This movie has sparked
many movie-goers and critics to write about it. This is all due to the
ambiguous and quite confusing ending, and even the general plot of the movie,
that there are various theories to the actual story and ending. Some believe
that the editing is non-linear, therefore one would have to rearrange shots and
scenes to understand the story. Some believe that the story is in its
chronological order, but that the protagonist has created an alter ego, which
is the double in this movie. I am presenting a review from a few selected
sources that have written about the movie. All these reviews and articles only
bring out the narrative of the movie. To further the research and the narrative
of this movie, the understanding of the story, from the original book written
José Saramago, will also be included.
A concept that is
widely used in the articles I have studied and reviewed will also need to be
introduced and understood in this review of literature. This would help one in
understanding the point of view of these authors and give context to their
work. It is a sociological concept of totalitarianism.
It is a “form
of government that theoretically permits no individual freedom and
that seeks to subordinate all aspects of individual life to
the authority of the state”. In explanation, it is a state
of absolute control. It is a state where “everything
and everyone must be subordinated” i.e.
the governing body is the head and everything else is underneath it and
receives instructions and orders from the governing body. In this form of
governance, it is said that such a regime exhibits “total control of the everyday life of citizens, of its control, more
particularly thoughts and attitudes as well as their activities.” By
implying that meaning one can understand that an individual in this form of
society is going to supressed, with no space for their own thoughts and ideas,
but only knows the propaganda spread by the leader. Totalitarianism and its
origins date back as far as nomadic herdsman, but to give it a defined
timeline, can be understood from the time of the Egyptian and Chinese
Another concept to be familiarised
with before we review the literature based on this movie, is fascism. It is understood that it is “a tendency toward or actual exercise of
strong autocratic or dictatorial control” implying that it could be
considered as the beginning of the previously explained, totalitarianism. These
two regimes are/were widely present in the history of mankind.
To make our
understanding of our review and analysis, hereon, easy and simple, I will be
making totalitarianism synonymous with dictatorship and autocracy. I
acknowledge that these three terms, though minutely, differ from each other but
for the sake of easy understanding, as these concepts, as I have learnt, are
the central theme behind this story, itself, choose to make them equivalent in
I shall further this
with a fact that the author of the book, The Double, off of which the movie is
based on is said to have been under the totalitarian rule for 48 years. So one
cannot do away with this central theme as it is the reflection of the author’s
There are two broad
common ideologies of this movie. One, that it is indeed a truly subconscious
war and another that it is a masterpiece of editing and one would have to
rearrange scenes and shots to piece the story together.
I feel, to understand
the story better, the spiders used throughout the movie need to be addressed
first. One would see four big spiders and many spider references throughout. The
spiders, according to many, represent the women in the protagonist’s,
Adam/Anthony’s life. The spiders act as “an
overarching metaphor”, a meaning that could not be expressed so easily,
especially a meaning that made it through to even the movie posters. Using the director’s
words, whom we hear so little from, it can be deduced, and what you could call,
the true meaning of spiders. The director states that a spider is a pretty
hypnotic way to express feminity. He finds the use of the spiders profound and
states that whereas Saramago could afford to spend pages writing the imagery,
He had to concise it into only one image, the spiders. Spiders have a direct
connection to feminity, is what is also argued. It is connected through the Greek
myth/story of Arachne, the girl who became a spider.
Through the reviews and
articles, spiders are also tied to Adam/Anthony’s fear of commitment. Kevin has
observed that all across media, spiders are associated with fear, most often
creating a sense of fear, be it Harry Potter or the game, Skyrim. In our movie,
spiders are associated with that fear, but a more subconscious and emotional
fear of commitment. It is even argued that Adam/Anthony feels trapped, like one
would, if one were to end up caught in a spider’s web. Kevin believes that the
pregnancy of his wife is the greatest commitment any man can face, and is
scared of it.
This is an image of the
director’s note that was attached to the official soundtrack album sold on
iTunes about spiders.
The spiders, even
though the idea might be the same as the previous one, are believed to be
connected to Adam/Anthony’s fear of responsibility.
In the first few shots
of the movie, like I have explained the plot earlier, you see a fog-ridden
Most of the reviewers
from different sources, collectively view the movie as an internal struggle, a
subconscious struggle of the main character. The entire movie is said to be “metaphorical in nature”, as in the movie
has more meaning to it than just its dialogues, plot and direction. It is a “parable about what it’s like to live in a
totalitarian state” implying that the movie isn’t giving you facts but is
illustrating, or rather bringing out, and life under a state of dictatorship. It
has been observed that this theme is represented through the first dialogue of
the main character.
The director, Denis
Villeneuve, has said little and less about the actual story, he has used
various sentences to describe the movie like this sentence found in that
director’s note that I mentioned earlier.
That mentioned, the
reviewers have taken to decode the movie and the plot on their own. There are
two broad based plot explanations given by the reviewers; one is the idea that
Mary is a metaphorical character and another that the movie is edited in a
The first theory is
that Anthony is the real character. Many believe that Adam is an alter-ego of
Anthony and is a creation in his subconscious. They even argue that this is a
psychogical way of Anthony dealing with his shortcomings and faults as a human.
They even support this theory by them waking up from a same dream. They believe
that Mary is a metaphor for temptation, something that his wife, Helen, isn’t.
If Mary is a metaphor, they also conclude that Adam’s, the teacher’s, apartment
is most likely just a space in his mind. Therefore, the accident is the subconscious
fighting the temptation and eventually killing the alter-ego. Thus making
Anthony, who is actually the Adam personality, the only one. The infidelity brought
up by Helen half way through the movie, is proof of it but they argue that it
could have been something before the story time.
The second theory, though
not a popular one, is that the ending of the movie is actually the beginning
and that, the editing is entirely non-linear. The select few argue that the car
crash happened before, implying that Helen found out about his infidelity through
that crash. This would mean that Anthony/Adam returned to his wife, but created
a completely different alter ego as a result of the trauma. When Adam/Anthony,
finds the key to the adult club again, he gives in to temptation again. The
reviewers support this with a line taken from one of Adam’s lectures, “then Karl Marx added: the first time it was
a tragedy; the second time it was a farce.” They argue that to create a
proper story, you’d have to take all the scenes and re-arrange them.