Is the Mona Lisa just a copy of the woman it is a painting of?
Is a memory a copy? What if it’s not really a memory? And what if we simply don’t know? How does our knowledge—or lack of knowledge—change something?
In Certified Copy, an author, James (William Shimmel), has recently published a book in which he asserts that copies have their own integrity. As proof, if someone doesn’t know it is a copy, he is filled with all the same feelings of beauty and artfulness as is the person who looks at the original. In the opening scene, he gives a reading, eagerly (though only briefly) attended by a woman, Elle (Juliette Binoche). What is her interest in him? We wonder.
The thesis seems wrong, maybe even a bit absurd. At one point James looks at a newlywed couple and says they ought to know what lies ahead for them, that their happiness is an illusion they should be disabused of. What is the harm, Ellie asks him. And hasn’t he just repudiated the thesis of his book?
Partway through the movie, the two, having traveled to another town to look at a work of art—a copy, naturally—are mistaken for being married to one another by an old woman who runs a café. Elle, does not correct the error. For the rest of the movie, the couple—on their own, far from the café, continue the charade. But what if it isn’t a charade? Our understanding of the couple, our feelings for and about them, change depending on whether we think they have just met, or have been married for 15 years.
As far as reality is concerned, it makes all the difference in the world whether they are married or strangers. But this is a movie, a work of art. How we regard (look at) it determines how we regard it (assess it as a work of art). Is a perfect copy of as good as the original, if you regard it that way?