Kieslowski – Art and Messages – Section 4. “The Double Life of Veronique” What is it “About”? – Reviewer’s and Blogger’s Ideas

Kieslowski considered making 17 versions of The Double Life of Veronique, one for each of the 17 theatres in which it was showing on opening night in Paris.(1)  Seeing these versions would be like hearing a bedtime story never told in the same way.(2)  However if this metaphor is correct the differences would not be likely to change the fundamental meaning of the film; e.g. the moral of the fairly tale.

Because so much of what Veronique is “about” is conveyed by music and cinematography, as opposed to words or linear plot development, the meaning is open so that many viewers are able to read their own ideas into it.  In many cases these meanings probably tell us more about the viewer than about the film.

I believe that in trying to say what Veronique is about one must rely most heavily on how it fits within the general themes that Kieslowski developed over many of his films, and on his own words about the film.  I will give my own interpretation in Section 5 of this blog.

Listed below are a dozen ideas of what the film The Double Life of Veronique is about.  I pulled these from reviews and comments on various web sites.  They are by no means an exhaustive compilation of all possible interpretations, but they are probably illustrative of the range of interpretations one can find.  I have left off this list all interpretations that are based on statements about Veronique made by Kieslowski in various interviews.

1.    It is not a story that is about any specific thing.  It is a magnificent abstract work of art and a captivating piece of cinema.  It provides us with an experience and leaves a lasting impression.

o    Like hearing a wonderful poem or seeing the Mona Lisa, we don’t have to understand, we are just moved.

o    It we try to piece the film together like an intellectual jigsaw puzzle we will get nothing but frustration. (2)

2.    It is film about films and how directors play God to create reality by controlling the actors and the story. Alexandre, the puppeteer, is a “surrogate for the God-like director of films” who “shows her (Veronique) how to control the puppets, as if showing her how to live her life.” (3)  “The film is a kind of puppet show itself with Kieslowski as the marionette master.” (4)
3.    Veronique and Weronika are twin angels being manipulated by the Divine for some unfathomable purpose (5)
4.    It is a story about growing up and making choices to be independent.  Weronika leaves home and makes a choice for her career.  Her death, which results from this choice, permanently established her freedom.  The puppeteer shows Veronique the realities of her life and lets her know that she too can have freedom.  She rejects this freedom and runs home to be under the protective wings of her father. (6)  (This interpretation is from an excellent essay by Slavoj Zizek who is a philosopher and psychoanalyst.  I highly recommend it.)
5.    It is a political allegory.  Weronika represents Poland; her early death represents the sacrifice of Poland during the Second World War.  Veronique represents France, is free to choose her destiny, doesn’t realize the sacrifice Weronika has made, but does feel that she is incomplete without Weronika. (7)
6.    It is a “rethinking of Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (in which Kieslowski) subtly asks the viewer to rethink his or her ideas about identity” (8)
7.    It is about the age-old question of free will vs. determinism vs. chance in our lives. (9)
8.    It is simply a fictional film like Blind Chance or Sliding Doors where different lives result from chance or different decisions.  (10)
9.    It is a movie that lets the viewer fill the empty spaces with their own thoughts and feelings.  (11)
10.    St Veronica is the patron saint of photographers.  The movie contains the outline of Christ’s life and is Kieslowski’s radical telling of the story of the suffering of Christ. (12)
11.    It is the classic story of a Doppelganger – a double – a look alike of a person.  The Doppelganger is an evil twin.  When the real person sees the Doppelganger it is an omen of death. (13)
12.    It is about the joining together of Europe after the fall of communism.  We can see this clearly by the date on the postage stamp, 1990 the year when the Communist Party in Poland was dissolved.  Weronika/Veronique (Poland/France) were part of a divided continent and only one of them is now required. (14)

I would also encourage you all to read Glenn Buttkus’s review on the Tacoma Film Club site.  Among many other excellent contributions Glenn also provides a sampling of reviewers comments. (15)

