"The Other Me"-- Clearing the Smoke Blurring Faced-Up Mirrors: See and Thus, Be Seen
Updated: Feb 24, 2022
The Other Me - Official Synopsis
Irakli (Jim Sturgess) is an aspiring architect thrown into turmoil when diagnosed with a debilitating eye disease. As his condition worsens, a surreal visual world opens to him causing him to question his life's choices, his career, and his marriage to an increasingly frustrated Nutsa (Antonia Campbell-Hughes) who struggles with her loyalties to her husband and the realities of daily survival. As the visions become more intense, he falls for a mysterious woman Nino (Andreja Pejic), a beautiful artist who lives alone. She becomes his artistic muse, and they form a deep connection that turns from fascination to infatuation to love. They learn to speak in poetic language and understand each other completely, which helps Irakli confront the truth about his own identity.
Jim Sturgess plays the lead role in The Other Me. I first saw the British actor in Across the Universe, and fell irrevocably in love with his Jude, a character beautifully birthed from the most compelling songs of a band that has accompanied me for the entirety of my life. Then, I spotted him as the innocent George Boleyn in The Other Boleyn alongside his sisters Mary and Anne, played by Scarlet Johannsen and Natalie Portland respectively. Then, last year, I saw Sturgess in Jt Leroy, portraying Geoffrey Knoop (opposite Laura Dern and Kristen Stewart), the ex-husband of my ink-sister, the brilliant Laura Albert and her amazing alter-ego Jeremiah Terminator Leroy, whose works I've been overdue to write from the perspective of an academic, a writer, and as a teacher. During the pandemic, for my English literature classes, we read short stories from her collection The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things. Albert attended three zoom meetings in the fall, winter and summer sessions to talk with about seventy plus students about her craft, the purpose of her work and many kinds of othernesses. Students empathized with the notion of being castaway for our differences, oddities, limitations. They all loved Laura’s insightfulness and authenticity and I am deeply flattered and grateful she's in my life. JT, I won't let you down. I'll write about you soon. Much love, of the redemptive kind.
Ahora, I am writing about this other otherness, and alter egos, and doppelgängers, as presented to me in Giga Agladze's The Other Me, executive produced by David Lynch, with Jim Sturgess, Andreja Pejić, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Rhona Mitra, Orla Brady, and Jordi Mollá. I was surprised to see that Cinema Management Group is managing Agladze's film--CMG are my initials and the acronym of my identity. And Agladze is linked to Lynch because of the Center for Resilience at David Lynch Foundation where change and acceptance begins within via transcendental meditation.
Though names identify the characters of The Other Me in the promotional materials, none are named or tell their names in the film. For example, Sturgess’ character says, “I don’t know your name” to Pejić's character, Nino, who responds, “I don't have a name,” as if the characters could be embodied by any of us, and we’d fill in the blanks, find ourselves in the naming of thyself, in the name of the other. Perhaps, the characters don't have a definite identity until they are seen from an alter ego's point of view.
Still, Sturgess’ performance as Irakli is solid even in the abstract, almost nonsensical quality of his architectural sketches and the unreliable tone of his character, losing his sight and doubting his ability to make sense of reality. The same notion goes for the structure and narrational arc of the film, that clearly challenges conventions and normative perceptions-- and all is not how we've been told to see the world before, and the one we've seen before our eyes.
While the film's first scenes are somewhat confounding, as the story progresses, I was carried into the narrative tension suspending disbelief precisely because of Sturgess' persuasive performance. I felt as though he'd taken my hand and had pulled me into this world where I must close my eyes to see, even those things that resonate with me and that I'd rather avoid seeing. But his character's experience advises me that it'd be safe to open my inner eyes, so I'd see too, fearlessly, to accept the world I live in and me as I figure out a way to overcome.
"I see everything," says he, the blind man, and the terror and despair expressed as his sight deteriorated, transform now in an epiphanic insight, in this epic capacity to see and perceive the world outside and within now with relieving joy. There's closure in openness, and in acceptance; even in forgiveness. The corollary of the story is that one and the other must come to terms with their shared pasts, their true identities, to see so clearly the many worlds we inhabit and our connection with all.
Andreja Pejić steals my heart and breath in her compelling acting playing a character that is so much like her and not it at all. In her role I witness the merging of stories in the forever making of the viewers and readers and painters of this metaphysical otherness that is The Other Me. Pejić's character Nino, is enigmatic, ethereal, obviously resilient, and a sensible seer. Feminine and masculine energies exude from the ethos of this protagonist via Nino's art and prophecies. Her oracles are delivered through iterations, parallelisms, allusions, and symbols, and in minimalistic dialogues rendered in metaphor. Miraculously, Nino's evocative canvas come to life in Irakli's eyes against his advancing blindness. However, Nino's existentialist essence is not about death and despair but love, gender fluidity, and acceptance. Here's I share a great interview published by The Queer Review where Pejić shows so bravely her vulnerability.
