The Double

Intermediate—Year

Characters in fiction are often doubles of each other, as in the strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In this course, we will examine various forms of the double in films from the silent era to the present day. We will begin with The Student of Prague, a German movie from 1913 that tells the story of a student haunted by his mirror image after he sells it to a mysterious stranger; and we will read Otto Rank’s classic psychoanalytic study, The Double, which focuses on this film. Like Jekyll and Hyde or Dorian Gray and his picture, the student of Prague and his reflection are an example of the Gothic double, the uncanny doppelganger in the Romantic tradition. We will consider several other examples in works by such filmmakers as Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, Maya Deren, Kurosawa, Antonioni, Werner Herzog, and David Lynch. But there is an older, comic tradition of doubling that has to do with social identity—the outer rather than the inner self—and we will also consider the comic double in works by such filmmakers as Chaplin, Lubitsch, Ozu, Preston Sturges, Woody Allen, and Almodóvar. Besides the comic and the Gothic, there are other kinds of doubling: the gangster father and the son turned gangster in The Godfather, the figures of East and West in John Ford’s westerns, the dreamlike other selves in Buñuel’s surrealist films, the director impersonator in Kiarostami’s Close-Up, the husband looking for his wife and the wife looking for her husband in Zhang Ke Jia’s Still Life, and the portraits of the artist in works by such filmmakers as Cocteau, Mizoguchi, Fellini, and Tarkovsky. Any characters set in comparison with one another may be viewed as doubles; and characters can be doubles not only of each other but also of the spectator—when we identify with a character he or she becomes, in a sense, our double—and of the implied author behind the work. We will look into figures of the author and of the spectator among other variants of the double in a medium whose images and sounds are, themselves, doublings: animated duplicates of life.