The One I Love Reviewed and Explained

The One I Love is possibly one of the greatest movies reviewed on this site. Entirely full of surprises and cleverness throughout. IMDB
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If you haven’t seen the movie, The One I Love… just stop. Do not continue reading. This post is so filled with spoiler after spoiler, and so filled with great discussion about said movie in the comments, that you will ruin your day by just reading on. But, if you are here today, after all these years, I just started a new podcast called Film Exploder – and we covered this movie! It’s a pretty great episode. Check it out right here.

The One I Love Reviewed and Explained

The One I Love – Plot – Recently I have fallen in love with a completely different kind of movie. It should be said that I was simultaneously falling out of love with a completely different kind of movie… The big big budget bombastic super hero movie. If you’ve been following me AT ALL you already know this particular point because I haven’t shut up about my disappointment in that particular arena.  But the one area of movie-dom that has just been rocking my socks off has been these cheap upstarts, with phenomenal scripts, incredible ideas, and terrific acting all the way around.

The most recent example of this confluence would be Coherence.  A movie that was largely improvised on the spot and filmed for the price of a used Prius.  Now I have yet another example of this sort of equation and this one is entitled, “The One I Love”.  The movie brings us a crazy rabbit hole ride that starts with Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) who are trying to rekindle their sputtering and failing marriage.  We start with them in counseling recounting a failed attempt to get things back on track that involved sneaking into a local home owners pool, which is how they originally met.  But the attempt left them even worse off than before.  At this, their counselor decides to send them to a Marriage Retreat in Ojai that was certain to put their marriage back on track.  It is there that the couple, through various twists and turns, discover that there is another couple there at the retreat with them.

The One I Love Movie Script – We’ll leave the plot there for now, seeing as though the movie basically derails from the 15 minute point on.  But one of the most interesting aspects of this movie is the writing of the script which is credited to Justin Lader.  But when Duplass was approached by Lader, he had a basic outline of an idea but nothing else.  Duplass green lit the funding for the movie and asked Lader to come back with a draft.  50 pages later Duplass had in his hands a very detailed outline, but absolutely not a lick of dialogue.  Which is how Duplass likes to work best.  In an interview he explained it better than I could:

“In regards to “The One I Love,” the improvisation we used is quite different, because the script we used for this movie is highly detailed, highly plotted — it’s a 50-page outline. Every scene is carefully detailed: the plot movements of A, B, C, D, and what the characters are doing.

But there’s no dialogue written, so every piece of dialogue in the film is improvised. But you’re not “riffing” and trying to find something. You’re just being as organic as you can with your motivations and the trajectory of the scene, and using surprises so the person opposite you in the scene will not be lazy and rest on their heels, so it can feel, hopefully, a little bit more spontaneous than if it were rehearsed.”

And the method really works.  Like Coherence, The One I Love, does not seem improvised at all.  There is no sense of the actors being adrift or lost for even a moment.  And like Coherence it is actually quite the opposite.  We see that the movies are actually extremely tightly plotted and extra-targeted in their motivations and plotting.  But I would guess that with the wrong actor or actress this method could be a complete mess to pull off.  It takes a certain kind of actor to make this kind of magic happen.  To throw out surprises to their counterpart and to have them be quick enough to volley them back completely in character with surprises of their own.  Seems like a truly magical way to work, but way more volatile a recipe.

The One I Love Movie Tech – I want to talk about the technology of this low budget independent movie, but I really can’t.  Not here in the spoiler free zone anyway.  You’ll just need to see it to understand when I say, that I was floored that this movie was made with this budget.  Tracking cameras and stop motion has become basically ubiquitous apparently. Because there is no way this movie could have been made without some really fantastic tech equipment at the ready.  It just means that the technology is now starting to become available to even those without a 200 million dollar budget.  Which means the guys with the truly fantastic, and cutting edge ideas (as opposed to the standard Hollywood retreads) are going to start getting their day in the spotlight.

