Every so often, a film comes by and makes you stop and take notice of it. Dual is one of those rare movies.
These days it's hard enough to get people to put down their phones and electronic devices long enough to watch an entire 90-minute film in one sitting. Although to be fair, most movies these days don't really try to entangle you into their plot to the point where you have to pay attention and lock in.
While the latest MCU entry may delight our senses and give us a cultural touchstone necessary to maintain our geek credentials, most of them are less than fulfilling when it comes to challenging our intellect and making us reaccess our place in the universe. Unless we are a victim of Thanos' snap, then all bets are off.
Dual is the type of film that Science Fiction was invented for and one that joined a rare list of movies that continue to push our understanding of us and our place in the world. We're talking precious rarefied air with the likes of Ex Machina, Arrival and Annihilation.
For those paying close attention at home, why yes, those are two Alex Garland films that I compared to Dual. Director Riley Stearns is quickly joining Garland and Robert Eggers as young auteurs worthy of our attention. Stearns seems to be hitting his stride, so the future is incredibly bright and intriguing.
Dual is both simple to summarize and impossible to convey just how deep and complex the journey is.
A woman opts for a cloning procedure after she receives a terminal diagnosis but when she recovers her attempts to have her clone decommissioned fail, leading to a court-mandated duel to the death.
Anytime you can snag Karen Gillan for a role, you're very fortunate. But casting her in a dual role, well that's just aces. Gillan is certainly the draw here as she is able to convey more nuance and pathos in 90 minutes here than in all of her countless minutes of screentime in the MCU.
That's not a knock on Nebula, which is about as deep of a character as you'll find in the MCU, but merely another feather in Gillan's cap as she ventures out and begins to navigate a post-MCU world for herself. The role of Sarah and her double is one in which she has the challenge of creating two similar - yet distinct characters.
To make the film work, Gillan has to thread that difficult needle between familiarity and distinct newness. The audience has to believe that her double is both Sarah and her (its?) own person.
You see, while the simple hook of a "duel" with your clone is interesting, the real intrigue is the "dual"ity of humanity at the core of Dual. Notice that it's Dual and not Duel. A nice play on homonyms for sure, but it's also a hint as to where our attention should be focused.
Ultimately, Dual is a reflection in its own way of what it means to be human and whether clones have inalienable rights once created. While Riley Stearns devotes enough time to world-building in the film, he doesn't get bogged down in the minutiae and neither should we for it is, after all, a dark comedy and not necessarily a deep dive into ethics and the horror of advancing technology.
There are so many directions that the story could go and for a while, I held onto the thought that it might follow the path blazed by Joe Versus The Volcano. You see, for some reason, these types of situations where a terminal disease is miraculously defeated happen often enough in this world that they have a TV series devoted to these original vs. double duels.
I guess The Hunger Games wasn't too far off, eh?
But given the smaller budget of an indie film, Stearns wisely keeps everything small in relation to the world he has created. This allows us to take in and ponder the ending and its ramifications. I really wish I could go into more detail here, but I don't want to spoil it for anyone wanting to check it out.
And check it out you should because while it's not for everyone, there are certain lessons we can extrapolate into our current world. The crossroads of technology and religion is a place ripe for battle these days and Dual can serve as a warning as to where we could be headed and whether that's a better place than where we are now.
Dual is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.