Warning: SPOILERS herein (not that they really spoil the movie, in my humble opinion, but YMMV)
Disclaimer: Rambling, run-on sentences, etc.
From the advance reviews from Cannes, I knew that Copie Conforme centered around an ambiguity: is the central pair a long-married couple pretending they’d just met, or are they two people on a first date who play at being a troubled married couple? It seemed clear to me after the movie that it was the former. When I turned to the friend I saw the movie with, however, and said “well, that wasn’t THAT ambiguous”, she immediately agreed… and said “yes, I mean, obviously they’ve just met”.
Furthermore, my former colleague Ronald, whose opinion I greatly respect, described Juliette Binoche’s character in his (Dutch) review as a woman on the verge on a nervous breakdown. My takeaway? That William Shimell’s character was cold, distant, and kind of a jerk.
Of course, different people seeing different things in the same movie (or any work of art, in fact) is the rule rather than the exception. One could even say that art that can only be interpreted one way, or that can inspire only one specific emotion, is hardly art at all. Still, maybe because Shimell’s character is said to be interested more in the perception of art than in the art itself, and also because of the vast difference in the interpretations, it struck me as an interesting aspect to focus on. What if the ambiguous nature of the film is intentional, a deliberately equivocal canvas for us to project our interpretation on? Something like one of those optical illusions where you can see either one of two images, but never both at the same time?
If we accept that the movie functions as a sort of cinematic Rorschach blot, the next question is: what does it reveal? It seems that my interpretation would mark me as a cynic, but then again, in the alternative take on things, the two central characters are the cynical ones. Do Ronald and I disagree on the characters because of our respective genders, because of a facet of our personalities, like a fear of commitment versus a fear of abandonment – or, hopefully, because of something less facile? And there is, of course, another alternative: maybe it’s because we side with a certain protagonist’s views on the value of copies that we side with them as a person, too – though I cannot say if this applies to me, since I haven’t quite made up my mind on the matter.
As for the “truth” of the relationship, it might all be much simpler than all that. After all, with so little to go on (the only “concrete” clue, the outside perspective provided by the son, points to the second option), what made me so convinced? Probably mostly a failure of imagination: improvising a courtship seems, to me, much simpler than convincingly acting like you’ve had over a decade of recriminations between you. I also can’t imagine why you would even want to imagine that when everything’s still full of hope – while I can imagine trying to re-capture the thrill of the beginning.
Whichever your take is cannot give a conclusive answer about your stand in the copy vs. original debate, since it cannot equivocally be determined which is which – and that, of course, is kind of the point. All we can say is which WE – or I should say I – think is more credible as an original, which feels copied.
Maybe a second viewing, later, will change my mind – but the movie will, of course, still be the same. In any case, I’m fairly sure I’ll be as fascinated as I was this time: it’s a wonderfully shot, wonderfully acted film full of twists and turns about two complex people engaged in a complex, constantly evolving dialogue about art and relationships – how could I not be?
P.S. It is tempting, of course (if only since it’s the movie of the moment) to draw comparisons to Inception. However, I think the ambiguity there is cheap rather than interesting: since a happy ending would have felt/been undeserved, and a straight out “he’s still dreaming!”-conclusion would have been both a cop-out and not entirely supported by the rest of the movie, Nolan wisely decided to leave everything in the middle. It’s telling that not only do I not have an opinion on which option is “correct”, but I couldn’t care less.