'Cam' And 5 Other Great Female Doppelgänger Movies

Netflix recently premiered its newest hit horror film, Cam. A festival favorite that earned a seal of approval from Stephen King, the film follows a cam girl named Lola, whose identity and account has been hijacked by a doppelgänger. Fighting to recover her online persona, she must navigate exposure to her family, obsessive male viewers, and judgmental authorities to reclaim her chosen profession.

The use of doppelgängers shines either a dreamy or dismal kaleidoscopic depiction of one's identity through the self's exploration, preservation, or destruction all within a duplicated projection of an individual. While the concept of duality is stereotypically explored with themes revolving around good versus evil, Cam utilizes a doppelgänger to challenge societal norms, specifically concerning females and sex industry workers. For women, social conventions focusing on appearance, sexuality, and demeanor warrant the use of a paradoxical double in film: the need to be attractive, to be submissive, to be modest, to be a mother, and to be both fragile and durable simultaneously.

In Cam, director Daniel Goldhaber and writer Isa Mazzei (a former camgirl model herself) subvert these feminine ideals and sexual stigmas in a uniquely bold and badass style. To celebrate such a killer sex-positive and feminist thriller, I've compiled five other impactful films within a feminine doppelgänger paradigm.

The One I Love (2014)

"First, he betrayed you by sleeping with someone else and, then he kind of betrayed you by sleeping with you."

When it comes to marriage, there is a point when the spark dims. In the case of married couple Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss), their sexual frustrations and romantic boredom hit rock bottom after Ethan has an affair. Upon a counselor's suggestion, the estranged love birds escape for a weekend getaway to rekindle their relationship, focusing on the future and not the past. They soon notice that a guest house on the property offers more than they bargain for. Like an episode of The Twilight Zone, each time one of them enters the guest house alone, they encounter a doppelgänger of their spouse. Ethan is normally neurotic and fairly overbearing with his tightly pressed glasses and neatly combed hair. However, his double is laid back, emotionally available, and completely enamored with Sophie to the point of even painting her portrait to profess his love. In contrast, Ethan's doppelgänger of Sophie appears to be more of a homemaker, her hair neatly pinned back and donning cute dresses only for Ethan's eyes. She is patient and forgiving as she sweetly smiles while cooking him bacon – an unhealthy delicacy he is no longer allowed back home. Sophie's double is eerily dutiful, which puts Ethan on guard immediately; whereas, the real Sophie becomes increasingly enamored with Ethan's doppelgänger. Despite establishing respectful boundaries and rules, Sophie falls hard for fictional Ethan and begins to embrace romantic feelings that have been lacking in her marriage.

The perpetual validation, laughter, hot sex, and the ability to communicate openly and honestly are all needs that Sophie has been robbed of after Ethan's affair. The doppelgängers serve as a reflection of what each couple wants out of the other but are just out of reach in terms of fulfillment. And while Sophie stays despite Ethan's infidelity, she chooses to seek out her own happiness instead of validate or pick up the shattered pieces of her lover's ego – a bold and rare move for a woman, stereotypically. The film encourages self-preservation and prioritization through a female lense. How long is too long for a person to wait around for their lover to turn into what they truly wish they would? How much time must go by to rekindle feelings of love again, that validation, and restore the trust? Is it even possible? The sanctity of marriage is compromised and shattered, but so are the two involved – and that also matters. Since the doppelgängers are still a fraction of their spouse, the concept of cheating is obscured and trust mangled. Therefore, after all of the pain Ethan has caused her, Sophie experiments with how she can become whole again with herself and the one she loves.

Persona (1966)

"I understand, all right. The hopeless dream of being – not seeming, but being. At every waking moment, alert. The gulf between what you are with others and what you are alone. The vertigo and the constant hunger to be exposed, to be seen through, perhaps even wiped out. Every inflection and every gesture a lie, every smile a grimace."

Ingmar Bergman's Persona focuses on the relationship between two women with an emphasis on personality transference. Elisabet (Liv Ullmann) is a famous actress who abruptly stops speaking and falls under the care of Sister Alma (Bibi Andersson), a young nurse slowly driven to the brink of desperation in attempts to cure her patient. With no signs of improvement at the hospital, her doctor sends the two women off to the coast to stay at a seaside home. The film's plot is fairly simplistic, yet the structure and dialogue are thematically dense with penetrating philosophical concepts enhanced by close-up monologues and montages of religious symbols pertaining to crucifixion and the killing of a sacrificial lamb. As much as Alma wants Elisabet to respond, she revels in the fact that no one has ever truly listened to her before, and therefore, takes the opportunity to disclose deep-seeded personal stories of trauma and guilt – a need every woman can relate to at one time or another.

Latin for the word "mask", Persona reflects psychiatrist Carl Jung's theory which proposes that people project public images to protect themselves and essentially become the role they attempt to play. The persona itself is the face that is presented to the world, a facade or mask that is designed to both make an impression upon others, while also concealing the true nature of the individual. This concept is exhibited with both women as Alma's behavior is vastly different in the hospital versus the seaside home; and of course, Elisabet reveals nothing verbally, instead opting to conceal herself in her silence. While the film deviates from the stereotypical depiction of a doppelgänger, the physical attributes of the women are strikingly similar so much so that Elisabet's husband mistakes her for Alma. Yet, the notion of a double is less corporeal and more visceral in the manner of which the women imprint their dual natures onto one another and project a variation of themselves thus growing more intimately involved. Alma's soliloquies pertaining to identity, sexual promiscuity, and motherhood are all spoken with a conflicting and pensive nature. Through Elisabet's silence, Alma's secrets are both supported and validated. There is no recoil, slut-shaming or demonization. Instead those clandestine feelings and experiences are cradled as Alma drags the skeletons out of her life's closet one by one, processing them on her own journey of healing, while confiding in Elisabet provides a sense of catharsis. Alma's monologues revolve around controversial thoughts many women experience, but dread divulging: the conflicting guilt of choosing not to be a mother, taboo homosexual encounters, desperately expressing the need to be heard or loved and allowing one's self to be vulnerable enough to do so. In a way, full freedom and acceptance of expression is a romantic fantasy in and of itself, and Bergman tackles it full-force. 