The One I Love Movie Overview – So, all that to say, The One I Love earns it’s 89% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes.  It earned its fantastic film reviews at the Tribeca Film Festival.  It earned the right to be purchased by a major distributor.  And it earned like 5 viewings from you, because that’s about how many times you are going to want to watch it in order to truly grasp the entirety of the movie.  (Which we will get into in the SPOILER section below.)  But basically, I’m in heaven these days, with all of these truly awesome independent movies just killing it.  This is a movie you just have to see to believe.

The One I Love Reviewed and Explained

The One I Love Explained – Incoming Spoilers!!

Now that you have watched the movie… RIGHT?  You’ve watched it?  Otherwise, scoot!  Do not.  Do NOT.  Ruin this movie by reading below.   You’ve been sufficiently warned.

The One I Love Reviewed and Explained

So, Sophie and Ethan, our endangered couple, arrive at the marriage retreat center and not much happens at first.  The two hang out, walk the grounds, investigate the place.  They actually do have a bit a good time being together and are actually enjoying their time together.  I just doubled checked and there are only three actors in this movie, (Ted Danson being the third) and he’s only in the very first SIX minutes.  All the rest of this movie is shot at the retreat center.  So, seeing as though the location is just as big a part of the movie as the two other main actors I figure I ought to walk you through the location.

The One I Love Reviewed and Explained

There are two main sections to the retreat center.  There is the mainhouse, which is a sprawling estate of a house in Ojai California.  This is where the bedrooms and dining room are located.  Outside of the Main House is a pool, and fruit trees, which become a sort of demarcation line between the Main House and the rest of the estate.  And the second building of consequence is the Guest House.  The Guest House has a kitchen and office space as well as spare bedrooms.

The most significant detail about the retreat center is that there is place one, separated by the pool and lawn, and then there is place two.  The two distinct locations is central to the rules of the movie and central to how the plot will play out.

The One I Love Movie Explanation 

The first six minutes of The One I Love sets up their relationship and the fact that our couple needs a serious intervention.  And two minutes after that, LITERALLY eight minutes into the movie, we meet our first other.  I think during the making of the movie they all called the characters, Ethan and the OTHER Ethan.  Or Sophie, and THE OTHER Sophie.  But when I explained the movie to my wife I called them, The Ones that Came and the Were There.  For this movie discussion, I think we ought to stick with, Ethan, Ethan-A or “The Other Ethan” and Ethan-B.  Fair?

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, its because you didn’t listen to the warning and you started reading ahead… which is a no-no.  Go away.  But if you’ve seen the movie, you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about.  So Ethan-A and Ethan-B it is.  The A’s are obviously our troubled relationship couple who’ve come for therapy.  Got it?  Great.

So, Ethan and Sophie slowly learn that there are other versions of themselves on the premises.  They aren’t necessarily the younger versions of themselves, but rather the versions of themselves that they each first met.  Right?  The cockier, less boring, more intriguing versions of themselves.  Because that is what this movie is all about… the differences between ourselves and the selves that introduce ourselves to our significant others back in the day.  How they differ.  How we get caught trying to convince other people that we are cooler than we actually are.  The entire point of the movie is this pealing back of the layers between this self we want to be and this self we actually are.

The One I Love Movie Rules

As the movie unfolds, we begin to learn that there are several key rules that are important to the inner workings of the movie.

1. The Others cannot leave the building they are found in.

2. Sophie-A and Ethan-A cannot inhabit the same building together as an Other.

3. When the A couple are fixed, the B couple can leave

4. Once the B couple leaves the A couple will become the B couple for another rocky relationship

5. If someone tries to leave on their own they will learn they are trapped

Hopefully those make intuitive sense to you. Or match up with what you saw as the movie played out.  But basically the point of the retreat center is that the couples will be helped by another couple, that have worked to engineer their looks and their voices to identically match the troubled couple.

The One I Love Story Behind The Story

There were a couple moments that just lit this movie up like a Christmas Tree for me.  The first one was a conversation between Sophie-B and Ethan-A.  Ethan was just a wreck and pissed that Sophie-A was off with Ethan-B:

Sophie-B: “Come on, it’ll be fun.  We’ll have a drink.  We’ll relax. Start this day off right. Then we can talk about whatever is bothering you.”

