In 1998, best-selling American author Sidney Sheldon published Tell Me Your Dreams, a novel about a young working-class woman suffering from multiple personality disorder. Distilled with all the classic Sheldon-style elements, Tell Me Your Dreams inhabited a world of sex, castration-induced murders, and vain lipstick superficiality. Even within that fictional space, there was the question of whether multiple personality disorder was real or not.
If you were at the world premiere of Omotola Ekeinde’s new film, Alter Ego, you might have gotten the scandalising feeling that you were in a porn theatre, lights dimmed low so that you won’t be easily seen and with the hushed anticipatory air of what might—or might not be—a potential sex scene.
Alter Ego is Omotola’s first post-hiatus work, and what better way to make a comeback than splash the screens with a litter of sex scenes, even in unusual places. The trailer did indicate this and more: we learned that Omotola’s character, Ada Igwe (a ridiculously clichéd name, by the way), is a lawyer with a near-psychotic interest in taking down sex offenders and molesters and putting them behind bars. And when she doesn’t get justice, she finds ingenious, off-the-book ways to punish them. She is good at her job and successful, but she has a split personality that does a lot of impulsive dick-jumping. That said, Alter Ego straddles issues like domestic and sexual violence against women. The victims are mostly young girls, theatrically damaged and degraded for effect, tangible signifiers of society’s own neglect and aloofness.
I was interested in Alter Ego for two reasons: to see Omotola reclaim her prestige, god-tier status as one of Nollywood’s talented actors and, of course, those much-talked-about sex scenes the media blew out of proportion, so much so that Omotola was ready for the backlash and criticisms. Had Alter Ego been a good film, or even made an effort to be decent, then all the swirling controversies would have been worth it. But it is not a good film. Instead, it is an overbloated, perfumed mess that sloppily covers its flaws with caricature sex scenes as well as with Omotola’s glossy, on-the-surface celebrity power.
The opening scene begins with whirring media coverage and quick-shot, house-to-house reactions to a sex offense court session as it reaches a verdict. In the courtroom, a bewigged Ada Igwe is the voice of the people, a representative of the poor and the underprivileged. And I got the faint, lingering sense that she was fashioned after the no-nonsense Annalise Keating character of the ABC series How To Get Away With Murder. The difference, though, is that Omotola’s portrayal of a lawyer felt like a dangling, depthless prop regurgitating an overnight, caffeine-fuelled crash course on law. The on-the-nose dialogue aside, Alter Ego is what happens when you aim for the moon but catastrophically spiral out of orbit.
“Do it now,” Ada daringly instructs her driver in a traffic gridlock. For context, she wants him to move to the backseat for some car fuck. It’s that impulsive. Later on, some guy with big muscles appears at her doorstep. His name is Jeff, an ex-lover, back from the dusty ether to claim Ada as his love. Or something like that. Words are barely exchanged between them before Jeff, now in the house, gives it to a still-clothed Ada from behind. I should state here that Ada is in the grip of passionate anger as she bounces forward like a spring in cringey, hair-dishevelled slow motion. Even Jeff looks all the more ridiculous, his chest pumping back and forth that my friend had to turn to me in laughter.
Directed by Moses Iwang, Alter Ego makes the mistake of pathologising unbridled female sexuality and reinforcing the Madonna-whore complex, as shown in the film’s poster.
That is not to say that multiple personality disorder (now dissociative personality order) doesn’t not exist, but womanhood has for so long been stripped off of nuancing and complexity. Ada’s therapist, played by a bespectacled Tina Mba, tells Ada in a scene that “creating multiple personalities is not a way to deal with pain.”
In Sidney Sheldon’s Tell Me Your Dreams, Ashley Patterson forms two split personalities to cope with her father sexually abusing her as a child. In Alter Ego, Ada is raped by her P.E. teacher in her school years, and we get to see a spark of the talented Omotola as she reveals this dark past to Timothy (Wale Ojo), holding back tears and hurriedly walking away and then yelling back, “I don’t want to talk about it!”
Alter Ego does a disservice to itself by not enriching its world with characters that can convey delivery, that understand the criticality and importance of the subject matter. Even more, Omotola has botched her chance to reign supreme. But there will always be another film for her to try on. It isn’t Alter Ego, sadly.