The Double (2014)
Dir: Richard Ayoade
The Double reimagines Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novella of the same name into a bleak and darkly funny vision that features a fine dual performance from Jesse Eisenberg at his motor-mouthed best. Combining the production design of Terry Gilliam with a uniquely understated sensibility all his own, director Richard Ayoade creates an alternate universe of corporate drudgery and oppression peppered with anachronistic technology and surreal humour.
Jesse Eisenberg is Simon, a meek office drone whose luck is beyond bad. He can’t leave an impression on his boss or colleagues, his mother has little use for him, and he pines fruitlessly over his aloof co-worker Hannah (Mia Wasikowska). He is a non-entity who exists in an uncaring world. Thankfully, watching the world piling onto Simon is Schadenfreude at its best and Eisenberg sells the yearning and put-upon nature of the character well. The Double is also visually stunning in its design (which is heavily indebted to Gilliam’s Brazil) but contains flourishes and touches (tube televisions, stark lighting, the old diner) all its own. The world being built here is uncaring and cold – concrete walls, endless corridors and drab office spaces – although it’s livened by black humour and a measured eye that captures it all with aplomb.
The movie gets a shot in the arm when James (also Jesse Eisenberg) begins working alongside Simon. Despite being Simon’s doppelganger, James is the opposite in personality – brash, confident, well-liked and good with women. As James insinuates himself in Simon’s life, no one comments on their identical likeness, further adding to the already heavy surrealism. Eisenberg as James is a marvel to behold – he’s a fast talking, chauvinistic opportunist that upends Simon’s life for the worse, much to Simon’s chagrin. While not as broad as such dual performances as Eddie Murphy in Bowfinger or Jim Carrey in Me, Myself & Irene, nor as subtle as Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers, Eisenberg nevertheless acquits himself well in both distinct roles. You know it’s a great performance when you can easily tell Simon from James in any given scene.
As the two doubles’ comradery grows, James agrees to help Simon get close to Hannah romantically with a “Cyrano de Bergerac”-esque scheme that turns sour once James swoops in to claim Hannah for himself. His personal life ruined, Simon is also humiliated professionally when James takes credit for Simon’s work and shames him publically. It quickly becomes clear that this double may be the worst thing to happen to him, until Simon realizes that injury inflicted upon himself is felt by James.
The Double shares a quiet remove and literary sensibility with Ayoade’s first feature, Submarine, although the earlier film was also sweetly nostalgic and Rushmore-like in its depiction of a precocious teen. The dystopia of The Double is more like classic Gilliam in design and tone, and benefits from the inspiration rather than feeling derivative. A sharp script combined with a strong lead performance and idiosyncratic production design make The Double a sometimes obtuse but always enjoyable watch. It’s a bold movie that couldn’t have been made anyone else, and ensures that I’ll be anticipating Ayoade’s next with bated breath.
*Note: The Double, along with many other stellar films from around the world, screens at this year’s AGH World Film Festival. The 2014 festival runs from Sept. 26 to Oct. 5 in Hamilton, Ontario and more information on screenings and how to purchase tickets can be found here.