Despite its definite mooring in the present, the frontier ethic of there not being enough room for two undergirds Barbet Schroeder’s Single White Female. We see this in its very composition– in how the attributes necessary for a woman’s success outline parameters so narrow as to render duplication inevitable. Subsequently, like many stories involving closed areas, Single White Female becomes a tale about space and the claustrophobia that’s often mistook for imitation.
Like Robert Altman’s 3 Women – another story about expectations dictating identity – Single White Female sees the world around our protagonist change, in lieu of our protagonist themselves. Allie Jones’s (Bridget Fonda) severance from her partner, the arrival of a new roommate, and that roommate’s subsequent theft of her appearance, constitute the ether in which she wades, and from which we gauge her form. That the disturbance of these aspects elicits a panic so thorough, tells us of their significance to her reality, furthermore, describes that reality to us.
The sparse and empty lofts that backdrop the narrative convey her world as one where interiors are disregarded with the ease of entrails, and the surface being end-all be-all, confirm the former as applicable to people as well. Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Hedy Carlson is the only true affirmation of nuance with sisterhood being her motive. Her definition defers in its resemblance to a sort of amnesia – what Sissy Spacek referred to as “Polly becoming Peggy and Peggy becoming Polly” in 3 Women. To Allie, however, the suggestion that she can be replicated presents an affront to all her years drinking the Kool-Aid, believing that her conditions allow for individuality.
There are hints of Mario Bava sprinkled throughout Single White Female, who detailed violence that follows the trail of skirt hems, chronicling the ever-precarious world that bolsters itself upon fickle ideals. Though absent in the movie are several forces poised to collapse onto any woman, a force present and emphatic is the self, and the ever-looming possibility within all of us of succumbing to our own reflections.
Single White Female
dir. Barbet Schroeder
Screening Saturday 5/27, 11:59 p.m. at Coolidge Corner Theatre
Part of the month-long series: Pillow Stalk: Erotic Thrillers After Midnite