To return to the contents of  “Kieslowski – Art and Messages” click on this link

(1) Insdorf, Annette (1999).  “Double Lives, Second Chances.  The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieslowski.”  Hyperion, New York.  p.  135.
(2) James, Caryn (1991) “Film View; ‘Veronique:  In Poetry Lies Its Key”, in The New York Times, December 8. accessed 10 January 2008
(3) Schneider, Dan (2007) “DVD Review Of The Double Life Of Véronique.” accessed 9 March, 2008
(4) Hinson, Hal (1991) “The Double Life of Veronique”  The
Washington Post Staff Writer, December 13, 1991. accessed 9 March, 2008.
(5) ardent-1 (2002) ) accessed 6 February, 2008.
(6) Slavoj Zizek, (2006) “The Forced Choice of Freedom,” essay from The Double Life of Veronique Criterion Collection DVD booklet, pp. 16-25.
(7) Haltof, Marek cited in Wikipedia “The Double Life of Veronique” accessed 6 February, 2008.
(8) Phillips, Michael W. Jr. 2001, “The Double Life of Veronique”  accessed 21 January, 2008.
(9) Wikipedia.  “The Double Life of Veronique” Plot Summary. accessed 6 February, 2008.
(10) Macdonald, Angus (2003) Review “The Double Life of Veronique”  accessed 9 March 2008.
(11) theantitype (2005) accessed 6 February, 2008.
(12) buster-crashtestdummy (2005) accessed 6 February, 2008.
(13) Wikipedia on “Doppelganger” accessed 6 February, 2008.
(14)  Lane, Anthony (2006) “Soul Mates” in The New Yorker, April 10, 2006  accessed 6 February, 2008.
(15) Buttkus, Glenn A.  (2008) “Soul Sisters”


2 thoughts on “Kieslowski – Art and Messages – Section 4. “The Double Life of Veronique” What is it “About”? – Reviewer’s and Blogger’s Ideas

  1. Man, dude, your reference list is longer than the comment; now that is research! Thanks for the plug on my efforts. This film review and narrative business is getting to be semi-serious here. I love the notion that the film has a biblical theme, another telling of the Christ tale, or the Bergman reference; hell, most of Woody Allen’s early films are Bergman rehashes, and Allen admits it. The political symbolism interpretations are absurd, but the Zizok insights were and are helpful. I am glad I bit the bullet and bought the Criterion copy of the film. It went a long ways in assisting me to come to my own conclusions; conclusions without real closure, as Kieslowski intended.

    This film, like the Mona Lisa, can just be enjoyed, without knowing who the model was, and whether the sexuality was or was not apparent, and the two sides of her face do not match, and part of it was painted over something else. Yet, like DEKOLOG, the movie sneaks up on you, haunts you, keeps reasserting itself, like MOMENTO, like VERTIGO, into a special cavern in our cortex that deals with conundrums and quantum physics and metaphysics and art and life.


  2. This is getting quite interesting with possibilities to the film I’ve never ever thought of! Can I add a 13th? Weronika is Veronique’s conscience…?

    While I’m here Peter, can I cordially invite you to have your say on my new international chat room:


    To commemorate the loss of a great cinematographer who died twelve years ago, I will be launching on Thursday 13 March 2008, ALEXANDRE FABBRI’S ROOM, where movie-goers and enthusiasts can publicly (or privately) chat about the films of Krzysztof Kieslowski.

    To join in (or just read the messages) please go to ALEXANDRE FABBRI’S ROOM and follow the instructions there in your own language.

    For the benefit of other guests, please begin your chat with a brief introduction about who you are OR how you first became interested in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s films. You can use a nickname instead of your real name. I do hope that Hugo Van den Budenmayer can make it too!

    Please vote too, for your favourite film of Krzysztof Kieslowski – go to WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE FILMS OF KIESLOWSKI? on the side-bar of the website. The results will be published this Thursday, 13 March 2008.

    I truly welcome any comments, suggestions, etc., on the new site layout and content. Please send them to my usual email address that can be found on my “About Me” profile.

    Many thanks and the very best to you for 2008.

    Alexandre FABBRI

    I will email Alain in Paris that if Irene wishes to join in the discussion and is not otherwise engaged, she would be very welcome to join in (or just read the messages). Also Zbigniew Preisner!

    Please note that Irene Jacob does not reply to emails but welcomes your non-personal letters sent via her agent to:

    Irene Jacob
    c/o ZELIG
    57, rue Reaumur
    75002 Paris

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