The Other Me: An Exploration of Identity That Shrinks From Its True Self

Image via BA Production

When your feature length directorial debut is being executive produced by as prolific a filmmaker as David Lynch, it could certainly be a challenge to ensure that your vision isn’t overshadowed by outside influence. And while there are certainly elements of this movie that feel unmistakably Lynchian, director Giga Agladze’s voice successfully cuts through in his somber and surreal new film The Other Me.

Unfortunately the finished product is a haphazard attempt at binding a grounded tale of identity and self-discovery to a surreal work of cinema. It straddles two potentially more successful films, but can’t seem to commit to either direction, instead resulting in a somewhat bland and disjointed blend. There are interesting themes at play, but the film does little to navigate them in an engaging way, and eventually seems to fade out after struggling to fill out its runtime.

Starring Jim Sturgess (The Way Back, The Other Boleyn Girl), The Other Me tells the story of Irakli, a struggling architect diagnosed with a rare eye disease that will unavoidably result in his total loss of sight. While his clearly exhausted wife, played by Antonia Campbell-Hughes (3096 Days, Under The Skin) endeavors to be supportive, Irakli (Sturgess) is distraught and bitter, and it’s clear that his newly-diagnosed condition is not the first or only problem plaguing their marriage. After an explosive argument, Irakli storms off and eventually finds himself in a serene forest with an enigmatic jumpsuit-clad overseer. There, he encounters an ethereal woman, played by the renowned trans model Andreja Pejic (The Girl in the Spider’s Web), living in an idyllic cottage. While they immediately share a strong connection, when he enquires about her name, states that she has none, and that “it’s better if they’re both called nothing.”

It’s an encounter that seems to instigate a substantial over-turning of Irakli’s entire world. Shortly after, his sight takes a turn for the worse. Counter to the doctors’ predictions, however, Irakli doesn’t lose his ability to see entirely. Instead, he finds himself immersed in a surreal realm of black and white, inhabited by humanoid denizens with the heads of animals.

The strange figures that inhabit Irakli's world after he begins to lose his vision.
Image via BA Production

The film fluctuates between these two realms. Irakli only finding brief oases from his ghastly new reality during his fleeting interactions with the mystery woman he has become fixated on. Undercut by glimpses into his childhood and his contentious relationship with his father.

The film meanders through it’s 99-minute runtime. It’s populated with half fleshed-out subplots and auxiliary characters that only detract from its most interesting element – the dynamic between  Surgess’ and Pejic’s characters.

As the film’s ending confirms, this is a story of gender dysphoria and self-discovery. While not explicitly stated, it’s implied that Sturgess’ and Pejic’s characters are, and have always been, one and the same. It’s a conclusion that is successful in giving our protagonist(s) something resembling a character arc, but does little to compensate for the aimless exposition that precedes it.

Despite relying entirely on its small cadre of characters to drive the narrative, the film gives the audience little reason to connect or care about them. Instead, we’re dropped into the tumultuous melodrama of their lives and are left to extrapolate their substance for ourselves. It’s clear that Irakli is passionate about his work as an architect and his grand schemes to redesign city life, but we never delve into what that means or why he is so fixated on it. It’s obvious that his wife Nutsa holds a great deal of resentment towards him, but we never examine their relationship outside of how it is impacted by his new condition. Wry and enigmatic, Pejic’s mystery woman is perhaps the most interesting character in the film, but is utilized more as a plot device than a character to be explored. In a film that revolves around identity, our main characters have none.

The film’s major stumbling block is that it can’t commit to a singular, cohesive vision. The contrast between the idyllic, dreamlike atmosphere in Pejic’s scenes, and the nightmarish black-and-white realm of Irakli’s hallucinations is a dynamic that works. Unfortunately, it is diluted by a myriad of sequences featuring secondary characters that feel flat and lifeless in comparison. The film would benefit by either leaning into and expanding upon it’s most fantastical elements, or forgoing them entirely. But attempting to blend them into a more grounded and personal film diminishes both aspects.

Ultimately, there are still plenty of things this film succeeds at. It handles it’s delicate subject matter with great care, and while there are traces of violence and trauma, it refuses to rely on shock and exploitation to mimic emotional depth. Pejic’s performance is a captivating, and the undoubted highlight of the film. Visually, the surrealist sequences are intriguing, they simply feel out of place when contrasted with the rest of the film. Regardless of the execution, the exploration of the relationship between identity and perception makes for an interesting premise, and Agladze’s budding career is certainly worth keeping an eye on.

The Other Me is playing in select theatres across the U.S. now.

Written by Max McHone

Leave a Reply

Film Obsessive welcomes your comments. All submissions are moderated. Replies including personal attacks, spam, and other offensive remarks will not be published. Email addresses will not be visible on published comments.

Jon (Andrew Garfield) lying on his side in bed, one hand resting on a keyboard lying next to him.

Critic Annie Banks Joins the Cinephile Hissy Fit for Andrew Garfield Love

Elle Fanning and Stephen Dorff in Somewhere

Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere Takes Its Time Getting There