What matters for us to see? What ought we to see to liberate ourselves with the truth? Her revelations occur in a world filled with light and air, water, and soil in the forest or in the seemingly endless, flowery meadow where the meaning of existence reaches latency via the natural elements and the metaphorical tropes. "Nothing will be concealed, and all will be revealed," forecasts Nino while holding Irakli's heavy balloon filled with pain so he shall not grieve, and so he shall believe, love and thrive. Akira Kurosawa's Dreams come to mind and his allusion to Van Gogh's paintings, in the symbolism of moving images on canvases in Agladze's film, also juxtaposing narratives in the urban and wild settings, and via the non-linear and genre bender plot that nevertheless delves into an existential human experience.
In the next scene, we witness a plight—a few anthropomorphic figures in the distance climbing up a hill, dragging heavy tear-shaped balloons up, which imagery immediately remind us of Albert Camus' The myth of Sisyphus, the absurdity of existence in its patterns of repetition, isolation, oblivion. But for Irakli, and thanks to Nino, there might be redemption, hope, and resolution.
The Other Me is a brilliant film. My daughter and I shared our impressions after watching it for the third time. I trust Magaluna’s super savvy, interesting opinions and deep knowledge of cinema and the film industry. Magaluna pointed at precise thematic and stylistic camera work, and I took notes on bullet points of our cinephile's observations in surprising agreement
The Other Me is aesthetically highly pleasing.
The film is a bit weak on the first act thus, not entirely persuasive.
The narrative strengthens as it progresses, and the plot tightens in tension and uncanniness.
The art and symbolism used in the story are superb, especially the drawing crafted by a blind person of the famous New York skyline. It's literally, like WOW.
The almost psychic abilities Irakli possesses after losing his vision are esoteric, and creatively mind-blowing. Still, Nino's capacity to understand and foreshadow dénouement and resolution manifests poetic justice in a script arguably informed by Carl Jung's archetypal concepts, Jean-Paul Sartre's existentialism, and Albert Camus' absurdity, and surely, tropes of transcendentalism, and of gender identity.
The script could sometimes be questionable. Dialogues feel as if an amateur screenwriter wrote the screenplay.
Dialogues feel also too poetic--people don't talk like this.
The end will stick and keep turning in the viewers minds for a long time to come because of its iterations, tension, alternativity, and metafiction—how do we make sense of otherness from the perspective of the one and vice versa? Perhaps the only means is empathy.
The symbolism of doors and thresholds and gatekeepers dictating whether we cross and become whole or stay divided, isolated, and alone, at the end of the day render the film's powerful purpose.
Giga Agladze's cinematography soars in the Georgia meadows, and the camera transmits the subjectivity of the eye looking into the land from the perception of a citizen of this nation. The camera shots switch settings from a dull bedroom with a chair as a night table and a painting of flowers leaning against the wall on the floor to signify the different POVs from Irakli and Nutsa.
There is a binary-conditioned interaction between the characters—a constant dual dynamic that resonates with Ingmar Bergman's Persona in its poetic realism merging with dream-like scenes. The tension, suspension, and thrilling quality remind me of Edgar Allan Poe's personification of settings and objects and the creation of doubles or mirrored characters. I also find connections and similarities with Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel joined work, An Andalusian Dog, which screws up the point of view and questions the reliability of what we see and perceive as real as much as The Other Me does.
At times, the film is poorly edited in small but relevant details. For example, the shots’ edits in the intensely erotic bathtub scene with the wet and steamy bodies of Irakli and Nino, overlooked the inclusion of the paintbrush clipping Andreja's character's hair, a powerful detail in tune with the character's role as an artist. Likewise, earlier in the film, the shot of Nino's on a ladder nailing a hook for a bird feeder and subsequent falling announced by a loud cry but not captured in film transpires as a non-sequitur, questioning its believability.
The problem with shots not accurately edited is that they distract the viewers' attention and fail to persuade viewers to suspend disbelief. Still, Agladze's camera work is so beautiful in the way that it captures the light, and the colors of the scenery, which are captivating, spellbinding, calling the viewer back into this surreal world with ease to even wander aimlessly into the bizarre setting with curiosity and wonder. The film's photography and cinematography are undoubtedly, exquisite and a visual, alluring pleasure.
I was impressed by the surrealistic fantasies in the cinematography that messed me up with notions of time by juxtaposing scenes and characters to create a dream-like, and nightmarish at times, altered states. My analytical mind couldn't help but observe instinctively and impulsively how the characters' sexual desires yield their being at odds with the acceptable or comprehensible norm. No doubt, the movie questions gender identity, sexuality, and individuality, while merging autonomous experience and subtly denouncing social expectations on gender roles—the film's central concern.
