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  • Multiplicity: Una Vista de Nada
  • Crystal Downing
Multiplicity. Dir. Harold Ramis. Columbia Pictures, 1996.

Multiplicity, a showcase containing entertaining displays of Michael Keaton’s acting range, is not a great film. The showcase itself, however, with its startling lack of depth, reflects off its slick surfaces the postmodern “transvaluation of values” that Fredric Jameson descried years ago in his now famous New Left Review article.1 Multiplicity (directed and co-written by Harold Ramis, of Animal House and Ghostbusters fame) is not a “postmodern film” in the sense that it develops “new rules of the game” which devalue the hegemonic perceptions and semiotic practices that encode mainstream movies (à la Lyotard); instead, it is a stylistically traditional entertainment vehicle whose content reflects the ineluctable power of what Jameson has called “the cultural logic of late capitalism,” wherein “depth is replaced by...multiple surfaces” (J 62).

In the film, Keaton plays Doug Kinney, a beleaguered, though conscientious, foreman for a construction company, married to the lovely, though lackluster, Laura (Andie MacDowell) who put her career on hold to mother their two young children. Doug’s multiplicity of stressful responsibilities leave him no time to finish remodelling his own home, to help out with the kids so Laura can return to work, or to engage in any leisure activity whatsoever. After a tantrum-like display of frustration on one of his many job sites—a “scientific” institute on the Malibu shore—Doug meets Dr. Owen Leeds (Harris Yulin), who, with no compunction at all, offers to clone for (and from) Doug a second self who can help him on the job. With a gesture toward Keaton’s eponymous role in Mr. Mom (1983), Doug soon discovers that, even with his professional activities alleviated, running a home with children still allows him no leisure time, so he has a second clone made to handle the house chores. These two clones then clone a fourth Doug to help out with the housework in their own apartment above the garage (which, though in full sight of the house, is never detected by Doug’s family as housing three not-very quiet look-alikes). This third clone, extracted not from the original Doug but from one of his clones, turns out to be a near idiot: “You know how sometimes when you make a copy of a copy, it’s not quite as sharp as the original?” Doug’s first two clones explain. “Original” is the operative word here and signals a problematizing not only of “origins,” but also of the autonomous, unified, “authentic” self of modernism.

The film itself mocks the mystifications of modernism when Doug first goes to Dr. Leeds’ office to discuss his problems. We cut to a full-screen picture of Doug’s talking head lying on a black leather couch, spilling out his frustrations to the “doctor.” As soon as we recognize this icon of psychoanalysis, it is undermined by Dr. Leeds’ response to Doug: “I’m not a psychologist.” Modernism’s depth model of the human psyche—which must be plumbed to discover the “origin” of behavior—is decentered by Dr. Leeds’ solution: a replication of the body, the surface of behavior. We have here what Jameson describes as the postmodern “shift in the dynamics of cultural pathology...in which the alienation of the subject is displaced by the fragmentation of the subject” (J 63).

The displacement of identity is reinforced by a trick the film plays on its audience: we see Doug, after the first cloning operation, waking up on a gurney to stare at an image of himself standing in the shadows. Because the camera looks over the shoulder of the well-lit Doug on the gurney to view the darker image which stands before him (and us), we identify with the waking man, amazed to see a replicant before him. However, we quickly learn that the man with whom we have “identified” is actually the clone. It is as though we have been given a visual instantiation of the de-centered self which defines postmodern subjectivity.

Multiplicity quite consciously explores Doug’s fragmented subjectivity by giving each clone a different manifestation of his “personality.” Made while Doug was...

Additional Information

ISSN
1053-1920
Launched on MUSE
1996-01-09
Open Access
No
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