In the future, we will conquer death. Not that we will be able to cure people from dying (what monster would even dream of such a thing?), just that death will no longer stand at the end. That, or something like it, is the premise of science fiction stories too numerous to count, but it seems like a recent cycle has zeroed in on one particular aspect: Cloning.
Last December, it was Swan Song; now it’s Dual, the story of a terminal prognosis with the potential outcome to minimize family harm. But where Swan Song went for the heartstrings, writer/director Riley Stearns’ Dual aims for the funny bone.
The story revolves around Sarah (Karen Gillian), a lonely wife who barely sees her husband (Beulah Koale), ignores phone calls from her mother (Maija Paunio), and spends her evenings wolfing down fast food and masturbating to internet porn. It’s a lonely life, made all the more lonely by her pathetic-looking apartment. Then one morning, she wakes up and starts vomiting blood. She has a very rare and incurable disease, her doctor tells her. Time is limited. But there is an option. Sarah’s body will die, but there’s no reason that a replacement Sarah can’t go on living for her husband and mother’s benefit. It’s a simple cloning procedure, the clinic assures her, just spit into this cup, and in one hour, a second Sarah will appear, ready to be trained to take over.
Gillian plays the dual role with relish. With deadpan delivery and robotic movements, Gillian and all the other actors in Dual run scenes like they’re putting on a high school production of a Bresson film. It’s great.
Especially since Stearns keeps his style as dour as possible and the writing as sharp as a knife. When Sarah learns how much the cloning process costs, the consultant assures her that the replacement Sarah will be responsible once the original passes. I guess debt is an inheritable asset.
At this point, I’ve gone on about the replacement procedure long enough that you might think that’s the movie. It’s not. Not by a long shot. Even though Stearns keeps Dual to a spare 95 minutes, there are enough reversals for several movies. Like any good sci-fi story, Dual is packed with high-concepts that work both in the context of the story and as observations of modern life. Consider, for a second, receiving a negative prognosis. You will fight to live, no doubt, but what for? That tiny apartment with stressed furniture? Your broken relationships with friends and family? The debt you still have to pay off? The alarm clock going off every morning so you can wake up before you want to, to go to a job you don’t like, to pay off the stuff you don’t need? Is Sarah giving her family a gift, or is she cursing her clone to continue living her life of quiet desperation? What a fantastic movie.
Written and directed by Riley Stearns
Produced by Nate Bolotin, Maxime Cottray, Lee Kim, Nick Spicer, Riley Stearns, Aram Tertzakian
Starring: Karen Gillan, Aaron Paul, Beulah Koale, Maija Paunio
XYZ Films, Rated R, Running time 95 minutes, Premiered at the virtual Sundance Film Festival, Jan. 22, 2022.