Ethan-A: “You know, that’s really good advice. And I should probably listen to it… but you’re not a real person.”

Sophie-B: “…”

Ethan-A: “You know you’re not real.  Who the hell are you?  What the hell are you?  Are you a fucking robot?  Are you a… like a spirit?  Because I’ve got to say it’s bad enough that I’m losing my wife to a mirror image of me who happens to be like 20% cooler and 20% more emotionally involved than me.  Now I have to sit and look at a mirror image of exactly who I’m losing.  So no, I’m have a hard time enjoying this weekend because this is the weekend I lose my wife.  So, pardon me if I don’t want a fucking mimosa, okay?”

Sophie-B: “It wasn’t just this weekend.”

Ethan-A: “How do you know?”

Sophie-B: “Because as your wife, I know these things.”

But the penultimate moment of the movie though was the foursome conversation when Sophie-A and Ethan-A walk in and there on the couch is Sophie-B and Ethan-B.  Uh.  Remember the rules?  Yeah, so did they, and the rules were apparently were now broken.  Soon after they began to “get to know each other” the two Sophie’s found themselves in the kitchen together. And Sophie-B lets Sophie-A know that the game is up.  That Sophie-B isn’t just a copy of herself.  That the moral laws were not just being played with fast and loose throughout this encounter.  That she knew that Sophie-A was falling for Ethan-B and that that was totally uncool with her.  That she was fine if Sophie-A wanted to continue complimenting her shoes, or how her hair is pulled back, or whatever… but that B was on to A.  And that B wasn’t going to take it lying down.

These two moments were game changing moments.  Up until then, Ethan-B and Sophie B were harmless.  They were a fun game.  They were either just duplicates of themselves, or they were just visions or something.  But in these moments we realize that we aren’t having these harmless moments and that no one was going to get hurt.  But rather we were dealing with two other autonomous individuals and that stuff was going to go down now.

Who Are The One I Love Movie Doubles?
So, in the comments (which are just blowing up, make sure you join in and add your theories and thoughts!) one of the biggest topics of conversation are the secondary Ethan & Sophie characters. And as we have talked it has become clear that the key to who they are would be found in the Guest House guestbook, and computer files. I’ve included the photos of the guestbook guests along with the comments under their photos here for your reference.

Mouse over each image to see what their comments were inside the guestbook.  So, before we dig in deeper to the various theories that could possibly make sense of this movie – I want to talk through the guests in the guest book.  If you look at the photos above, I have included them in order.  Upper left photo is the first photo we see in the guest book.  Which I have arbitrarily named Guests #1.  Middle top, I refer to as Guests #2.  Upper right is Guests #3.  Bottom left are our Guests #4.  And middle bottom would be Guests #5.  And bottom right are Guests #6.

Obviously it is Guests #6 that are our Ethan-B and Sophie-B duplicates.  But since the photos are obviously taken AFTER they change into the people they are doubling (we know this because Ethan clearly says, “I never took this photo.”) we can’t know what they look like.  Or can we?  If the photos are always taken after the transformation, then maybe we can surmise some sort of chronological ordering in the way in which Ethan is swiping through the photos.  Right?  And if so, then Ethan-B and SophieB must look like Guests #5, right?  The couple that are standing next to “The Counselor”.  No?

I have been fascinated with trying to figure out what they might look like, and I think this theory described above is about as close we are going to get.  No?  Do you have other theories as to who the B couple might be?  We are dying to hear it below in the comments.

The One I Love Reviewed and Explained

The One I Love Ending Explained

But all of this just brings us to the larger question.  What the heck happened at the end?  I mean.  WHAT?!

So, let’s just walk through it slowly.  And look at what our options are.

Towards the very end of the movie, Sophie-B decides to make a play to keep her husband (Ethan-B).  She wasn’t going to get left behind and let Ethan-B take some other woman.  So she went and spoke to Ethan-A when he was banished to the Guest House, right?  During that chat she let him know exactly what was going down.  That Ethan-B was planning on stealing Ethan-A’s wife.  That this isn’t how it normally happened.  Normally when the B couple helped fix the A couple, the B couple were able to leave and the A couple would then be required to help a new couple out.  But Ethan-B was done with Sophie-B.  After Ethan-B and Sophie-A had sex the first night he flipped for her and he was determined to leave with this new love of his.

