One of the things that a lot of purists out there will not call science fiction are those works which are built around some big, all-important idea, with a world of sorts sort of thrown together around it.
You can see the sort of thing I’m talking about in, say, The Hunger Games, although it is far from rare, particularly in Indie Science Fiction. It is enormously difficult to construct a solid future world, but even harder if it has to support a movie about a guy trying to find a girlfriend before he’s turned into a Lobster (real film. Look it up).
And that seems to me what’s going on with Dual.
The basic idea is simple enough: Karen Gillan has to battle her own clone to the death. Only one of them — clone or original can be left standing.
Now there is a bit of a framework to support all this: cloning is now a nearly instant office visit process, and people who are dying of a terminal disease can have themselves cloned so that their lives will carry on the same as always. That means less financial disruption and grief for the survivors, and the terminally patient can depart knowing everything will be just peachy.
That’s the theory, at least.
In reality, sometimes the patient recovers, and then the clone has to be put to death. By law, naturally.
Only some clones refuse to go and petition for a chance to live.
And if it’s granted, they get to duel their original to determine which one of the two will get to live.
This is, of course, the core of the story, and what little information we do learn about this future is sort of wrapped around this notion without too much effort to ground this in past events, or explanation of how these cockamamie laws ever got passed. Apparently duels to the death are now part of the justice system, and broadcast on TV as family entertainment, but this isn’t explored or explained either. It’s just there.
So shut up and accept it already.
Now I’ve got to say what Dual does with this goofy notion does actually work: Sarah is in a bit of a rut in her life, if she were being honest: her relationship with her boyfriend is crumbling and she isn’t doing well with the rest of her life. She drinks too much and is probably seriously depressed.
But, once she gets cloned, things only get worse because her clone has something hot going with her boyfriend, and has become close with the mother Sarah has been avoiding for years.
And then she learns she isn’t going to die…
Look, let’s face it, the setup is absurd. But the journey Sarah takes from depression to resignation to anger, to actually feeling good about herself and rebuilding her life, is beautifully staged and works well. To be honest, Karen is beginning to look a bit…old. After all, it’s been fourteen years since she was a fresh young face on Doctor Who, and she no longer has quite as much of that elfin, childlike quality that served her so well back then. Fortunately, this is a role where spends much of the film depressed and out of shape, so it doesn’t matter as much.
Or maybe I think she looks old because she is so unglamorous here. It’s hard to say.
When it all comes to an end, there’s a series of unexpected twists (and an utterly absurd line at the duel!), which leads to a satisfying but slightly downbeat ending as things end up back where they once were.
More or less.
It’s not classic, but it is reasonably entertaining and even delivers on that Karen Gillan fight with herself.
Just don’t expect the world it takes place in to make much sense.