I believe that the film The Other Me shows that the other is me, and it is you, viewer, reader. Otherness is oneness in inclusive and exclusive awareness, and in connection. I suggest that you watch The Other Me with new eyes or dare to try on different lenses, so sighting and seeing will allow a new version of your truth, and luckily, even getting a glimpse of another version of yourself.
However metaphorical and highly poetic Nino's lines might be, the camera feeds on it to realize its focus on an atmosphere and the textures of the surroundings to make reality tangibly surreal while solidifying abstract places into being. The Other Me might transpire a bit experimental but it is this peculiarity that makes it so raw and authentic, unrehearsed, and timely fresh on contemporary issues related to identity, perception, corruption, deception.
Sturgess' character struggles to reveal himself to himself and to be seen by others as accurately as who he is ---only that only Nino can see him authentically and so does he learn to see himself via Nino's eyes. And he learns to see himself without judgment, prejudice, or contempt. A fresh example is showcased in the scene where Nino's turns her back on Irakli while he doesn't want to be seen eating the cake as ashamed and self-conscious of his own blindness. Even if reality and surreality were to be perceived from the other’s point of view because the other is the reflection of the one, then, the original and the exact replica of ourselves is, in the end, the other side of the self.
Okay, granted. I've always been obsessed with doppelgängers, doubles, and alter egos. I am a sucker for surrealism, dadaism, and impressionism found in literature, theatre, dance, and the visual arts. I’ve watched Auteurs films, the true masters, Goddard, Hitchcock, Fellini, Bergman, Welles, and Kurosawa. As I watched The Other Me, I remembered Ingmar Bergman's concept of the magic forest in a film that I cannot even recall its title, but where a man changes after being lost and find his way back, just like Irakli.
In my teens, I was a member of Cinemateca Uruguaya, similar to Criterion, which screened high art and Avant Garde cinema. In the alluded case above, a mysterious being who lives in the forest leads the man's way towards freedom and detachment from an unaware self, and yet, the ending is open, and it is the job of the viewer to construct it or envision it at their will. This is a trope of metafiction, and so it is the unresolved ending in The Other Me. I adore cinematic narratives and film styles that do not necessarily have ending resolutions or happy endings. I appreciate visual stories that trigger curiosity, coaxing the imagination to soar beyond comfort zones and boxed thinking. Moreover, I love it when a narrative invites the reader and the viewer to contribute to the completion of the story, as if it was always in the making, and with multiple, possible detours, resolutions, endings--a narrative in constant evolution and transformation depending upon in divergent views of reality and perception.
Wait. I just remembered a painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, founder of the Brotherhood of Raphaelites, entitled, They Met Themselves—spoiler alert.
The Other Me checks all the boxes while yanking me (and you) out of the box and subtly pushing us to step out and move away from our comfort zone. I adore the minimalist dialogues, the décor, the simple settings, and a plot that seems so mundane at first glance and so complex as if its DNA strains came from primal notions of life in the wilderness and how possible it is to find ourselves in the natural world when we have been lost in the deceptive mazes of urban milieus.
But the narrative and settings, the dialogue, and the plot in The Other Me are poetic, abiding by dadaist and surrealist tenets. Andreja's character speaks in poetic, figurative language, though her assertiveness makes the language factual despite its lyricism within the however unfathomable narrative. Her role as a mysterious woman in the story justifies her visions and discourses of how she sees the world without being forced to explain it or herself. There's a Greek sculpture of Apollo, in her artist's room, the god of the sun, with the myth telling that he is to speed to illuminate the world with golden light. And the blue butterflies are unmistakably signs of impermanence, metamorphosis, transcendence and transformation--major themes in the narrative envisioned by Agladze.
But surprisingly and oddly so, when I started to watch the film, the memory of Les Chants de Maldoror by the writer from my native Uruguay, Isidore Lucien Ducasse, snapped me back to a new vision of this surreality. This author made himself known using the pen name Le Comte de Lautréamont. Certainly, when he moved to France in the 1860s, he invented an expression that merged his identity with an apocryphal place, as an alter ego of su identidad con el lugar. His poetic wordplay relied upon the name of (our birth city) Montevideo, and the idea of otherness even when the concept wasn’t even a thing. He then transmuted it into L'autre à Mont(video) The Other Montevideo*. Ducasse added the nobiliary title of the Count, based on powerful landholders, terratenientes from Spanish and Portuguese colonization of South American territories because they were an empowering tradition rolling into the twentieth century.
*Arguably, Montevideo means the sixth month (in Roman numerals VI) as seen from the Atlantic Ocean merging into Rio de la Plata, navigating from east to west --Monte VI Este a Oeste.