Jordan Peele: Double on US with strange facts about doppelgangers

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Us — Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Jordan Peele’s Us had a $70.3 million dollar weekend, a great opening for a thought-provoking horror film with an original premise. But what the heck are dopplegangers?

A doppleganger is a double of a person — in the film referred to as a ‘tether.’ The term is derived from the German word ‘doppelgänger,’ which means double-walker or double-goer. It’s based on ‘true’ accounts of people seeing doppelgangers of themselves and others. According to legend, seeing your own doppelganger is a harbinger for death.

In Irish folklore, a doppleganger was called a ‘fetch’ —  yes, the very word Gretchen Wieners in Mean Girls was trying to make happen. However, seeing one’s fetch was a sign of good luck or a sign of a long life, if the doppelganger was seen in the morning. How fetch.

A supposedly true account of doubles is the story of Emilie Sagée from Robert Dale Owen’s Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World. Sagée was a teacher for a boarding school in Latvia. One day when teaching, her doppleganger appeared next to her in front of the entire class. Her doppelganger mimicked her movements but quickly disappeared — only to reappear later at different times and locations.

Her doppelganger materialized once in front of the entire student body when Sagée was outside working in the garden. Her doppleganger appeared seated in her chair at the front of the room and when two students tried to touch it, it slowly disappeared.

The appearances of Sagée’s doppelganger frightened the staff and she was dismissed though her doppleganger never harmed anyone. Sagée never saw her own doppelganger but perhaps that’s a good thing since it’s considered a dark omen. But she’s not the only person in history with a doppelganger.

Jordan Peele’s Us — Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Catherine the Great reportedly saw her doppelganger seated at her throne after her servants told her that they’d already seen her enter the throne room…as she entered the throne room. Catherine the Great (yes, the same Queen accused of copulating with a horse) commanded her armed servants to shoot it, but it disappeared. Shortly after, Catherine the Great died.

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Even Abraham Lincoln had a doppelganger — Noah Brooks’ book “Washington in Lincoln’s Time,” claimed that Lincoln saw his double in a mirror at the White House, two faces staring back at him instead of one. His wife, Mary Todd Lincoln thought it was a premonition that he wouldn’t survive his second term, which unfortunately came true when he was assassinated.

The poet Percy Bysshe Shelley saw his own doppelganger and died less than a month later, drowning in a storm. His wife, Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, wrote in a letter to a friend that Shelly’s doppelganger had even spoken to him. WHAT DID HE SAY TO HIMSELF?

Goethe, the famous German intellectual, claimed that he saw an older version of himself riding past him on a horse. Decades later, he saw a young version of himself riding past him on a horse, in an odd reversal — suggesting that he was both versions.

Goethe’s story implies some sort of weird time loop, or a point where two universes cross streams. Essentially mumbo-jumbo for something weird happening that’s yet to be fully explained by science.

Sylvia Plath, a poet who wrote about suicide, homicide and dead babies before she stuck her head in an oven and ended it at 30 — was fascinated by dopplegangers too. Kelly Coynce’s essay for The Atlantic examines the alter ego imagery in her novel The Bell Jar.