Coherence (2013)

"This whole night we've been worrying... there's some dark version of us out there somewhere. What if we're the dark version?"

Writer/director James Ward Byrkit delivers a mind-bending film that appears deceptively simplistic on the surface; but like the story and characters itself, diverts into a multi-layered universe that explores themes of identity, regret, and internal conflict. Set over the span of one night while a comet passes over Earth, a dinner party with eight friends becomes more disturbing as their reality grows increasingly perplexed. Philosophical theories and quantum mechanics collide and are best explained with this quote from a trepidatious character who tries to use science to vindicate what is occurring: "There is another theory: that two states continue to exist... separate and decoherent from each other, each creating a new branch of reality based on the two outcomes. Quantum decoherence ensures that the different outcomes have no interaction with each other."

They soon realize there are multiple realities that are simultaneously transpiring and each contain multiple doppelgängers that exist outside of their current reality. The characters reluctantly reminisce on what their lives could have been like had they made different decisions. Emily (Emily Baldoni), a professional dancer, had her lead role usurped by an understudy and has to listen to her ex-boyfriend's new love interest remind her about the awkward situation while sitting across the dinner table. This uncomfortable interaction is common amongst women, as there tends to be a stronger rivalry and at times insecurity, that men rarely exhibit in the same manner when it comes to ex-lovers. Themes of jealousy, regret, and control permeate the tangled plot as the characters reflect on how they got to where they are now, both literally and metaphorically. Once reality splinters, they are able to choose the path they want to take in order to shape their new lives, free of the former guilt and pain previously experienced. However, they have to bravely face the multiple sides of themselves first.

Possession (1981)

"I can't exist by myself because I'm afraid of myself, because I'm the maker of my own evil."

Jealousy and rage unleash a phantasmagorical fury between a married couple struggling to navigate their relationship after the wife has an affair. Toxic masculinity and the need for control over one's partner are the true culprits of the descent into each characters' madness and savagery. Crippled by jealousy, Mark (Sam Neill) becomes increasingly violent and possessive over his wife, Anna, (Isabelle Adjani) while forcing her to stay with him. His proprietary nature is exuded through domestic abuse, whereas Anna longs to possess a sense of freedom. Mark's total need for dominance is exhibited throughout the film while Anna desperately tries to escape his grasp and the hired men that follow her. Anna also struggles to work through the trauma of having a gruesome miscarriage in a famous subway scene in which Adjani gives a ferocious performance of the complete collapse of the feminine psyche and symbolic opposition to motherhood. Her traumatic oppression and anger is manifested as a monster, while she repeatedly kills off the men who try to invade her life. The use of a double is executed with their son's teacher, Helen (also played by Adjani).

Donning green eyes instead of blue and a lighter shade of hair, Helen personifies the saintly and submissive traits that Mark wishes to bestow upon his wife. She is nurturing and congenial, while Anna is free-willed and hysterical. Similarly, Anna has sex with the monster in order to create her own double, a replica of Mark who is docile despite being bred out of pain. There's a sense of sacrifice that Anna faces as a woman mostly in her need for self-preservation and independence that is rarely challenged against the societal pressures of staying to make a broken marriage work for the child's sake or domesticity in general. Bloody, sexual violence and explosions of manic breakdowns chronicle the psychological complexity of noxious relationships that ultimately conceptualize toxic masculinity and the patriarchy as the true monsters.

Black Swan (2010)

"I just want to be perfect."

Nina (Natalie Portman) is a professional in every sense of the word. As a ballerina, she foregoes delicious indulgences, promptly shows up to class, and lives at home with her overbearing mother who still treats her like a young girl. Acclimated to a life of strict rules and oppression, she embraces the darker side of herself through her lead role in "Swan Lake". Her obsessive need for perfection, both physically and within her craft, begins to consume her and stalk her every move. Upon meeting a mysterious and sexually open-minded newcomer to the company, Nina grows envious after her instructor points out that Lily (Mila Kunis) possesses the qualities she herself lacks. As her confidence fades and her concern of relevancy enhances, her distress towards inadequacy is personified in the form of a doppelgänger that closely watches her in the mirror and picks strange feathers that begin protruding out of her skin. Fantasies of a romantic encounter with Lily coupled with her increasing jealousy cause the doppelgängers to fluctuate back and forth between the two dancers. The fight with her doppelgänger is ultimately a struggle within herself and the constant need for perfection.

Her internal battle ultimately leads to her demise but leaves the audience wondering if self-sacrifice is truly a cost worth justifying the ultimate performance and apex of perfection, after all. The backstage brutality of dance juxtaposes the pristine image that ballerinas project on stage with their flawless make-up and elaborate costumes. That in itself holds a dual nature; yet as a woman, Nina also balances the polarity of the virgin and whore structure. Her dance teacher encourages her to let herself go by touching herself and experimenting outside of her strict regimented lifestyle, although she is chastised by other women as many assume she acquired her role by sleeping with her instructor. She is also mocked after disclosing a sexual fantasy to Lily despite her otherwise liberal perspective on sensuality and pleasure. Nina has to balance her sanity, blooming sexuality, ambition, and subsequent sacrifices in order to perform not only to fulfill her own standards but society's as well.