Twins in Media: The Parent Trap (1998)

Screenshot from “The Parent Trap” (1998), starring Lindsay Lohan. Copyright of Walt Disney Pictures.

Hi! It’s Annie!

To continue on our ‘Twins in Media’ venture, my sister and I thought it only right to go back to our namesake. We spent the weekend watching both ‘Parent Trap’ movies so we could examine what both movies did for and against twins in media. Besides this film being the far superior of the two, it was also a little better at the portrayal of twins on the whole. There’s really a lot to unpack here, and rightly so. This movie is quite possibly the most popular depiction of twins to ever have been in media. Let’s figure out if Annie and Hallie are actually good representations of twins in media, shall we?

The Bad:

  • Impersonation. This is what the entire movie is about, and really it’s no surprise. The public has been fascinated for as long as I can remember about the prospect of twins switching places. Are you not good at math but your twin is? Have her take your test instead! I know I’ve mentioned it before, but this doesn’t happen regularly. My sister and I have actually never done it. But I’ll give it points for having them switch for reasons that aren’t mischievous.
  • Mischievous twins. That brings me to this trope. While they don’t switch places to play pranks on people, they still both play a lot of pranks. The first part of this movie is mostly made up of them playing pranks on each other. However, this is not by any means a main personality trait for either girl.
  • Same actor. This is one of the biggest issues I have with all of these movies. Either fraternal or identical, all twins have differences. My sister and I are fraternal, but we are told we look identical. We can personally see the differences, and all of the people in our lives who are close to us can also easily tell us apart from certain facial differences, our habits, our postures, and the way that we speak. Our tones and voices are completely different. You can’t capture all of that at all when only one actress is playing two roles. There may never be a pair of twins who look one hundred percent alike, so it would be nice if media would stop casting the same actor as two different characters and instead cast actual twins or at least two people who look somewhat alike.
  • Oblivious parents. There are instances where one of my parents is looking in the other direction and I accidentally say something that sounds kind of like my sister, so there’s a moment of confusion. It barely happens and it never happens if my parents are looking straight at us. Most parents of twins have identifiers to tell a pair of twins apart even when they’re babies. The fact that neither of the parents figured it out at all is absolutely awful. It feels like neither parent is actually that close to either child and they treat the two like they’re a reversible sweater. It’s really simple, if the parents can’t even tell their twins apart, they probably aren’t great parents. At least the Dad has a moment where he actually figures out which one is Hallie in a scene where she is wearing orange and Annie is wearing pink, as Hallie is seen to wear warmer colors than Annie. But he immediately second guesses himself, so it really isn’t that much to be proud of. Also, the fact that they separated the siblings at birth and never told them they had a sister is also kind of a dick move.
  • Separated at birth. It’s become a common trend that only twins that have been separated at birth have different personalities. I mean, props to them for being different characters. I just want to point out that most twins are different people while having stayed in the same household their entire lives.

The Good:

  • Similar and different. This is one of those rare occasions where a pair of twins is not portrayed as exactly the same or exactly the opposite. A great example is that both sisters have a liking and a talent for fencing and playing poker; but Annie is a much better fencer than Hallie is while Hallie is much better at playing poker than Annie is. They like similar things but they have separate talents. This also comes across when the movie is explaining their different personality traits to the audience visually. Hallie is shown to be adventurous, sarcastic, and more stubborn. Annie is responsible, proper, and anxious. Hallie has mid-length hair and wears earrings while Annie has longer hair and wears headbands. None of the things that I just mentioned are exactly the same or exactly the opposites of each other. They just have different personality traits, and that’s amazing! They are different people who both enjoy oreos and peanut butter. They aren’t ever presented as one half to a whole; they are each their own whole.
  • Observant family. So the parents in this movie aren’t great. But Martin the butler, Chessy the chef, and the Grandfather are all amazing family to these girls. While the parents don’t suspect anything, these three are quick to figure out that something is wrong. Chessy even has a list of things she noticed that were off and mentions them to Annie while she is impersonating Hallie. (Can we also talk about how the Dad should have broken up with Meredith the moment she bought a bell to summon Chessy with?) It is extremely clear in this film that Martin and Chessy know more about Hallie and Annie than the parents do. Chessy knows what Hallie likes to eat and Martin has a special complicated handshake that he does with Annie. These two are gold and the true parents of Hallie and Annie. Martin and Chessy deserve each other in the best way possible.
  • Different lives. They have different goals, different people they care about, and different friends. Even when they go to camp, they each make a different set of friends. My sister and I do have a lot of the same friends, but we have different relationships with them and there are some people that one of us is closer to than the other. Our relationships with anyone aren’t going to be exactly the same. They do this with the members of the family as well. Annie’s relationship with Martin, her Mom, and her Grandfather, are portrayed as different than when Hallie is impersonating her sister. The same goes the other way around. Twins have different lives and different relationships with people, even if it’s the same person. This was really good at exploring that.
  • The actor depiction. Even though I’m not a huge fan of casting the same person as two people, I will admit that this is one of the best times I’ve seen it done. Lindsay Lohan gave Annie and Hallie different ways of talking both in tone and pitch. Each character has their own set of habits, and they don’t do exactly the same thing. It isn’t perfect, but an attempt is made and is as successful as it can be.
  • No twin personality meld. I also see this happen a lot. Sometimes a pair of twins in media will act separately while apart, but once the movie gets them together they will pretty much be the same person. This movie was really careful at keeping Hallie and Annie separate people unless they were trying to come across as unidentifiable for the plot.
  • I am me. When their Mom finds out that Hallie had been pretending to be Annie this entire time, Hallie immediately tells her Mom that she wants to be loved as Hallie and not as her sister. Little moments like this that remind the audience that they are different people are really important, especially in movies like this that can easily fall too deep into what the public wants to see about twins instead of how twins actually are in real life.

So, are Hallie and Annie a good representation of twins in media or not?

Surprisingly, I’m going to go with yes for the most part. Don’t get me wrong, there are still things I don’t like at all about this portrayal of twins in media. I am really getting tired of one actor playing two different roles just because the roles are twins, and it still happens so much. I didn’t even get into how the popularization of movies like this perpetuate same-sex fraternal twin erasure in media. But, what this movie does well, it does really well. This movie is very nostalgic for both me and my sister and watching it again reminded me of how much I truly do love this movie. This is not a perfect movie for twin representation, but I honestly don’t think there is a really good representation of same-sex twins in media yet. At least, not that I’ve seen. As far as same-sex twins go, this is one of the best examples of at least semi-good representation that we have.

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

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