Friday, October 11, 2013

Halloween 2013: Urban Legend Week: The Doppelgänger

"Der Doppelganger" by Cathy Lê Thanh
~by Marie Robinson

Have you ever had someone say to you, “I saw this person the other day that looked JUST like you!”? Or thought they’d seen you somewhere when you weren’t there? My beloved Germans have a word for this—they call it a doppelgänger. Doppelgänger translates to “double-walker” and is most commonly described as being an identical version of someone, like a twin. In folklore, doppelgängers are often believed to be bad luck, and if you see your own it is an omen of death.

Interestingly enough, there are several historical records of deadly doppelgängers. Percy Shelley, husband to Mary Shelley, once wrote of doppelgängers in his 1820 drama Prometheus Unbound. “The Magus Zoroaster, my dead child, / Met his own image walking in the garden.” Two years later, Shelley drowned soon after telling his wife that he and others and seen his double. One of my favorite German writers, Goethe, wrote of seeing his doppelgänger in the attire he would wear eight years later as he rode on his last visit to his lover. Even Abraham Lincoln claimed to have seen his double beside his own reflected face in the mirror.

Rhys Wakefield in "+1"
+1 (a.k.a. Plus One) is a 2013 thriller from director Dennis Iliadis (of the 2009 remake of The Last House on the Left) that plays with the idea of doubles. In his film, David (Rhys Wakefield, The Purge) and his friends attend an epic party that turns a bit strange when it is invaded by a second of version of everyone. The only difference is that the doppelgängers act as if the previous 45 minutes have not occurred, running on the same track unless someone interferes, allowing second chances and ensuing mass confusion and carnage.

Another example in film is the 2006 After Dark Horrorfest film The Abandoned. Anastasia Hille stars as Marie, who must return to her homeland of Russia and visit the home of her natural born family. It is there in that haunted place she learns of her family’s dark past and is faced with several deadly doppelgängers.

Alfred Hitchcock loves to play with this theme, more creatively and indirectly. He frequently uses double images of people in his films to signify something about their character, such as split personalities. The best example in my opinion is in Vertigo, where Judy becomes transformed into Madeleine.

An episode of The Twilight Zone entitled, “Mirror Image” a woman in a train station is terrified as she is faced with her double who is waiting for the same train.

TZ's "Mirror Image"
The doppelgänger has made plenty of appearances in literature. Edgar Allan Poe wrote of one in his story “William Wilson”. Other horror writers such as Elizabeth Gaskell (The Poor Clare) and Henry James (“The Jolly Corner”) have also told tales of the ominous double-walker.

Even more esteemed authors, such as Joseph Conrad (“The Secret Sharer”) and Dostoevsky (The Double) have written about the legend.

Whatever incarnation it appears in, there is no doubt that the tale of the doppelgänger is both intriguing and haunting.


Joseph J. Patchen said...

Marvelous article. The Doppelganger is one of my favorite subjects. Thank you.

Marie Robinson said...

Mine, too! Thanks for reading!!

Anonymous said...

I well remember that terrifying Twilight Zone episodfe. It starred Vera Miles.