“What would you do if you were you?” In one of the difficult moments of his life, Miles Elliot asks himself this question. Without the context of the story, it represents a philosophical enquiry that a person might indulge themselves in, some more often than others. What would my better version do in a particular situation? This yearning to be a better person, a better self, is what drives us, gives us purpose. It could be the want of a better job, to be more successful, to have a better chance at forming a romantic connection, or simply, to seek reprieve from the moroseness of a life caught in the loop of habits. All of us have a picture in our mind, an idea of us as the better counterparts of ourselves.
‘Living with Yourself’ dives into these waters. Often, it seems to play in the shallows, saving itself from deeper realisations; but in some moments, it gives the audience a view of the profundity it seeks to achieve. Because it is the story of an everyday man, it indulges in plucking out comedy from the situational quandary of its protagonist. But even in its most ridiculous moments, it shines a light on reality and poses difficult choices and questions in front of us. If you haven’t yet seen the show, you should head over to Netflix and come back to us later.
Summary of the Plot
Miles Elliot (Paul Rudd) once had a happening career and a loving wife. It was the best he had ever been and thought that he could continue with it for the rest of his life. However, things happened and he changed into a continually miserable person who is on the verge of losing his wife. Now, his career has come to a standstill and the personal life is in shambles.
One day, in an office party, he asks his colleague, Dan, about the sudden change in his personality. Dan had been the most non-happening person in the office, and only recently, had emerged as the star of the company. What brought about this make-over? Dan tells Miles that he had been to a spa (in a strip mall, no less) and came out a better man. Yes, it took a lot of money, but in the end, he had his best self, and that is all that matters.
At first, Miles hesitates to go forward with the same procedure, but then, figures that he doesn’t have a better chance. Unfortunately (or perhaps, fortunately), something goes wrong, and instead of just being the better Miles, he is also stuck with his past form. Now, the question is: who is the real Miles?
The Process of Cloning
Before we start toying with the philosophical ramifications of cloning, let’s take a look at the procedure. Obviously, none of the clients is aware that they are being cloned. And it would have stayed the same, had the real Miles not come back from the dead. Yes. In order to allow the best version of you to come out, you have to let your old self die. While this would work remarkably in a symbolic fashion, in ‘Living with Yourself’, it happens literally.
The process involves taking your DNA and tinker with it a bit, to remove the bad parts or make some new additions. Then they put that in a new body, which looks very much like yours. In fact, once it goes fully functional, you won’t be able to tell it apart, scientifically, because it is of your DNA. They also transfer your memories into this clone, so it knows everything that you know, down to a T. It is an all-new you, except that it doesn’t have your flaws and failures anymore. It is ready to start things anew, and now, the only thing stopping it from going out and about and living the best life is YOU.
Before letting loose this clone of yours, they have to get rid of your old version. Remember when Miles was made to inhale some gas, and just before he passes out, he sees the Koreans arguing and a unicorn lying in the corner of the room? That was poisonous gas. It was supposed to kill him. But something went wrong, either due to the faulty equipment or because they didn’t dose him right. Miles is only rendered unconscious. The other clients had died, and the Koreans would then wrap them in cellophane and bury their bodies in the forest in the outskirts of the city.
When the clone wakes up, he has every memory of its real counterpart, except of the death. He picks up where the previous version left off and continues with his life, believing that it is in continuity. He doesn’t know that he is a clone, and moves on, believing that it is ready to change his world. Dan and Tom Brady go through the same thing. Every time they visit the facility, the older version is killed off, replaced by a better one. None’s the wiser. But in Miles’ case, because he is not killed off properly, he digs himself out of the grave and runs back home to find out that the better version that he was supposed to be is an entirely different person.
Who Deserves to be the Real Miles?
There are a number of reasons why there is strong opposition against cloning. While a great number of people relate it to the audacity of humans to take matters of life in their own hands, it is the practical ramifications that make it even more unsound. First off, to actually kill a human being and replace them with a clone is just wrong, especially when the person has no idea what is being done to them.
Secondly, it is even unfairer to the clone itself because it doesn’t have a life of its own. It is just a replacement and will always live in the delusion that it is an actual person (which is what makes us so sympathetic to it). We understand Miles’s disgust and fury about what the spa did to him, and his hatred towards the clone is justified, to some extent. But the poor clone is thrown into an existential crisis which is what makes us wonder if he does, in fact, deserve to replace the real Miles.
The more time we spend with this better version, the more affectionate we get towards him. He is good at his job, he is good with his wife, he is back to being the life of the party as the real Miles used to be. He has reconnected with his half-sister and everyone adores him. The real Miles, on the other hand, is reckless, at best. He has not only destroyed his career and marriage but also betrays his wife by taking out all of their savings for a highly selfish purpose. Rather than getting “treated” for his incompetence, shouldn’t he have just tried to be a better person?
Kate, too, had been going through a difficult time, but instead of falling into the vicious cycle of blaming others and distancing herself from him, she tries to keep the marriage going. She makes efforts and pushes him to do the same. But he is not ready to live up to his responsibilities, not just as a person, but also as a husband and an employee. He doesn’t put in any effort in their crumbling relationship and his work, too, suffers due to his disinterestedness. Instead of owning up to his own flaws and actively working on them, he believes that he can be “cured” out of it. That a spa treatment can flush out all of his negativity. That someone else can set him right.
