Magazine article Metro Magazine

Seeing Double: CINEMATIC TWINS IN RABBIT AND THAT'S NOT ME

Magazine article Metro Magazine

Seeing Double: CINEMATIC TWINS IN RABBIT AND THAT'S NOT ME

Article excerpt

IDENTICAL TWINS HAVE LONG FASCINATED HUMANITY, SO IT'S UNSURPRISING THAT THEY'RE FREQUENTLY FEATURED IN CINEMATIC WORKS ACROSS A RANGE OF GENRES. WITH REFERENCE TO LACANIAN IDEAS, GABRIELLE O'BRIEN EXPLORES HOW THE USE OF THE TWIN TROPE CAPTURES THE THEMES OF DISPLACEMENT AND DEFICIENCY IN HORROR/THRILLER RABBIT AND COMEDY THAT'S NOT ME.

Jacques Lacan's notion of the 'mirror stage' embodies a powerful intersection of psychoanalysis and film theory; when identical twins are the focal point of a cinematic narrative, the work becomes fertile ground for exploring the subconscious terrain of identity formation.

According to Lacan, the fragile human ego is on an endless quest for reconciliation with the promised illusion of a 'perfect' self. The infant first glimpses itself in the mirror and perceives a gloriously unified whole--a being in control of its bodily mechanisms. This contrasts with the fledgling agency of the infant, who is yet to master control of its limbs. Even further away from the child's grasp is an ability to exert control over the physical and social environment. Lacan called that first interaction with one's own reflection the 'ideal ego'. From that moment of initial contact with a romanticised version of ourselves, our unconscious seeks an unattainable state of perfection, and is therefore always dissatisfied. (1)

It seems fitting, then, that the idea of doubling was also taken up by Lacan:

the specular image seems to be the threshold of the visible world, if we take into account the mirrored disposition of the imago of one's own body in hallucinations and dreams, whether it involves one's individual features, or even one's infirmities or object projections; or if we take note of the role of the mirror apparatus in the appearance of doubles, in which psychical realities manifest themselves. (2)

On film, identical twins offer a tangible externalisation of that first misapprehension of self, in fact, twins have long been a powerful device for exploring disquieting generic tropes, from the body horror of Dead Ringers (David Cronenberg, 1988) to the psychological horror of Goodnight Mommy (Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz, 2014). And, as far as iconic cinematic images go, few are more instantly recognisable than the Grady daughters (Lisa and Louise Burns) from The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980) standing creepily in the corridor of the Overlook Hotel. Elsewhere, Bollywood film Angoor (Gulzar, 1982) takes up the trope of mistaken identity as it tracks two pairs of identical twins, while the same twin trope is performed with exuberant theatricality by Bette Davis in the classical Hollywood drama A Stolen Life (Curtis Bernhardt, 1946).

While identical twins are utilised as a trope in a range of genres, they are particularly resonant in works of horror, in which their physical doubling is used to heighten tension and magnify a climate of uncertainty. This is illustrated, for instance, in the 'secret' communication between twins (known as 'cryptophasia'), which instantly creates outsiders of everyone beyond the closed circle of the siblings' preternatural relationship. In this way, twins are portrayed as fundamentally transgressive, thereby making them perfect subjects for horror--a genre concerned with creating 'safe' spaces within which to enact and eventually dispel sociocultural anxieties. (3) At the same time, however, the identity confusion that identical twins embody tends to also work well with the comedy genre, in which humour 'can result from a sense of things being out of place, mixed up or not quite right'. (4)

Dark doubling: Rabbit

The Australian horror/thriller Rabbit (Luke Shanahan, 2017) opens with an intriguing narrative hook. Maude (Adelaide Clemens) is convinced her identical twin--Cleo (also played by Clemens), who has been missing for over a year--is still alive. Having a recurring dream in which her sister is locked up in a small room, Maude intuits this as a subconscious message from Cleo, a transference of lived experience from one twin to another. …

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