The Double (Richard Ayoade, 2013)
In a word, this film is WEIRD. But I mean that in the best possible way. It may not be for everyone but it certainly offers up a unique and engaging cinematic experience. Based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s 1846 novella of the same name, The Double follows Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg), a rather pathetic, almost invisible man for whom things rarely seem to go right.
He lives a monotonous life, going to work at a company where he is undervalued, spying on his neighbour and co-worker, Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), and visiting his senile mother (Phyllis Somerville) at her shitty nursing home. His boring life trots along until the day he is introduced to new co-worker, James Simon (also played by Eisenberg) who is everything that Simon is not: confident, adored, and primed for success. The two men are identical but no one seems to realise. This drives Simon increasingly mad and an initial friendship turns into something more ominous.
The Double lacks a clear sense of time or place, but that only adds to its appeal. Simon’s world is instead dream-like in nature. It doesn’t quite make sense, but we go with it. We never find out exactly what his company does, but we don’t need to. He is naturally shocked when no one notices the striking resemblance between James and himself, and we feel his frustration with him, while still accepting that this is the world of the film. Some viewers have complained about perceived plot holes (“It isn’t plausible that no one would notice”) but they’re missing the point. Weird shit happens in dreams and it doesn’t make sense BUT WE GO WITH IT. This is exactly the same.
I was amazed to discover that The Double was directed (and co-written) by Moss from The IT Crowd (a.k.a. Richard Ayoade)! How crazy is that? I was unaware that he even directed anything, but as it turns out, this is not the first time, having directed Submarine (2010) and a bunch of television episodes. His vision for this was amazing, and although it is based on a book, it still speaks volumes of his creativity. Everything comes together in a hauntingly beautiful fashion – the sets, the costumes, the cinematography, and a magnificently unsettling score by Andrew Hewitt. The whole film is dark and dingy, with a great use of lighting. It feels claustrophobic and uncomfortable, but it is so immersive that you almost don’t want to leave after it ends. It is enchanting and magical, despite the torment.
Jesse Eisenberg is impressive in a dual role, making the viewer simultaneously root for him and pray for his demise. The two characters are polar opposites and he convinces as both. He can do anything. Mia Wasikowska plays the whimsical love interest with ease, however her Australian accent was not well hidden. Wallace Shawn (probably best known for voicing Rex in the Toy Story films) does his usual thing as Simon’s boss, Mr. Papadopoulos, and it fits perfectly here. Smaller roles played by Noah Taylor and Chris O’Dowd further cement their ‘good in everything’ statuses.
I didn’t read too much into the underlying themes (something to do with identity obviously) but I still thoroughly enjoyed the film. Film buffs who know the meaning of the term ‘Kafkaesque’ will probably dig it and get it more than the average cinema-goer, but the film’s audience needn’t be exclusive. Although it did remind me that I am still rather ignorant when it comes to cinema, I was willing and able to go with it. FREE YOUR MIND!