Get in loser, we’ve got a fan theory: Mean Girls, the high school teen comedy, is actually a sinister fairy tale about a doppelgänger named Cady Heron, whose sole purpose is to take over Regina George’s life and kill her. Allow me to explain.

Written by Tina Fey, Mean Girls is a 2004 teen comedy, Broadway musical, Democratic Party meme, and Ariana Grande music video about a homeschooled teen named Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) who enrolls in public school for the first time and joins a clique called the Plastics, led by Queen Bee Regina George (Rachel McAdams). After her silly prank turns into an actual obsession, Cady eventually learns to love herself for who she truly is.

At least, that’s what we thought. But Mean Girls is actually a fairy tale. Not the ones where princesses get kissed on the forehead and live happily ever after, but one of those Grimm Brothers sagas where characters have their innards turned into stew or their eyes scratched out for the crime of not listening to their parents. In our video and post here, we argue why Cady Heron is actually a doppelgänger, and Regina George is her conquest.

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The term doppelgänger has taken a lot of forms over the years—like, “Oh my god, twinsies!” But in folklore, a doppelgänger is something much darker. The term stems from a German word meaning “double-goer,” first introduced by German author Jean Paul in his 1796 novel Siebenkäs as a way to describe food. But it’s since gone on to mean an uncanny lookalike or the double of a person living or dead. They’ve gone by other names, depending on the mythology. In Irish myth, doppelgängers are known as “fetch.”

That’s right: Gretchen Wieners wasn’t just telling us about a hip slang term from England. She was warning us.

In some stories, like Edgar Allan Poe’s “William Wilson,” doppelgängers are people or beings that come into your world to take over your life, leading to your eventual destruction. They might look exactly like you—or be a shadowed, darker version that gradually morphs into looking like you. This theme was explored in E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Die Elixiere des Teufels, or The Devil’s Elixers, which told the story of a monk who was driven insane by his doppelgänger...who it turned out was a count seeking vengeance after the monk had almost killed him.

In Mean Girls, Cady starts out as Regina’s polar opposite. She couldn’t be more different. This was the film’s way of telling us that Cady was, in fact, her doppelgänger. Her shadow. A sort of evil counterpart—if you view Regina as the “good guy” in this narrative, which I would. I mean, sure she’s kind of a bitch. But at least she’s not a vengeful spirit of death like Cady.

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Cady moved to Regina’s neighborhood from Africa. She’s in a new town, at a new school. And what’s the first thing that happens? She almost gets hit by a bus. This isn’t merely foreshadowing, it’s a harbinger of doom. That’s because superstition claims that seeing one’s doppelgänger is a sign of death or ruin. President Abraham Lincoln reportedly saw his after he was elected, leading his wife to say it meant he wouldn’t survive his tenure in office. And in Hans Christian Andersen’s 1847 fairy tale Skyggen, or The Shadow, a man comes face-to-face with his own shadow, only to have it take over his life...eventually forcing the man to become the shadow himself. The moment Cady almost got hit by a bus was a sign for the audience that bad things were coming for Regina.

In the movie, Cady acts like her conquest of Regina’s life is revenge for Regina stealing Cady’s potential boyfriend. But that’s just part of it. She’s actually there to steal Regina’s identity and get her killed. Why? Because Cady hates Regina and wants her destroyed. It’s a horror fairy tale, and that’s just what doppelgängers do.

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It goes slowly, at first. On Tuesday Cady wears pink. On October 3, she tells Aaron it’s October 3. But before you know it, she’s morphing into Regina. Donning the same clothes. Copying her mannerisms. Learning what it’s like to be Regina George. A classic doppelgänger technique.

Eventually, she becomes so good at being Regina that she starts doing it better than actual Regina. She masters the four-way call attack with Regina, Gretchen, and Karen. She upstages her at the holiday dance recital, winning over the crowd—and Regina’s friends. At the same time, Cady is systematically wearing Regina down. Turning her into the insecure person that Cady used to be. For example, by making Regina gain weight, Cady forces her to modify her wardrobe, making her look similar to old Cady. Much like in The Shadow—when a man was gradually turned into his own shadow—Cady is morphing Regina into a shadow of herself.

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Then, when it gets to the point of no return, with Regina being kicked out of the Plastics, Cady still continues to try and ruin her life. It’s not because she’s become the Queen Bee, it’s because her goal isn’t complete until Regina George exists no more. Like in “William Wilson,” a doppelgänger doesn’t stop until their conquest is gone for good. The Mean Girls prophecy must be fulfilled, with Regina getting killed by the same bus that warned us of Cady’s arrival in the first place.

Of course, that doesn’t actually end up happening. Regina doesn’t die. Sadly, much like Disney’s The Little Mermaid or Tangled, Mean Girls evaded what should’ve been its true, horrific fairy tale ending in favor of some “a dream is a wish your heart makes” bullshit. I mean, you can’t blame them. It’s Hollywood. But it does leave a true tragedy in its wake. Everyone is happy, peace reigns in the land, and nobody dies. But Cady’s conquest will remain unfinished. A doppelgänger forever denied her final victory.

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That is so not fetch.


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About the author

Beth Elderkin

Video Editor and Staff Writer at io9. My doppelganger is that rebelling greeting card from Futurama.

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