So, there they all are.  The four of them standing together.  Ethan-B looks at Sophie-A, and seems to get the stiff arm.  Ethan-B then looks at Ethan-A and then out to the gate.  And then Ethan-B makes a run for it.  Sophie-A says to Sophie-B, what is about to happen?  And she responds with, I have no idea.

When Ethan-B heads to the gate he hits an invisible force field and is thrown down to the ground unconscious.  So there we are.  Then the ultimate moment of the movie.  Ethan-A is standing over the body of Ethan-B.  He is looking at Sophie-A and Sophie-B.  But BOTH are wearing exactly the same clothes because the three of them were going to go for a hike.  So we the audience have no idea who is who.  But one is staring down at Ethan-B and the other is staring at Ethan-A.  And Ethan-A grabs the Sophie that was staring at him and they head to get their stuff and then they drive out together.

The End!  Simple.  So sweet.  Such a loving ending.

Or is it?  The question I have for you is, which Sophie did Ethan-A leave with?  At the end, Ethan-A asks Sophie for a kiss… and she kisses him.  Then Ethan says to her, no no no, that’s not going to cut it.  Well, what if I make you breakfast then?  And Ethan says, don’t move!  Don’t ruin it.  Just go.  Just go.  And then he asks from the bedroom, so what are we having for breakfast then?  And get this, Sophie says… “Oh I don’t know, maybe some bacon and eggs?”

So what just happened there?  Let’s walk through the two possibilities.

The One I Love Reviewed and Explained

The One I Love Explained Theory #1 – The Disney Ending

It could be, that we have a happy ending on our hands here.  Sophie-A saw the error of her way, and she decides that this other Ethan wasn’t someone to attach her wagon to.  And she finally saw that she had done what Ethan-A had done to her when he cheated on her.  She repented and stared at her husband and they ran off together.  The explanation of the Bacon and Eggs statement in this ending is that Sophie-A learned to let go.  To make her husband happy.  To be the witty, charming woman her husband wanted.


The One I Love Explained Theory #2 – The Dark Ending

The other option though is that Sophie-A was the one staring at Ethan-B.  She was hung up on this other Ethan who was witty and funny.  He was charming and he kindled the romance she had lost before.  And so she stood there and stared at him.  And it was Sophie-B that was the one that was thoroughly unenchanted with her husband.  She was determined to be the one not left behind.  The one who was going to make destiny happen for herself.  And this would explain the Bacon and Eggs quote, that she was the original person to give him Bacon and Eggs.  That he had chosen the other woman and knew it all along.

Maybe a look at a snippet of an interview with Duplass and his explanation of the ending will round out this investigation:

Interviewer: “The movie could’ve gone in several different directions. The ending was so different than what I’d have thought or predicted?”
Duplass: “The ending was an education for us. I learned something cool. We talked a lot about who the woman could be. Is he with his wife? Is he not with his wife? Who is that person? I realized, as we were working through it, that it’s like having a murder mystery with only two people; inherently, the answer that you get is not going to be that surprising or interesting. The more interesting answer is not the heavy answer. That was the only way we could make it live and be fascinating.”

Um.  When I first read this quote I thought.  GOT IT.  And then I read it again and I thought, WHAT?  And then I realized it said nothing at all.  Maybe Duplass is hinting that the Disney ending is the only one that makes sense?  But as I read it more I see less concreteness to the quote.  I personally think that you will take from the ending what you will.  If you are a glass half full kinda guy, then maybe the Disney answer is the right answer for you.  If you are a glass half empty kinda gal, then maybe the the darker answer is the one that is more for you?

The One I Love Explained Theory #3,4,5… et. al.

Below we’ve already heard 2 or 3 other alternate endings.  I obviously blew it in counting out 2 as the only number of possibilities!  hahah.

Final Petition – If any of you happen upon Mark Duplass’ email address in your comings and goings I would love love love to interview the guy.  Let him know he has a new internet stalker out there hunting him down!  hahah.