The Double Life of Véronique

The Double Life of Véronique ★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

"What do I really want?"

I could definitely see this replacing something in my all-time favorites at some point in the future when I've obtained sufficient distance to look at things more objectively. Right now, even after two consecutive screenings, I want nothing more than to watch it a third time. And maybe a fourth.

What's that? You think just because I watched it again you get another reading of the film? But then I'm going to have to spoiler tag it again... Alright fine. Here's The Double Life of Veronique as the confrontation with the contingency of meaning.

This reading focuses more on Véronique (the second Irène Jacob) than Weronika (the first). As she tells Alexandre (the puppeteer), all her life she's felt as if she knows "what she should do"; she has felt the hand of fate guiding her actions. She has always had an outside force leading her forward. That is to say, she has always felt as if her life had a purpose which was external to her own choice or free will, as if her life had a plan or design to which she was not privy.

She liked this about her life. The idea that she's being guided by something other than herself gave her the comfort of her own convictions: if something feels right then it is, because it's "what she should do" as told to her by another. This is why she falls in love with the puppet show, which depicts a fallen dancer rising from the ashes to become something greater (a clear analogy to Weronika, who had to die for Véronique to live). It not only gives purpose to the most traumatic and purposeless of events (death), it does so in a way which literalizes Véronique's feeling of being guided externally (by the puppeteer). This is also why she enjoys the treasure hunt (the shoelace, cigar box, and tape), which feels to her like a series of clues left by an omniscient master guiding her towards a predestined conclusion.

But this is also why she is so traumatized by her meeting with Alexandre at the end of the hunt. When he tells her that he chose her simply because she was a "stranger," she is confronted by the contingency of the world, the element of chance underlying all of our actions, which runs counter to her beliefs about fate and purpose. "Why did you choose me?" she protests, and when he can't come up with a satisfying answer she runs away to hide, trusting that if there is a fate then it will guide them back together.

And it does. After taking a taxi to a hotel, Alexandre somehow finds her, and the two share a room together. But she is disturbed again when she sees the picture she took of Weronika: here is another person who looks exactly like her in every way except the coat she wears; a copy of herself, but one which made different choices. This shows her how different she could have been if she had made different choices herself, and again reveals the lack of a guiding hand of fate. If this woman who looks exactly like me could also be so different, how could I have been different?

The final confrontation with this contingent nature of reality comes when Alexandre shows Véronique the puppets he made to look like her—two of them, in case one gets damaged (another clear analogy to Weronika). By manipulating the puppets herself, she realizes that she is making her own decisions, that there is no omniscient force directing her actions. She is her own puppeteer. But if there's nothing guiding her actions, how does she know what's right? How do her actions have meaning if they're not part of a bigger picture? This is ultimately too much for her, and she returns to the seclusion of her father's house in the country.

Part of lists:
Top 10 of the 1990's | The Rewatch List
Original review

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