Even after he discovers what has happened, he doesn’t learn anything. He isn’t inspired by the optimism of his clone; he doesn’t try to keep the good things done by the clone in his place. He not only scoffs at the things that make the clone popular but also becomes jealous of him. Instead of learning from him, instead of growing as a person, he allows the clone to do all the work and then wishes to reap the benefits. In fact, he gets angry when the clone tries to take the credit that it deserves. He doesn’t try to be a better person. Not until quite later. So, does this mean that the real Miles should have gone away? Does this mean that it is the clone who deserves to be with Kate and have the good life that its own efforts have resulted in?
Before we give a simple yes or no answer to this, we must also consider the fact that the clone is not really Miles. It can’t have his life, for better or for worse, because it is not him. The clone is not a complete person. It is just a polished version of the real Miles. A person is defined by their entire self. Our flaws are as much a part of us as our qualities. The clone, on the other hand, is just the good bits. And if it really is a whole person, then it must come with the bad bits too, right? No one is that good. No one is THAT perfect. At first, we find the clone much better than the real Miles, but when it starts to learn, when it begins to have the experiences other than the ones that it shares with Miles when it begins to turn into a person, the imperfections begin to show up.
First of all, it fails to let go of Miles’s life even when it comes to realise what it actually is. But then, I guess, he hasn’t known anything else. He still believes that he is the Miles that Kate deserves to have. He finds himself better than the real one, and slowly, the arrogance begins to set in. Kate is drawn towards him because he reminds her of the Miles that she had fallen in love with, but it doesn’t take much time for her to realise that he is just a part of her husband. Despite it being the “better” version of him, she doesn’t connect with Clone Miles the way she connects with real Miles. So, she finds it best to cut short their affair.
After the breakup, the clone becomes bitter. He begins to come to terms with the heartbreak and gets angry when Dan becomes soppy in front of him. He shows Dan exactly what has happened to him, and picks up on the comment of “getting rid of the geek”. He decides to kill the real Miles and prepares to take over his life. In an unexpected turn of events, the real Miles is kidnapped by the FDA, and the clone thinks that he has been rid of the situation. He makes himself shabbier, messes up his hair and waits for Kate to come home so that he can be the real Miles for her.
If the clone was the best version of Miles, then he has clearly fallen from grace. In fact, he might be turning worse than the current version of Miles. The clone is after all Miles, and who is to say that it won’t fall into the same habits as his previous version did. Doesn’t the same thing happen with Dan? Even when he is replaced by a better Dan, in the end, he comes down to being insecure and dejected again. He couldn’t co-exist with Miles’s better version. He became jealous and sullen, all over again, and turns into the same man he had wanted to leave behind. If the same thing will eventually happen with the clone Miles, is he really better than the real Miles?
Living With Yourself Ending, Explained
There are a number of lessons that we learn from Miles’s story, be it from his perspective or the clone’s. The first thing is that no matter how much you try to bury your past, it will come back to haunt you if you don’t deal with it right. If you want to get better, you shouldn’t rely on others to solve your problems. You don’t want an alter ego to sprout out and make you question your sanity. This also brings us to the conclusion that unless you deal head-first with your flaws and insufficiencies, you will always face the danger to revert back to old ways. In fact, you might even turn out worse than before.
In the end, the clone Miles has to come face to face with the reality that no matter how much he tries, he is not the real Miles. He might be cleaner and jollier, but he is not better. When he realises that Kate is in love with the real Miles and would never settle for him, he hits the lowest point. He becomes so depressed that his existence seems unnecessary to him.
In one of the darkest moments of the story, we see someone who has no sense of purpose, who doesn’t know why they exist, for whom they exist, and why they are even needed. The clone makes up his mind to kill himself. He tries to pull the trigger but seems unable to do so while looking himself in the eye. He covers his face, and yet, is unable to do the job. Despite everything, no matter what our views about the morality of cloning, we sympathise with him. It is in this moment, that he feels the most human. In stark contrast to the man who had the spirit and the glow to conquer the world, we see a being marred by depression.
Luckily, real Miles calls just in time to distract him. When he discovers that the clone had slept with Kate, he decides to end the matter once and for all. The clone is relieved that someone else would do the job for him, and even leaves the gun for real Miles to finish him off. However, the real Miles, despite his utter hatred for the clone, is unable to pull the trigger. This leads to a fight where both of them let out their anger and destroy Kate’s credenza in the process.
Both of them come to an understanding and let go of their negative emotions for each other and themselves. Moments later, Kate comes in and tells them that she is pregnant. Now, the question is whose it is, and the problem is that there is no way to know because both of them have the same DNA. Instead of bursting into anger, Miles accepts the promise of a baby, something that he and Kate had wanted for a long time. The clone Miles accepts that he is the one who should go away, but Kate tells them it is not necessary. Perhaps, they can find a way to co-exist and make the best out of what they have got.
What does this mean? Well, Kate and Miles are going to stay together. After the bump in their marriage, Kate has accepted that Miles is the only one she can be with, and he has come to realise the error of his ways and maybe now, he really can be the better version of himself. They will have the baby, no matter whose it is. The clone Miles can continue to be in their life, but after the debacle and the moments of weakness, it seems like he can finally move on. He can finally be his own person and be the better or the worse version of himself.
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