Charlie McDowell’s The One I Love is a bold movie that takes a strange idea and runs with it. It’s difficult to talk about without giving away important plot details, which is why we dedicated a special spoiler section to discuss the movie in more detail.
The film stars Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss (both delivering excellent, convincing performances) as Ethan and Sophie, a married couple who go on a weekend getaway at the urging of their marriage counselor in order to “reset the reset button” and repair their damaged relationship. We’re told from the offset that Ethan did something Sophie is having trouble forgiving him for, but we aren’t given the specifics. Despite their apparent problems, they start off the movie actually getting along pretty well. It’s as the film goes on that the cracks in their relationship begin to show, and when they do, it’s in a very surprising way.
The One I Love is a movie about expectations. It’s about the expectations we have for our significant others and how those can ruin a relationship. It’s also about individuality and how we sometimes lose our sense of self when we enter into a relationship.There are so many themes and ideas explored in The One I Love, and everyone will have their own interpretations of the film.
Most of all, this was a great indie movie that we had a lot of fun with trying to make predictions and theorize about. Which brings us to…
THE SPOILER SECTION
Let’s get right into it, guys: one of the big twists of The One I Love is that the guest house on the retreat Ethan and Sophie go to has some unexplained alternate dimension-y magic to it that creates a physical, seemingly perfect version of their respective spouses. Ethan’s version of Sophie seems very Stepford Wife-y; she’s a sultry, seductively dressed housewife who cooks him bacon and smiles a lot, while Sophie’s version of Ethan is artistic and eloquent and is always talking about trying new things.
Once the real Sophie and Ethan figure this out, they agree to use this weird opportunity to explore their relationship — but Sophie ends up becoming much more invested in her new relationship with Fake!Ethan than either of them expected.
This idealistic version of Sophie’s husband is attuned very precisely to her — rather than be an individual, he seems to exist as an extension of her own desires — which, in the wake of Real!Ethan’s betrayal, may have been what attracted her in the first place. The real Ethan, meanwhile, is trapped on the opposite side of that initial conflict, watching his wife fall in love with someone else and experiencing similar feelings of hurt and mistrust.
And then fantasy and reality begin to blur, and The One I Love really kicks into high gear.
Oftentimes, and especially in the final third of the film, the audience is just as confused as the characters as to who is who – which is very much the point. Do we really know the person we’re with? What happens when the person you fell in love with is no longer the same person years down the line, but you’ve already built a life with them? Do you abandon them for a “better version,” or do you stay?
The One I Love doesn’t give us any definitive answers to these questions, because, of course, there aren’t any. Rather, it uses its totally-out-there concept to play with possible solutions, and in the process, delivers one of our favorite films of the year.
You can watch The One I Love now on Netflix.