“I trust him like I trust myself”
Harold Ramis’ (Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day) American sci-fi comedy Multiplicity (1996) takes the workaholic father trope and makes it do somersaults, spinning an abstract concept into yarn of comedic gold. Based on Chris Miller’s short story of the same name, the film turns a run-of-the-mill 90s drama into a test of an actor’s true skill. With Michael Keaton behind the steering wheel, what could possibly go wrong?
Doug (Michael Keaton) is an overworked father and husband to his stay-at-home wife Laura (Andie MacDowell). Neither seems happy with the arrangement, so when Doug meet Dr. Leeds (Harris Yulin), a scientist claiming to have perfected the art of gene cloning, he takes the man up on his daring offer to create an identical copy of him. The challenegs of life shift onto the clone, who is left isolated and unhappy, so Doug revisits Dr. Leeds. What started out as a last resort becomes a tool used too frivolously, and soon Doug finds himself in greater woes than he had ever expected.
The film has a surprisingly socio-political undertone. Laura struggles with the outdated expectation of being a stay-at-home mum, guilted into giving up her career aspirations. While times were different even as recently as in the 1990s, her character is given the space to shatter her cocoon and pursue her true desires, though always in accordance with her husband’s blessing.
The drama then dips into science-fiction, presenting a refreshingly casual, self-aware approach to cloning. While we do see many copies of the protagonist, each one is a representation of a different aspect of his personality, so we never get the chance to grow tired of – or horrified by – Doug’s choking omnipresence.
In fact, the film’s events offer an insight into the philosophical implications of cloning. They’re surface-level, but entertaining. Doug is forced to confront his own flaws, and deal with the responsibility of bringing a free thinking life into the world. One could say the same moral questions are asked regarding the free will of human creations as in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but without the same level of tragedy or despondence.
Michael Keaton shines in his portrayal of a whole spectrum of personalities, bringing to mind a kid-friendly version of James McAvoy’s Split (2016). In his efforts, he exudes the hectic energy we now connect with such rom-com stars as Ryan Reynolds. Though the film dips into overdramatised humour at times, its hilarity factor is a matter of taste. Nevertheless, Keaton’s acting carries the plot -a tad too long at times- seamlessly.
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