Weekly Watch: ‘The One I Love’
Matt McMahon | Sunday, February 8, 2015
What does it take to truly know another person? At what point can you positively say that you fully understand someone else, even someone you are as close to as a spouse or partner? When we unconsciously lie to ourselves just as much as we do to others, how are we to accurately and intimately know someone outside of ourselves? And with others, the limiting constraints of speech on communication transforming thought to word only add to the difficulty of the matter. So, in these imperfect, less-than-ideal circumstances, how do we prevail or even cope? Charlie McDowell’s 2014 directorial debut full-length film “The One I Love” explores these perhaps unanswerable questions in its claustrophobic take on a couple dealing with a crumbling marriage.
Ethan and Sophie (Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss) have reached a trough in their marriage. Through an early, loose montage of marriage therapy sessions, the two detail their issues with one other and the changing, rocky state of their relationship. McDowell dedicates the screen in each shot solely to the speaker, indicating the divide that has come about between the two. Sophie wants Ethan to apologize for something and be able to explain himself, while Ethan wants Sophie to move on and see him how she used to. In a last-ditch effort, their therapist (Ted Danson) suggests the couple spend a weekend retreat at a beautiful, secluded estate that he assures always works to save his couples’ relationships.
The retreat is small and away from any other neighboring houses. Yet through some deft camera work and confounding tracking shots between the main house and a smaller guesthouse located on the estate, McDowell creates a disorienting labyrinth out of the property, one in which the viewer cannot quite pinpoint the layout of each area, or where each of the first few scenes there take place. The couple’s first night is a relaxed, loving one — a playful dinner is followed by marijuana and sex — if at the same time dizzying and unsettling.
The next morning, the aforementioned guesthouse becomes the focal point for the rest of the movie. When either Ethan or Sophie enters the estate’s accompanying cottage, they encounter a slightly different version of their partner. Ethan says exactly what Sophie wants to hear and is the fun-loving, free spirited man with whom she originally fell in love. Meanwhile, Sophie is forgiving and lets Ethan eat bacon despite her hatred for when he does. They are almost younger versions of themselves, who they were at the beginning of their relationship before years of patience and life took their toll on them. Alternatively, they feel like each other’s ideal conception of the other, continuously exhibiting all of his or her best qualities — in the other’s eye — and never making any mistakes.
Still, something is off. The couple’s interactions with each other in the guesthouse are positive, but slightly unnatural. Ethan doesn’t wear his glasses, and Sophie is always smiling. The setting becomes unnerving as McDowell relegates much of the action to the cottage’s tight space, while blurring the edges of the screen. His subtly surreal cinematography continues in his employment of a bright, easy color palette, creating a Stepford Wives-esque eeriness to the pleasantries.
The climax and conclusion of the film offer a complex, weighted take on all the difficulties and problems within a committed relationship. Each time I have watched the film, the final beat — an extended shot heavy with a devastating realization — has left me withs chills for the entire credit roll. As much as it tries to answer questions about love and commitment, the end posits just as many, if not more, new questions.How do we choose who we want to spend the rest of our life with, when our conception of that other person is the closest we can get to the truth? Trust, compromise and unselfishness are imperative, but where do they rank among a partner’s nearness to their ideal conception and the loftiness of that conception altogether?