Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Double Life of Veronique: Review and Analysis

Two girls are born on the same day in 1968, one in Poland, the other in France. One is called Weronika and the other Veronique.  They both are raised by loving parents, both of their mothers died young and they both have good relationships with their fathers. And even though they grew up thousands of miles apart, they both had this sense that they were not alone.  That somewhere there is a counterpart to themselves.

This is the heart of the Double Life of Veronique, and yet the film is so much more than this.  Directed by Krzysztof Keislowski, the film is much like his other films.  Like all his later films, it explores metaphysical and ethical issues.  Although the subject is very down-to-earth, the cinematography is full of ethereal beauty, full of golds and greens. It is simply one of the most stunning pieces of art ever created.

Why do you play out of tune? Is it because W sang out of tune when she died?.

In addition to that physical beauty, there is the beauty of the music.  The score was composed by Zbigniew Preisner who later also composed the beautiful score for Keislowski's next film, Three Colors: Blue.  Most of the score is a single piece of music, played or sung in different ways, different tempos with different instruments.  But the haunting, spiritual nature of the piece is perfect for the mood of the whole.

I've watched it twice now and each time I am drawn in, stunned by the beauty and power of the simple story.  It is intellectually stimulating and sensual, but somehow it is the beauty of it that captures me.  I am misty-eyed at the end of the film, and I don't know why.  It moves me as no other film does, and it is a mystery how it stirs my soul at all.  In all, The Double Life is one of my favorite films of all time.

Why the ring? Is it simply a connection between the two doppleganers?     

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Below is the analysis, which contains spoilers and discusses details of the film: 

All of this gushing praise doesn't mean that Double Life is easy to understand.  There are a lot of seemingly meaningless details, but like all Keislowski films, the details add up to a singular whole.  Of course, the puzzle is, what is that whole?

I believe that the title is a misdirection, as is the main plot of having Veronique/Weronika be doppelgangers. Of course, it is significant, but it doesn't really add much to the main point of the theme.  This theme can be found right at the first two shots of the film.   

First, we see Weronika as a small girl, being held by her mother.  Her mother is interpreting what little Weronika is seeing: an upside down Polish city.  But rather than draw her attention to the city itself, her mother tells her to "look" at the stars.  And this heaven-gaze directs all of Weronika's life, which takes up the first half hour of the film.

Weronika is pulled back and forth between joy and a kind of an illness throughout her portion of the film. She is addicted to heaven, to the spirit realm. Keislowski puts many different symbols of this spiritual, non-earthy, viewpoint throughout the film: stars, rain, seeing the world upside down, but the main basis of spirituality in this film is art: music, dancing, drawing. And the purer the art, the more it is art for its own sake, the more spiritual the art is.  And thus, the less it belongs with the earth.

The illness Weronika struggles with is, frankly, a spiritual sickness.  She is so caught up with the spirit world that her body has a hard time living.  When she sings to practice for her recital, she is so weak she can barely walk.  She becomes pale and her eyes wander.  The connection to the spirit is the greatest joy in her life, but it finally kills her when she completely surrenders herself to the music.

Why did she not die before?  Because of her connection to the flesh, to the earth.  The earthly is seen in her relationship with her boyfriend, in her helping a friend in a legal situation. And whenever see connects in those ways, she becomes grounded again and her body is able to endure.  The funniest example of this is when, after a particularly spiritual practice for her concert, she wobbles out to the street and almost collapses onto a bench.  A man in a trench coat comes by and opens his coat, exposing himself.  This "grounds" Weronika, giving her a connection to the earth once more, so she feels better and gets up. 

In the end, Weronika's commitment to the spiritual kills her, because a soul so connected to the heavens can no longer live on earth.

Veronique, although a copy of Weronika in so many ways, is, in this aspect her opposite.  In the opening scene, Veronique is also with her mother, but her mother is showing her a leaf, describing the details.  Veronique is the one who is focused on the earth, on the flesh.
Love's not enough, in itself.  Or is it? 

The first scene in which the adult Veronique is focused on, we see her having casual sex with someone she hasn't seen for a long time. This demonstrates her groundedness.  But this is happening right at the same time as Weronika's death, an Veronique feels it.  Suddenly, in the middle of the lovemaking, she grieves.  She can't stop herself from crying and it makes no sense to her. This is because she has been free to live a life completely grounded, because her counterpart was living a life in the spirit.  Both are unbalanced, both are one-sided, because they had the other who unknowingly balanced them. Veronique has remained somewhat balanced, seeking music in a class instead of the pure form (she quits personal development of her music after her greiving).   

When Weronika dies, however, Veronique is imbalanced, undirected, seeking stasis.  And she finds this balance in the form of a marionette artist, Alexandre (as a side note, W's boyfriend and V's sought lover's names both begin with "A").  Just his art communicates balance, in that his art is embodied, grounded at all times.  There is always an audience and always a human shown behind the puppet.  His art is the kind of balance Veronique now so desperately seeks.

And for the rest of the film she seeks him and he seeks her.  In the climax, her grief for the loss of Weronika threatens to overwhelm her, but Alexandre makes love to her through her grief.  He brings her back to earth.   Because, for Veronique, her grieving of her lost spirit-component threatened to undo her. But the love of another, frankly, sex itself, grounds her, gives her balance between the grief and continued living in the world.  In the final shot, Veronique is touching a tree, even as her mother showed her the leaf, guiding her to the path of embodiment

I'd love to hear any comments on my analysis.                            


  1. Thanks Steve, such great insights. It made me think of that unsettling feeling that is like a homesickness for heaven that I get from time to time. It's like one foot is planted firmly on earth and the other is completely somewhere else.

  2. Thanks Steve - a very moving write up - a lot of insight. I just purchased and watched this last week. I will revisit it's films like this that make my love for this art form last forever.

  3. Thanks, folks. It really is a powerful film.

    Martin, interesting point. I wonder if my list of "films that make me love film" is different than my top 100...

  4. Throughout life, we make ourselves believe things, thoughts, ideas, contemplations, but at the grave when we reach it, what did we know really?

  5. It's an interesting interpretation. I'm not sure I quite agree with the idea that these two must either be grounded on Earth or taken away to the spiritual plane. Yes, there is the call of the spiritual throughout the film, it draws them in, but I don't think they must either embrace it or stay grounded.

    In fact, after seeing it more times, I'm not sure exactly how I'd relate the parallels between these two lives.

  6. Great analysis, really enjoyed it.

  7. I'll have to watch it again. Embarrassed to say I didn't know there were two different women although I did question it eventually. I'm not sure how I feel about this film, the girl was beautiful and wonder how we'd respond if the women had been ordinary looking maybe a bit overweight.