On Screen, Bill's Better Self

Hollywood's would-be president

As William Jefferson Clinton’s presidency draws to a close, I’ve been thinking a lot about William Wilson.

Wilson, a creation of Edgar Allan Poe, is a cad pursued down the years and over European borders by his virtuous doppelgänger. To be plagued by a normal doppelgänger-a supernatural humanoid who looks exactly like you, assumes your name, and wants to replace you-must be annoying enough, but a virtuous doppelgänger! who wants to help you become a better person!! This moralistic stalker, this supreme party pooper, first exposes poor evil Wilson as a cardsharp at college. Then, reportedly, he "thwarted my ambition at Rome, my revenge at Paris, my passionate love at Naples...my avarice in Egypt." Nag, nag, nag. The climax of the tale makes clear what we have already surmised, that Paragon Wilson is Malefactor Wilson’s conscience. But, earlier in the story, a subtler idea was suggested: "I secretly felt that I feared him, and could not help thinking the equality which he maintained so easily with myself, a proof of his true superiority; since not to be overcome cost me a perpetual struggle." In his heart, the scoundrel finds virtue more powerful than evil, and knows the doppelgänger to be the imaged sum of his own best possibilities.

Therefore, let us pity President Clinton who has had not one but several virtuous doppelgängers pursuing him and seeking to shame him in thousands of cities throughout this...

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.