How many know that Elvis Presley had an identical twin Jesse who died shortly after childbirth? Can you imagine if he had lived? But how would two men with the same legendary talent fit into the music world where only one man could be the King of Pop? In the movie The Identical, we imagine. This fictional “what if” story has changed the names, but it’s about Elvis and what might have happened if his twin had lived.
The Great Depression is host to the birth of Ryan and Drexel to the dirt poor Hemsleys. Barely able to support themselves, they offer Ryan up for adoption to a traveling pastor and his wife–Rev. Reece Wade (Ray Liotta) and Louise (Ashley Judd). The heart-wrenching, soul-searching decision is arrived at after the Dad attends a revival meeting. Rev. Wade had asked the gathering for prayers that God would bless them with a baby.
The sacrifice is a heroic moment for the poor couple. The Wades at first refuse—after all, how could they accept such a precious gift? But the poor couple insists that prayer guided them and in spite of their poverty, they refuse an offer for a donation so money is never a factor. What is a factor is secrecy: “You must promise never to tell him he was adopted until after we both are dead.”
It seems an easy enough promise; no need to concern themselves with telling Ryan (Blake Rayne) that he is not their biological son; at least not for a while. Ryan brings immeasurable joy to his parents—a beautiful child, respectful, precociously gifted in music, and so faithful to God and his parents. Their son is the apple of his father’s eye and readily prepares to follow in his Dad’s footsteps as a preacher. But it is his father’s dream, not his own.
“How you doing son?” Rev. Wade asks one weekend, anxious to hear how seminary is going.”
“Oh okay, I’m just figuring it out,” Ryan replies.
“That’s God job to figure it out,” his Dad says.
But the pressure of his father’s hopes and dreams is a heavy weight for Ryan.
“Mama, I can’t do this any more,” he finally admits. “ I don’t hear this call Daddy wants me to hear.” Instead, he hears what was planted in his DNA.
“I went to Nashville and places you wouldn’t approve of just to hear the music,” he says. “It’s hurts so much because it’s the only call I hear.”
So Ryan seeks God’s truth for his life: “I’m just trying to be what he made me to be.
Then, a once-in-a-lifetime talent, Drexel, (also played by Rayne) takes the music scene by storm and a whole lot of shak’in goes on. How can Reece and Louise keep their solemn secret when Ryan’s twin begins to grab the world’s attention?
The resemblance is unmistakable, but then, there are always people that resemble other people. But the voice is hauntingly identical and stirs Ryan’s soul. He begins to follow his destiny, to sing with a voice that touches hearts. He attracts attention as someone, not with talent of his own, but one who can imitate the real singing legend. Ryan becomes known as The Identical.
The Christian messages come naturally without a forced “agenda” some movies are unable to shake. Ryan’s friend and drummer, provides great sidekick humor as does a number of circumstances. The story covers the Elvis era from Fifties to Seventies, although the latter era does not seem to blend in as well. The sheer depth and richness of Rayne’s singing (an Elvis impersonator in real life) makes this an enjoyable movie. It is not a musical but features over 20 original, Elvis-like songs.
We are torn that only one of the talents catapults to fame. Human desires for wanting the truth to come out is only partially satisfied and we grapple with our own human nature of believing that anything less than the best means settling for less. But, The Identical has a deeper message: that success in the world’s eyes is often left wanting.
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