Shot in 15 days, “The One I Love,” directed by Charlie McDowell and written by Justin Lader tells the simple, and unfortunate story of Sophie (Elizabeth Moss) and Ethan’s (Mark Duplass) deteriorating marriage. As the couple retreats to a secluded ranch to rekindle the romance, they encounter duplicates of themselves. Although it sounds a little strange, it offers a different perspective on highly talked about subjects: commitment and love.
Communication is a major theme through the film. The tension grows as Sophie distances herself further from Ethan by choosing not to process her thoughts out loud. Due to the film’s visual simplicity, it relies heavily on dialogue and body language. Sophie contributes her marriage’s unhappiness to her husband’s failures, one being adultery. However, Sophie chose to work through this conflict, and instead of recognizing her decision to do so and working to move on from it herself, she uses Ethan 2.0 to passive aggressively upset and offend her Ethan. This particular situation touches on the way a lot of relationships communicate when one person is unable to climb over a barrier, and instead resorts to being verbally volatile and playing the victim. What differs from this perspective on relationships in comparison to many other films, articles, or blogs that overload us with advice is that this movie takes a very realistic look at where most relationships will go. Maybe not the cheating aspect, but the frustration and patience that comes with trying to maintain a strong relationship, because a lot of times it can be difficult. This movie shuts down the notion that successful relationships are those that are able to relight the spark.
This film is also questioning our idea of personal happiness. Divorce has been common in the last couple of decades, and in no way am I judging anyone who’s gone through such a stressful, upsetting thing. However, the movie looks at how easy it can be to toss someone to the side when we are frustrated and find someone new. New is exciting, intriguing, and gives us a reason to get out of bed in the morning because it relates to exploring and experiencing feelings we tend to strive for with someone else. We see this when Sophie sneaks off to the guesthouse while her Ethan claims he’s heading to the store to pick up dinner. We live in a society that tells us to attain personal happiness. And we’ve taken advantage of that goal by allowing ourselves to push many of the people around us away after the exciting stages of growth are past us. And to be clear, I’m not advocating for people to stick around with people who don’t support the person they are. But we have a tendency to shy away when people around us go through a particularly rough time. It can be exhausting, and upsetting, therefore justifying our actions in leaving that person behind. This is seen through Sophie’s actions to cling to the new Ethan, leaving her Ethan behind to deal with his self-doubt.
We can talk about personal accountability, but that goes hand-in-hand with communication in terms of expressing feelings and thoughts. Sophie takes no accountability for their deteriorating marriage, and it places a great strain on Ethan’s efforts to bring the two together. Is it Sophie’s fault he cheated? Definitely not. But is it Sophie’s fault that after agreeing to move past it, she instead continuously sabotages her decision and efforts towards patching up the issues? Yes. And this is not some stance about how women are in the wrong, or how I’m pushing the idea that men are in the right after they cheat. This is just the way the characters panned out in the film.
Pushing this idea of communication further, the movie also emphasizes the false perception that successful relationships are those that consistently rekindle the fire (recreating past times, or spending money on gifts and extravagant dinners). This film tells us outright that indeed, those first dates are magical, but relationships are also about enjoying the present as well as future possibilities. By choosing to be in a relationship, you’re recognizing that you’re not going to experience those feelings you get when you meet and begin to experience someone new. And that’s not something to be sad about. One of the satisfying things about being in a committed relationship is familiarity. Being with someone who you can depend on, and having someone that fully supports the person that you are. The fire doesn’t go out necessarily, it maintains itself through continuous appreciation and understanding of your other half. Long-term relationships allow a person to grow as an individual, as long as you have someone supporting you in achieving your goals. And that fire continues when there is this awareness that your significant other is there to support and follow and not hold you back. Dinners and gifts are wonderful, but they are temporary. It’s that support that helps you achieve personal and committal happiness. With “The One I Love,” we see that Sophie does not support Ethan’s individuality, and wishes him to both look and act a particular way. And by the end we witness how unsuccessful that method can be.
The movie is great. Is it the best movie of the year? Probably not. Does it dive deeply into the themes it brought up? Not particularly. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t allude to them, or ask the audience to engage with them through the characters’ actions. The film was a refreshing take on the realities of a relationship and our ideas of what they should look like.
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