"In His Own Image": Genre, Memory and Doubling in Schwarzenegger's Films

By Sears, John | Post Script, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

"In His Own Image": Genre, Memory and Doubling in Schwarzenegger's Films


Sears, John, Post Script


INTRODUCTION

The double, and the processes in which doubling becomes apparent or significant, are standard features of science fiction, action and horror cinema, from Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Don Siegel, 1957) to the Mantle twins in Dead Ringers (David Cronenberg, 1987), from James Whale's inspired double casting of Elsa Lanchester in The Bride of Frankenstein (1931) to the reproduction of characters as computer simulations in The Matrix (the Wachowski Brothers, 1999). The persistence of doubling in these genres suggests a diverse set of concerns: the doubling implications of new technologies or new ways of imagining the world; a preoccupation with the uncanny potential of the double--the uncanniness of two things which seem identical but are different; a preoccupation with doubling as a form of subversion of the stable subjective ego, a theme which constitutes a common territory of SF and horror in general; a concern with being seen to exploit the potential offered by special effects technologies as they develop; and, ultimately, a concern with the very structure of film as itself involving a doubling, the doubling both of external realities and of internal psychic anxieties.

Doubling in such films has been theorised through psychoanalytic interpretation, structuralist analysis and post-modern cultural theory--each of these interpretative frameworks adduces to doubling a significance beyond mere (simple) repetition, reading it in relation to psychological (repressions, identities), structural (intertextual, generic) or cultural (representational, simulational) functions. Doubling operates in films in a variety of ways, from repetition of words, phrases, sounds, music, images and actions, to wholesale reiteration of plot structures; from character doubling to the thematic imbedding of repeated motifs; from the re-use of shots (for economic or narrational reasons) to allusion, reference, quotation and other intertextual devices. Notions of return (of the repressed), reiteration, repetition, re-enactment, imitation, disguise, revelation, recognition, recollection and resolution characterise the rhetoric of doubling in films. This paper will explore relations between doubling, doubling-as-repetition, and memory in a selection of the science fiction and action films starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and will argue that doubling is central to this actor's oeuvre. Doubling will be theorised in psychoanalytic, textual and deconstructive terms.

Consider this series of film scenarios: a cyborg is sent back from the future to kill an unborn child--a man is sent back to protect the child. Several years later another cyborg, identical to the first, is sent back to protect the (now growing) child; another robot is sent back to destroy him. A soldier fights a long, brutal duel in a Central American jungle with another soldier, an alien hunter--each expresses incomprehension of the other. A man lives a double life as a computer programmer and, unknown to his wife of fifteen years, a top secret agent. A construction worker discovers he has another identity, as a secret agent on Mars--videos and holograms of his previous self guide him towards unravelling his identity. A man discovers he has a twin, half the size of himself. A pilot learns he has been cloned, and the clone has replaced himself as the head of his family. A film star enters reality from the world of his films in order to protect his real life portrayer.

Each of the above scenarios describes an encounter with a double, an encounter which is sometimes comic, sometimes uncanny, sometimes violent. In each case a central illusion of Hollywood cinema, the ideological conflation of character and actor, is exploited in order to initiate an exploration of identity which centres on differentiation between identical figures. Each of these scenarios summarises the plot of a film that stars Arnold Schwarzenegger. These films span the length of Schwarzenegger's career from the early eighties (The Terminator, 1984) to the early twenty-first century (The 6th Day, 2000). …

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