“There are 32 ways to write a story, and I’ve used every one, but there is only one plot – things are not as they seem.”
– Jim Thompson, pulp novelist
The difference between Columbo and Murder, She Wrote is that in Murder, She Wrote the viewer tries to solve the crime while Jessica Fletcher does. But with Columbo the audience sees whodunit right at the start, and they watch Lt. Columbo try to figure it out.
Watching someone unravel a mystery can be entertaining, even cathartic. And the more personal the mystery is, the more dramatic it can be.
In INVADERS FROM MARS a young boy discovers his parents are not what they seem.
In I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE a young bride discovers her husband is not what he seems.
In THE PARENT TRAP two girls discover they are not what they seem.
One of the most sensitive types of secret is your own identity. Those stories involve some of the most upsetting secrets.
In THE 6TH DAY, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Adam (the hero of the story) finds out he is a clone.
In The Twilight Zone episode “The Lateness of the Hour” a young woman learns that she is an android. (It’s somehow fitting that this is one of the episodes they shot on videotape.)
The clone/robot trope has been explored and executed to great effect on recent cable series like Westworld and Battlestar Galactica.
I most recently encountered a clone narrative in the newest RESIDENT EVIL movie. (Major spoilers coming, but you knew where this was headed…)
At the very end of RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER, Alice finds out she is a clone. This shattering plot-point is down-played. (Granted the series is known for its action set-pieces more than its character moments.) When the Red Queen informs Alice that she’s a clone, Alice is comforted by this judgment: not only is she the best of all the clones, she is superior to the original Alice. (Oh, I get it! They’re speaking metaphorically about RESIDENT EVIL movies. Each sequel is criticized for being a “clone” of the previous film. So now Paul W.S. Anderson is saying that this final installment is not only better than the previous sequels, it’s better than the first film!)
I walked out of the theater (yes, I saw RESIDENT EVIL in the theater! I had to see it for a podcast) feeling like they’d missed an opportunity for bigger drama. Or at least an opportunity to give me the kind of clone-revelation-drama I seem to enjoy so much.
Thinking about clone narratives and how they figure into hero myths, I suddenly summoned a faint memory of kindertraumatic movie called ANNA TO THE INFINITE POWER.
I’d seen it once when I was 10, and it was one of those movies no one else remembers. (In the pre-internet days that made you the keeper of the flame, you alone had to keep the movie alive by remembering it.)
I got home and searched for ANNA on YouTube. There were only a couple of short clips. But those brief images were enough to flood me with those tingly kindertraumatic feelings. It’s like when you were a kid and right before you lost a tooth you tasted the bittersweet flavor of your blood. Gross AND exciting!
I kept searching for ANNA online. (Ironically there weren’t any bootlegs of this clone movie.) And then one day it turned up on YouTube, on a channel run by a guy whose content is predominantly videos of Thom Matthews. You can just tell, he’s good people!
You can guess the film’s basic premise: a young girl discovers she is one of many clones. Her entire childhood has been a lie. Who is she cloned from? Why do flickering lights give her headaches? What does any of this have to do with the Nazis?
ANNA is a special kind of science-fiction, where the low-budget and modest filmmaking somehow help it seem more real and relatable. (Kind of like how those videotaped Twilight Zone episodes don’t seem like TV at all.) If the movie gets under your skin, it’s not because of the special effects of grandiose cinematography, but because of simple themes
ANNA TO THE INFINITE POWER tackles all the big questions of a good clone movie: addressing ethics, technology and morality, all wrapped up in the soap opera of a pre-teen girl wondering if her family is her family as she confronts who she really is and what she is destined to become.
Throughout the movie there’s a truly haunting song, which was composed by Paul Baillargeon, who wrote music for Star Trek. (Not the original series, but Deep Space Nine and Voyager. Those still count!)
If cheap-but-effective science-fiction isn’t enough to get you on board, I have two words for you: Mark Patton. That’s right, Anna’s brother is played by Jesse Walsh from A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE. (Apparently Mark Patton is also drawn to stories about characters struggling with their identity!) His presence adds a certain kind of non-star star-power. You know what I mean? That pleasant familiarity of seeing an actor who you only know from one role. It reminds me of the delight I’ve experienced when Marilyn Burns shows up in a movie that isn’t THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, it’s like you’ve just run into an old friend.
Maybe I’m drawn to these melodramatic clone revelations because it’s a far-removed story premise that could never happen to me. Or maybe, deep down I’m afraid it could be my secret origin. Either way, you should watch ANNA TO THE INFINITE POWER while it’s still on YouTube (HERE).
And If you’re looking for a double-feature, Hulu’s streaming an episode of The X-Files that is said to have a suspicious number of similarities to ANNA. Season 1, episode 11: “Eve” (HERE).