Directed by Riley Stearns, Dual is a more thoughtful piece that one might expect. On paper, this satirical sci-fi seems like another opportunity for rising star Karen Gillan to showcase her immense talent as a physical performer, especially in the film’s climactic battle to the death. But, in actuality, Stearns uses the film as an opportunity to look at what makes us human and, more importantly, why life is worth living.
Set in a world where cloning is not only reality but common practice, Dual suggests that the best use of this technology is to help continue on one’s life for their loved ones in the case of terminal illness. After all, why bother enduring the suffering of losing a loved one when you can simply make a new one? Once the original person passes away, the clone simply steps into their life and takes it on as their own. This is certainly the case for Sarah (Karen Gillan), a young married woman who discovers that she is suffering from a terminal illness. After the cloning process is complete, Sarah awaits her own death by training her clone (called ‘Sarah’s Double’, temporarily) about her life, explaining her interests and allowing her husband to accept her copy in her place.
However, problems arise when Sarah discovers that her illness has miraculously disappeared. In these cases, the government mandates a fight to the death between original and copy in order to determine who will take on the person’s life as their own. (In this way, the title becomes significant as it references both Sarah’s two copies and their final ‘duel’.) With the battle approaching, Sarah seeks out the help of Trent (Aaron Paul), a personal trainer who she enlists to coach her on the fine art of taking the life of another.
In many ways, this is a fascinating use of an old science-fiction trope. Many times before, we have seen the complications when one clones themselves. From Multiplicity to Nolan’s The Prestige, we can’t seem to stop thinking about improving our lives by replicating ourselves. In the case of Dual, however, Stearns uses the cloning trope to wrestle with what gives us life in the midst of our mundane existence. With an intriguing concept and sharp script, Stearns acknowledges the fact that the incredible value of human life, even as we allow ourselves to forget what it is.
Amazingly, despite their upcoming fight to live, neither Sarah nor her double seem particularly passionate about the very life that they’re fighting for. Marital expectations, phone calls with mother and the drudgery of everyday life seem to have sucked all of the enjoyment out of the experience for both women. As such, there seems to be a general sense that the banality of life has emptied it of any sense of joy. With each passing day, their relationships that have been left on the cold hard floor of practicality are increasingly revealed to lack passion and, most of all, love.
What’s more, as the original Sarah trains feverishly, so too does she have a part of her soul stripped away. Through field trips to the morgue and Clockwork Orange-level desensitivity training, her time with Trent is specifically designed to numb her to any sort of connection to humanity. To Trent, people have no soul worth valuing. Only matter to be disposed of. For him, the key to survival lies in viewing humanity is little more than bags of meat.
Charles Darwin would be proud.
Although, as moments of compassion and care for her clone begin to arise, the value of the other seems to revive Sarah’s inner spark. Suddenly, Sarah begins remember that there’s something amazing and mystical about creating life, even in the midst of its daily drudgery. Although the driest aspects of life can be draining, the ability to care for one another make it worthwhile.
While the film could benefit by allowing some of Gillan’s natural charm to break through into her character, Dual’s conversations about life and purpose nevertheless manage to intrigue. Although the tone is surprisingly quiet (especially one building up to a final confrontation), Stearns clearly wants his viewer to engage the film’s ideas as opposed to any grand action set pieces. But that unique tone and vision is what makes Dual worth fighting for.
Dual is now available in theatres.