PrintE-mail Written by J. R. Southall

A British/Dutch co-production, Identicals is the first non-documentary feature of Simon Pummell, a professor at the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam. It shares the fascination with personal histories that informed his 2003 documentary Bodysong (notable for including Jonny Greenwood’s debut film soundtrack), and the amount of thought that has gone into this project is very much in evidence. Unfortunately, its obsession with striking visuals and philosophical questions of identity serve to undermine the film’s humanity, and the result is a glacial and alienating experience that is easy to admire but very difficult to embrace.

The conceit is rather opaque and deliberately ill-explained; the Brand New-U organisation exists to transplant unfulfilled individuals into the bodies of identical strangers in order to effectively start again and maximise their potential. When Slater’s girlfriend undergoes one such relocation he is left with a choice of being blamed for her murder or undertaking a brand new life himself. Of course, he takes the latter option, and the film follows his progress through two parallel existences as he attempts to track Nadia down and revive their relationship.

There are a number of storytelling decisions that strive to imbue the film with the profundity it seems to feel it earns; in their new bodies, the characters retain the names and faces associated with the old, while many of the choices – both in-fiction and on the production – seem designed to serve the director’s vision despite feeling entirely contrived. The acting is distant and the dialogue is brutally minimal. The consequence of this is to give Identicals a level of abstraction that makes it almost impossible to follow as a straightforward narrative, and when a film is as visually intangible as this there is very little for an audience to identify with. The look is of an antiseptic Blade Runner while the tone is similar to Aronofsky’s The Fountain but divested of any warmth. It is, essentially, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as if made by robots.

The greatest influences on Identicals, however, are clearly the 1997 film Abre los Ojos (the inspiration for Vanilla Sky; Pummell even includes the line ‘Open your eyes’ in the dialogue twice) and THX 1138. The difference with George Lucas’ debut was that he created a universe of which the impersonal characters and stark visuals were a logical extension, while Amenábar’s film was a story about internalised crisis which allowed its external expression its figurative irregularities. Both of those films created coherent universes in which it was possible to care about the people therein; Identicals is an aloof, distancing puzzle with an all too obvious solution, an occasionally breathtaking visual endeavour, but sadly one that is fatally uninvolving for the viewer.

Extras: interviews, visual effects breakdown



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