world is a very big place indeed, with billions of people, it is possible for each of us to have physical doppelgangers due to much similar physical karma ripening in the moment. The question to ask is – how will you respond if you discover an uncannily similar doppelganger? Will you evade your doppelganger, go closer, or just let him or her be? And why?
Simon James functions like a drone in a large organisation, having faded into the background to become a nondescript and invisible non-person, someone who is thoroughly unnoticed and forgettable. Out of the blue, James Simon appears in his workplace. Note his laterally inverted name. He seems to have his character in reverse too… James is assertive while Simon is wooden. James is a slacker while Simon is a hard-worker. James claims credit for Simon’s work, while Simon unwittingly lets James exploit him. Strangely, only the duo recognise they are each other mirrored, as if they also each other’s private projections of their potentialities.
As James increasingly takes advantage of Simon, Simon closes in from the other end of his character spectrum, to become increasingly like James, so as to confront him. It became a contest of egoistic wills – a matter of either James taking over Simon’s life, even in the department of love, or Simon taking over James’ life to reclaim his. The audience might have trouble deciding if Simon’s growth in assertiveness is a good or evil thing, as there is growth in vindictiveness too. The real challenge is always to seek a peaceable solution for the good of both conflicting parties, difficult as it might be, without bringing out the worst in each other.
‘Learning’ to be assertive from the terrible example who is James, and upon realisation that physical harm inflicted on himself is mirrored upon James, Simon creates a deadly scheme to grab back stolen credits in work and love. (Harm of James karmically harms Simon though.) What happened at the end thus becomes debatable. Is he now a better Simon, or simply another cunning James? Who exactly has he become? Of course, he morphs on due to lack of any fixed ego-based self. Not that the duo ever ideally complemented each other, ideally, Simon and James should have inspired each other to be better versions of themselves.
Early in the film, Simon sees a TV character he likes say this on screen – ‘I don’t mind dying. I’m quite used to it. The way I figure it, we only get one life. Like they say, there’s no such thing as second chances.’ The truth is, due to constant change, we are physically and mentally dying and being reborn from moment to moment as we speak; not just life to life, whether we are aware of this or not. As such, we do not get only only one life; but many lives, and thus many second chances, that spill over to future lives. This should not urge us to procrastinate change for the better though; for it should motivate us to change now.
The film, which is based on a novella by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, also speaks of the existential desire for individuation, to become unique, no longer one of the crowd’s lost, afloat and ungrounded ones. In a world of mechanised cubicle clones, this becomes increasingly difficult. Paradoxically, when everyone tries to be special, everyone becomes not so special too. In terms of Buddhist spiritual evolution, instead of asserting egos, the quest is to dissolve egos, which incidentally ‘clones’ us to be equally spiritually perfect like all other Buddhas, to be just as virtuous and helpful in guiding others towards realisation of this true self of non-self.